Yesterday my football-writing-friend was holding forth on the nature of sports commentary and how they need to provide a narrative – this is virtually impossible because any fiction writer will tell you that you can't tell a story unless you know what the ending is; which, in sport, you don't – so commentators come in with pre-conceived notions and try to fit the game to these ideas. The plucky underdog, the auld enemy, blah blah blah. (Incidentally, even though this is clearly what happens, I disagree with the practice. I think it's similar to the news attempting to provide a narrative and if you don't know why that's bad, you've obviously not been watching enough Newswipe.)
So I'm sitting here watching that dire performance against Algeria and wondering quite why Clive Tyldsley feels such a need to lay the entire blame at Fabio Capello's door. The 4-4-2 formation, his managerial style, the not-announcing-the-team until just before kick-off, how is this affecting the morale of the players – all of it came in for a proper bashing. I'll admit I didn't really pay that much attention during the qualifiers (sorry; I was probably doing something else. My league football watching has kind of been replaced by F1 watching recently. That happens when you can't watch your team except through fingers). But what Tyldsley was saying about Capello – in fact, what Tyldsley was castigating Capello for – was his unwavering dedication to certain ways of playing. Presumably then, these ways of playing were the ones that got us to the fucking finals in the first place.
I'm not feeling in a reasonable enough position to offer my own theories on the state of England, but I did find it fascinating* to see just how badly everyone seems to want to blame Capello. Gareth Southgate just now gave this speech:
Adrian Chiles: The blame has got to rest at [Capello]'s door, hasn't it?
Southgate: Yes, because it's his role to get the best out of them and he's got to try and relieve pressure from them. But, once they step over that white line they've got to be big enough to handle that responsibility and they look haunted at the moment by wearing the shirt.
Hang on. He starts off by blaming Capello, but then immediately switches into saying there's something wrong with the players. What's that? Oh, yes the players! Those guys on the pitch who are their nation's finest, who have played football for their clubs at the highest level, who by now have been playing together as a national team for long enough to have, you know, an idea where on the pitch the others are going to be. Anyone going to start criticising the inaccurate passing? How nice it was that England wanted to give the Algerian keeper lots of catching practice by firing all their shots straight at him? Or does that not work with the narrative that Capello's at fault? Probably not; it was surely only time before the narrative turned against the foreign manager, right?**
*In other words, I found it useful to distance myself from the actual game by thinking about something else. I was irritating myself with my own shouting.
**I'm not saying I don't think there's some truth in it. I nearly wept when a right-winger was substituted for… a right-winger. But come on; how badly they're playing, I doubt it's as simple as just 'the manager has suddenly started getting it wrong by continuing to do what he's done so far'.