When England is barely capable of beating Austria in a friendly, at a time when the team should be at the peak of its form, you know something is seriously wrong. After an embarassing performance, in which only Micah Richards distinguished himself in any small way, England won a meaningless 1-0 victory which contained more meaningful commentary on the state of the English game than any of those in the past few months.
First, the positives: Micah Richards is excellent, and hopefully under a good manager like Sven-Gorran Eriksson, he will only get better.
Alright, now that's out of the way, let's move on to the bad.
Scott Carson took over from Paul Robinson in goal, and while that's certainly a welcome development given Robinson's current confusion over the role of the goalkeeper in a game of football, Austria's blistering challenge for the title of "worst footballing nation in Europe" meant he had very little to do.
In defence, Wayne Bridge, Sol Campbell, Joleon Lescott, and Micah Richards demonstrated ... well ... very little, given that the entire Austrian team generated as many attacking chances as Scott Carson. It's hard to evaluate their performance when their primary function - preventing goals - was taken up by the opposition's attacking players. Wes Brown replaced Sol Campbell towards the end of the game, and wasn't very good.
And now! To the time machine! Rewind to the last World Cup! Joe Cole, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and David Beckham. And lo! It didn't work any better than it did under Sven; it was worse, if that's possible. Joe Cole was at least visible. If anyone has the faintest idea how Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard spent their game, let me know: I'll be damned if a single one of Gerrard's passes actually reached anyone (apart from a number of surprised spectators), and Lampard, on fire for Chelsea, looked like he'd been drugged. Surely someone, somewhere in the FA, has cottoned on that STEVEN GERRARD AND FRANK LAMPARD CANNOT PLAY TOGETHER! THEY ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME PLAYER IN A DIFFERENT BODY, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BEING THAT FRANK LAMPARD IS IN FORM RIGHT NOW AND STEVEN GERRARD ISN'T! EITHER PLAY A 4-3-3 WITH LAMPARD OR A 4-4-2 WITH GERRARD AND BARRY, BUT PICK ONE OR THE OTHER, YOU BLOODY SORRY EXCUSE FOR A COACHING STAFF!
Sorry, had to get that off my chest. I haven't mentioned Beckham yet, largely because anyone who's seen a
League One MLS game recently knows exactly what happened: he took a few largely ineffective corners and tried to score from a 40-yard free kick, for reasons known only to himself.
Up front, Michael Owen and Peter Crouch started the match. Michael Owen failed to score! Please, contain your astonishment - I know Owen is England's first-choice striker, despite not having scored since playing Russia at Wembley three months ago, but even great-strikers-who-can't-score-and-are-made-out-of-papier-maché have an off day. Or two. or sixty. He injured himself again in this match, so he won't be playing for a while, not even in our upcoming
friendly extremely important qualifying match against Croatia.
Peter Crouch scored again, which is nice considering he almost never starts at Liverpool and wouldn't have started here if Wayne Rooney were fit. Jermaine Defoe replaced Owen after his injury, but that's about all he did. And McClaren brought on Alan Smith to replace Peter Crouch during the second half, which is probably all the mention he deserves.
Yesterday, I slagged off the English youth system and the fact that, once the current crop of top English players retires, we'll be left with Micah Richards, Theo Walcott, and Sir Alex Ferguson's shoe-shine boy. Today, though, I'm taking a more positive note. For the love of God, this is an England squad that can call upon four members of the Chelsea starting 11 and a host of other top players from some of the best teams in the world. Why, for the love of God, could we barely beat a team that might have improved if reinforced by members of the Austrian FA's cleaning staff?
Someone in the FA, please, listen to me. Find us a decent manager. Anyone. Someone who knows the basic, rudimentary techniques for building a functioning football team, rather than a mob of 11 individuals running around on some grass for 90 minutes. Someone other than Steve McClaren. I don't care if we qualify or not anymore, largely because, if we do qualify, there's a fairly good chance we'll embarass ourselves repeatedly on live television.
I'm holding out for José Morinho, but to be honest, I'll take anyone.