Something For The Weekend (303)
It was another night to forget for England fans this week, after our boys seemed to allow themselves to be bullied by a resilient but un-ambitious team from Montenegro. An absence of quality in and around the penalty area, aided and abetted by a German referee, made for a miserable night of frustration for the England players and fans alike.
Capello's decision to play both his wingers as south-paws, meant that they were either turning inside into the Balkan barrier, or if they got behind, they were always crossing with their weaker foot. So some dazzling wing-play from England hopes of the future, did not produce the service likely to circumvent the defiant defensive trenches.
There seemed little doubt that England missed the muscular presence of Emile Heskey and the quality delivery of David Beckham. Crouch had his every run blocked and Rooney was nearly bumping into Joe Hart, as he searched for the ball.
The mystery for me is the poor form of Gareth Barry and his loss of understanding between himself and Gerrard.
Those early days when Barry returned to the England team, when his partnership with Gerrard looked telepathic, seem to have gone forever. In those days Gareth seemed to hold his position perfectly, and his short passes around the edge of the box, were killing defences. It really looked like it was going to be the midfield pairing which England had been desperately searching for.
The Barry-Gerrard radar has just stopped working, and I can't remember seeing anyone look so miserable in an England shirt as Wayne Rooney, except for the fans, maybe.
But all this would have been rendered moot and academic, had the referee given the penalty, which was such a blatant a handball, that UEFA could hardly dream up a better example should they wish to illustrate the rule, to the uninitiated.
For anyone who has spent any time watching Champions League football over the last decade, where commentators are habitually required to explain to watching audience that the rules are different in Europe, and where sneezing
down the back of Lionel Messi's neck will often earn a free-kick; Tuesday's interpretation of the rules, might have come as a bit of a surprise. Certainly, the England players were caught out once again, expecting free-kicks, where none were forthcoming.
By the time Montenegro had run out of yellow-cards as a last-ditch defensive option, the referee decided to attune his interpretation of the rules accordingly, to ensure he got the result he wanted. Kevin Davies got booked for doing once, what the Montenegrins had been doing to Crouch all night.
The press will undoubtedly concentrate on England's shortcomings because as the goody-two shoes of world football, we think there is something noble about being good losers, but sooner or later we have to accept that we are
never going to match the best in technical skill, and we are never going to get favourable refereeing decisions, so we have to learn to play in the cynical expectation that we will get nowt.
The journey England need to make, is from the whimpering self-pity of the present to the screw-you cynical determination of the future.
We have to accept that the world is against us and its time we got mad about it, dried our tears and started to kick-arses. England players have to put away the begging bowl, tell it like it is, and go tell the tabloids to shove it: not sue them one week and then do an exclusive for them the next.
Yes Wayne, the world is against you and you better get used to it. The only answer is to smile through gritted-teeth and stick it to them.
Time for some head-banging.
Meanwhile the media have been too obsessed with the fate of a crowd of blokes stuck in a dark place and fearing there own survival, to bother too much with the injustices and inadequacies surrounding England. And as mothers, children and relations, awaited to see if the rescue would be successful, England were ignored.
That's right, Liverpool won their court case and now can be sold, administration and a nine-point penalty avoided, and the brand preserved for nation, or at least, by today's press, disencumber themselves of the killing debt.
No one can doubt that what has happened to Liverpool is wrong and very bad, but what the fans also know, is that if it had been any number of other clubs who were facing the same fate, there would have been no cause celebre
and the Liverpool fans would have seen it as the natural fate of a lesser and therefore insignificant club.
Not many other clubs would have found themselves on the front pages or on the six-o'clock news. There would have been less pressure for the judges to get the decision right, and the Divine right of the kings of the Kop, would not have come into play. Because it was Liverpool the media cared but other clubs would not be so fortunate.
When it comes to the Premiership, there's a few big brands who matter and the rest.
How much Villa matter will be temporarily decided on Saturday evening, when they take on the Champions at Villa Park. Its one of those fixtures which change the question from: How good are they?, to: How bad are they? As ever,
when facing the very top team, I will be dreading the rout, hoping for a draw, while dreaming of a win.
Then follows a series of fixtures which will tell us how disastrous their results against lesser lights were, at the beginning of the season.
My guess is that where Villa are at Christmas will provide a reasonable guide to the betting, as to how they will finish the season, unless Houllier buys well and wisely come the January transfer window.
With such a test in mind, I am rather glad that Emile Heskey has retired from his England duties, as the physical and psychological battering which this week's debacle would have entailed, would hardly be the best for the player of for Aston Villa.
The England fans will have to find themselves another scapegoat.
I just wish Emile would have one of those seasons which has the moaning buggers begging for his return. If his critics could do a bit of whining about patriotic duty and all that crap, I would be loving it, and loving it, just like Kevin Keegan.
Heskey has more important foe to vanquish than Montenegro and more important battles to win, in ensuring Villa stay in the top-half of the table, to be dissipating his powers doing graft for England, which the fans and the tabloids don't appreciate.
So keep your powder dry Emile and shoot those Blues down.
Here's some Brazilians.
Keep the faith!