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Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Impossible Decision by Adam Howard

by Adam Howard for World Football Commentaries

Fabio Capello Manager England 2010/11 Switzerland V England (1-3) Group G 07/09/10 UEFA Euro2012 Qualifier Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom
England manager, Fabio Capello.

Sometimes, the world works in mysterious ways. Imagine you’ve been wrestling with a problem for a while, even years, when suddenly something happens – completely out of your control – to solve it for you. Aside from an overwhelming sense of relief, you’d surely also feel that it was a sign. Whether you believe in an intelligent higher power or simply the cosmic conspiring of the universe, it’d be hard to ignore.

The Eternal Debate: Stevie G. and Lamps?

So how does Fabio Capello feel right now? For years he, and his predecessors in the England hot seat, have struggled with the ‘Gerrard-Lampard’ problem, and yet now, well, it seems marvellously clear. Injury kept Lampard from Capello’s squad for the matches against Bulgaria and Switzerland, and England turned in the sort of balanced, fluid performances that were conspicuous only by their absence in South Africa.

Still though, I’m betting that Capello isn’t feeling quite as content as we might imagine. Because if the solution to this selection conundrum is to simply drop Lampard from the starting XI, someone would have solved it years ago. The fact that the conundrum even exists in the first place is down to the fact that Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard are as close to undroppable as players can be. Aren’t they?

Bildnummer: 04002308 Datum: 07.10.2008 Copyright: imago/Sportimage..Frank Lampard (re.) und Steven Gerrard Photo via Newscom

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Simply put, they are two of the best box-to-box midfielders of their generation. Players who can tackle, pass, shoot and put in an almighty shift with the best of the best. Both have inspired their respective clubs to success season-after-season and after Wayne Rooney, they probably occupy positions two and three in terms of England’s best players. They are, in every sense, players who belong on the international stage.

Why the Pairing Was Ill-Fated

Indeed, the pairing of Gerrard and Lampard had many an England fan dribbling and dreaming of ’66, right up until the moment that they actually played together in the same midfield; the moment when it became exceptionally clear that in this case, two rights made a wrong. A central midfield partnership of Gerrard and Lampard has never worked. Ever. Full stop. I can’t even really say why.

They’re too similar. They play the same role. They get in each other’s way. They’re too attacking. They’re too undisciplined. All these reasons have been cited, and all have elements of truth in them, but it doesn’t dispel the fact that these are two talented and intelligent (on the pitch at least) footballers, who should surely be able to adapt their games to suit one another. Somehow though, they never did.

So Gerrard, being the more adaptable of the two, has spent the last few years of his career for England playing sort of on the left flank. But not really. And Lampard has been asked to play a more withdrawn role than comes naturally, so as to allow Gerrard freedom to roam.

So in essence, you’re asking Gerrard to play his natural role from an incorrect position and Lampard to play an unfamiliar one from his usual position.

And people wondered why the England soccer jersey has never seen the best of Gerrard and Lampard?

Of course, many people suggested simply dropping one or other of them. Lampard was most often cited as the lesser player who should miss the cut in favour of a Gareth Barry or a Michael Carrick or (in those rare moments when he was fit) an Owen Hargreaves. But the England managers, who had that option, have never seen fit to take it. And in a sense, I can understand that.

Can't Leave Out Your Best Players

No manager wants to have to leave out one of their best players. I play Football Manager, and it’s a real problem. When you’ve conquered the virtual world, Everton are the champions of Europe, you’re the biggest fish in world football and money is no object, how can you justify dropping Tim Cahill to select the flash new striker you just splashed twenty-five mill on? It just isn’t... fair.

And that’s Capello’s problem. When the next qualifiers come around, Lampard will most likely be fit. And Capello will, almost certainly, shoe horn him back into the side. And England, most probably, will stutter a bit, they may still win, but they will do so with less confidence, less balance, fluidity and panache than they showed in these two most recent fixtures. As I said, it’s a conundrum. Or is it?

Surely, this is the reason that Capello is England manager, is it not?

England manager Fabio Capello (R) and Wayne Rooney attend a team training session at St Jakob Park stadium in Basel September 6, 2010. England is due to play Switzerland in a Euro 2012 qualifier soccer match in Basel on September 7.  REUTERS/Stefan Wermuth (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Fabio Capello with Wayne Rooney.

The likes of Keegan, Eriksson and McLaren have all failed to get this done. But Capello was brought in with a reputation for not respecting reputations. He was a managerial hard man, who picked players who deserved to be picked. He’s an efficient, successful coach, who doesn’t mess around, and doesn’t have time for sentimentality.

Of course, Mr. Capello (as the ‘real’ press seem to insist on calling him) has seen his reputation take a bit of a tumble of late. The World Cup saw him renege on many a promise. He took injured players to the World Cup. He took out of form players to the World Cup. He ignored in form players. He lost his cool. He failed. And to be honest, he’s lucky to still have his job – lucky the FA couldn’t afford his payoff.

Fabio Capello Must Decide

England’s future though, depends on the return of the manager that we were promised. We need Capello to do what it said on his tin. We need him to make the tough decisions. In fairness, he’s already made some. In picking younger squads, in giving less fashionable players a chance, Capello has as good as admitted that he made big mistakes at the World Cup.

Now he needs to do more.

He needs to stick with Gerrard OR Lampard. They cannot play together. That’s the simple truth. That’s the plain truth that we have known for a long time. And yet everyone has wasted time – not to mention a supposed golden generation – trying to find a complex solution, and ignoring the simplest one.

We should have just accepted Ockham’s razor, and cut the problem down the middle.

Steven Gerrard England 2010/11 Moreno Costanzo Switzerland Switzerland V England (1-3) Group G 07/09/10 UEFA Euro2012 Qualifier Photo Robin Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Steven Gerrard in action versus Switzerland.

Because no player is undroppable. The saying goes that no player is bigger than any given club. Well, the same applies to any given country; to England. Gerrard and Lampard have no God-given right to play for their country. They are there for their country if their country needs them. Truth is, their country only needs one marauding central midfielder. Their country also needs two out-and-out wingers and a holding player to play behind him.

Football, after all, is a team game. It’s no use picking your best XI players and sending them out on the pitch. If we did that, England wouldn’t have fielded a goalkeeper for about eight years, and where would that have gotten us? You have to play a goalkeeper, so we did, even though they’ve mostly been a bit shit.

So why have we been ignoring tactical logic and playing two identical players in midfield?

So Capello doesn’t have a conundrum anymore. He didn’t have to drop Lampard. Injury did the dirty work for him. Now we’ve all seen just how well England can play – the same England that we have all so bemoaned since the World Cup remember – when the manager picks the players he needs for his system, rather than trying to build a system around the players he wants to pick.

It’s so simple, and yet I’ve just written over 1000 words about it. It’s so simple, and yet three England managers have been unable to solve it. It’s so simple, and yet I am quietly – almost masochistically – confident that next time England play, Gerrard and Lampard will line up in the same midfield, once again.

It’s so simple, and yet it’s likely to cost Capello his job, and England any real chance of winning Euro 2012.

About the Author

Adam Howard is the founder of They Think It’s All Over…

Adam Howard Archive

Adam got his Messi jersey and Adidas adipures at soccerpro.com.

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