Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Week in England

The Week in England
Off-field, it was such a colourful week, England's 0-2 defeat to Spain, Fabio Capello's second loss as national team manager, was a mere footnote.

Chelsea's firing of Luis Felipe Scolari and the tug-of-love for David Beckham between LA and AC were bigger news, but the Three Lions' defeat deserved more column inches. Unlike Steve McClaren, Capello has built a formidable team in a short time, a 4-1 away win in Croatia being the highlight so far, and unlike predecessor Sven-Goran Eriksson, in friendlies the Italian plays his strongest team for as much of the 90 minutes as he can.

Seville was a reality check therefore on the perennially fantasizing English, many of whom are already entertaining hopes of lifting the World Cup in South Africa. Spain's technique was superior as always, but their organisation was too, while their formation had a fluidity England can only dream about.

I cannot see how England, however improved they are under Capello, can defeat Spain in a couple of years without a big dollop of luck. It is impossible for England to develop a comparable mobility to give them that extra gear. The Three Lions can probably match anyone else in Europe, but there is also Brazil and Argentina to consider. Of course, myriad factors are brought to bear in a World Cup Finals, and it is a cup competition, with all that that entails.

But on paper, England cannot triumph in 2010.

***

England's biggest star and still the world's best-paid player, has unexpectedly become a tug-of-love case.

David Beckham is owned by MLS but wanted by AC Milan. Clearly his American dream is a bust now he has re-established himself in the national team, an adventure he believed he had reached the end of in 2006. But having signed the deal of the century in Los Angeles, Becks belongs to the Galaxy, for now. So what we have is a football v business battle of ethics, not unlike Kaka's absurd dalliance with Manchester City.

If football has values, Beckham must stay in Milan, full stop. But since the sport has got so deep into bed with the many-tentacled commercial world, Becks' attempts to extricate himself are proving painful. MLS had him as the cornerstone of their expansion plans and are now feeling jilted at the altar.

"They clearly were looking at this as a football decision and we were looking at it as a football and business decision," Tim Leiweke, LA Chief Executive said. "I'm not sure they ever quite understood the magnitude of the losses the Galaxy and the league would have had to bear this season."

But Beckham must part with his US team. To spurn or endanger the chance of playing in his last World Cup would be a disgrace and MLS must realise it is always better to move on an unhappy player, even if he is the world's most important one, before his moodiness affects the squad as a whole.

***

At home, Chelsea fired their third coach in three years, despite still being in the Champions League, FA Cup and Champions League qualifying places. Scolari was given no money to spend in the January transfer window either, which makes Roman Abramovich's decision seem doubly cruel.

The Russian has so far poured over £700m of his fortune into the West London club but this week the Blues also posted an annual loss of £66million, to add to the previous years' deficits of £75m, £140m and £88m. Abramovich has lost at least £12 billion in the last few months' economic slump, and on his fourth Chelsea manager in three years, one can only chuckle at Chief Executive Bruce Buck's description of his boss, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2006:

"He has a very good business sense, a very good feel for people."

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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