Can someone answer me a very simple question – why should anyone feel any differently about the respective talents of Stsve McLaren and the England team now, than they did before Saturday’s surprise win for Israel?
On Saturday, the papers were full of debate about whether McLaren should get sacked, coupled with an analysis of where it all went wrong. Many came to the conclusions that a) McLaren is an average manager who found his level at Middlesborough and should never have been allowed to get the job, and b) our players are perhaps not the collection of world beaters we claim them to be.
The arguments are compelling. McLaren is essentially a poor man’s Sven, ironic given how quickly people wanted rid of the Swede, while Gerrard, Lampard, Terry and Rooney, our most gifted players, look shadows of their club selves playing for the national team, away from the excellent support of their more talented teammates.
It seemed that, at last, English football might look inwards for the problem, rather than finding something or someone else to blame. There would of course be moaning about the plastic pitch and Johnny Foreigner, but the voice of reason would have to win out. And with the experiment of plumping for the best available English manager deemed a complete disaster, maybe sense would finally prevail.
And then, out of nowhere, Croatia and Russia both lost. Suddenly, the players were being talked up again, as one of the favourites for next summer’s tournament.
First off, that smacks of arrogance, as if qualification is already assured, when a point against a very decent Croatian side is still required. But do we not learn? We haven’t got near a final in a long time, and the brand of football we play is uninspiring and not in the slightest bit threatening.
But what confuses me most is that, listening to Five Live, they are now praising McLaren. What for? He has done precisely nothing since those same analysts were against him.
It seems to me that the most impressive thing McLaren has done since be in charge is simply to be in the right place at the right time for his get out of jail free card.