With the World Cup in full swing, it's easy to forget that, as soon as it's over, we'll be thrust back into the cold, uncaring world of club football. Okay, okay, maybe it's not that bad for most of you, but I'm a Liverpool fan, so, yeah, it's that bad. Probably worse.
My favorite soccer site in the world is Oh You Beauty, written by a man who goes by the Brazilian-esque singular name of nate. Normally Liverpool-focused, he also has some of the clearest, most insightful World Cup game recaps on the interwebs, so I highly suggest checking him out now and in the future.
As the Cup semi finals loom, and with some exciting(ish) developments in the Liverpool world, I thought now would be a good time to conduct our first-ever Pandagoal interview. Hit the jump to read what nate has to say about the World Cup, England's shortcomings and more in part 1 of our interview. Part 2 runs Thursday, so stay tuned! Hey nate! After our dismal 09-10 at Anfield, have you been able to enjoy the World Cup like you normally would? I know you're an objective sort of fellow by nature, but are there any teams you've found yourself rooting for/against that are still in the mix?
You're far, far, far too kind, Marc.
The World Cup has been a much-needed, warmly welcomed distraction from all things Liverpool, only to be brought back down to Earth recently with the appointment of Roy Hodgson. That's what happens when there are days off in-between games, I guess.
Even though the first round was incredibly low-scoring, and despite England's perpetually hilarious failures, this World Cup's been fascinating. Parity's become the byword, along with European countries struggling to keep pace with South America, until the quarterfinals at least. Anyone who says they guessed Paraguay and Uruguay would make the quarters is lying to you, but it goes to show that location matters, and it means something when the World Cup takes place in winter. Which we'll have again in 2014, although Brazil's climate is a wee bit different than South Africa's.
To steal a line from Bill Simmons, I'm a sports bigamist when it comes to international soccer. Yes, I like seeing the US do well, and rooting against the national team might get me deported, but following England is what got me into the sport oh so many years ago. It was painful to see both in the same group, although in following England, I obviously have masochistic tendencies.
I know the World Cup's supposed to be about patriotism – America, fuck yeah! – but I just can't be jingoistic about sports. Especially when I'm so obsessive about the Premier League and Liverpool. It's heresy, but when it comes to soccer, it's club before country, and it's the players I'm familiar with that I root for. Although wearing an England jersey in public the day before they faced the US might not have been my best idea.
To confuse matters more, I also support Holland and Spain. Part of it has to do with Liverpool players, especially in regards to Spain, but I've always had a thing for the Dutch team because of Cruyff and the 1974 side. (aside: David Winner's Brilliant Orange, on football in the Netherlands, is required reading. One of the best ever books on the sport.) So far, at least Holland and Spain are still alive, and if that happens to be the final, I may go insane with glee. And I actually would be able to feign objectivity. Because despite what I aim for when writing reviews of World Cup (or Liverpool) matches, I'm not objective in the slightest.
As for teams I can't stand, I'm happy to say they've been eliminated – Mexico, France, and Italy. France and Italy's spectacular implosions were especially delicious; both previous World Cup finalists out in the group stage. I'm still getting mileage off the schadenfreude. Usually, Argentina's on that list as well, but it's hard to dislike a team that Mascherano captains and is coached by the Che Guevara acolyte that is Diego Maradona.
It's also nice to see Brazil go out, and not just because Holland were the team to do it. Admittedly, the contrarian that I am, I can't dislike Dunga – there are similarities between his side and the way Rafa Benitez sets up his team; my kind of football, even if it isn't always easy on the eyes – but Brazil winning its sixth World Cup would have been beyond boring. Thankfully, Holland (and Felipe Melo, and Brazil's set play defending) ensured that won't happen.
It's a pity Holland and Brazil met up in the quarterfinals. On what we've seen so far, that could have been the final if the draw was kinder to us.
As a Liverpool fan, I found it odd/sad to watch the English national team replicate the 09-10 Liverpool team in loving detail -- isolated and angry striker, lots of possession but no ideas in the final third, a few subpar players who deserved neither the starting spot repeatedly given them nor quite the amount of abuse they took, a few brutal goal-related ref calls, and a team full of stress that looked like it was having no fun at all. Where/how did things go wrong in the "golden generation's" final World Cup for England, and who deserves the blame? Capello? Gerrard? Terry? The FA/system?
No matter how bad Liverpool's season was, I take umbrage with that comparison of Torres and Rooney. Torres was injured. Rooney was a petulant, over-heated, hairy-handed garden gnome unable to hit the target. Small difference.
But in regards to England, can't we just blame everyone?
Capello is still a world-class manager, and England would be incredibly stupid to fire him, but there were some surprising tactical decisions. He never seemed to settle on a keeper, and Green punished him for it. He fell into the same Lampard/Gerrard trap as Svennis and Second-Choice Steve. He persisted with an outdated 4-4-2 made even worse by having Gerrard abdicate responsibility for the left flank, trying to do everything from a "free role." And he bafflingly shut out Joe Cole, one of the few creative sparks in the squad. I'll wonder why Capello didn't use 4-2-3-1 with Gerrard in the hole and Joe Cole on the left for years.
Gerrard seemingly struggled with the captaincy as well, but I'm more inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. Whether that's because of my Liverpool bias or because I think Capello short-sheeted him by deploying him on the left is up to you. Sadly, he looked a lot like he did for Liverpool last season, which was rarely at his best. Maybe it was the weight of the world on his shoulders, but my suspicion is that age makes fools of us all, especially with Gerrard's hard-charging style.
And, of course, the Terry saga can't go without mention. To be fair, outside of his mystifying desire to play three steps too high up the pitch in the round of 16, leading to Germany's two early goals, Terry had a good tournament. He was especially impressive against Slovenia. But the Bridge Affair disrupted the team, and Terry never seemed to get the memo that he wasn't captain anymore. The aborted coup prior to Slovenia was especially ham-handed. But that was no surprise.
There are more players we can scapegoat: Heskey's goal-shyness, Glen Johnson's avoidance of defense, Green's howler, Lampard's inability to hit the target except for the one time a good goal was ruled out, the fact that James Milner actually started multiple games in a World Cup, etc., etc. As is always the case with England in the World Cup.
But I think you hit the nail on the head by suggesting the FA/system last. The FA and Premier League will shoulder a lot of the blame once the media begins investigating England's demise in more detail.
The FA still has no national academy for young prospects, with the Burton National Football Centre not due for completion until 2012. There are 2,769 English coaches who have completed their UEFA coaching badges, compared to 34,970 in Germany, 29,420 in Italy, 23,995 in Spain, and 17,588 in France. That's an egregious discrepancy. And the Premier League, the most frenetic football league in the world, where every member of the English national team plies their trade, is still the only major European league without a winter break. It's no coincidence that most of the English players looked completely spent come June, nor is it coincidental that the highest number of European countries – many of which with players in the Prem – are out at this stage of the tournament.
As always when England exits a major tournament, questions will be asked. Hopefully, they find some correct answers this time, and aren't just satisfied with 'well, that's England.' At the least, we can't blame it on any "golden generation" anymore. And I still find it funny we only hear that term when England's eliminated from a competition.
Interesting! I think Rooney has a case that he's not fully fit, but he can't argue with the garden gnome comparisons.
Before we move on from the English, I want to talk about Glen Johnson. As you say, he seems to have an aversion to defending despite, well, being a defender. Yet he's a national starter and a highly paid Liverpool player, presumably because he's a threat in attack. Given this conundrum, is he actually a good player? Are you glad he plays for Liverpool? Should someone consider making him a winger or midfielder?
Johnson can be a good player, but he needs help from the formation and his teammates. As with a lot of attacking fullbacks, there must be protection from holding midfielders and mobile centerbacks. He had neither with England. He was less exposed at Liverpool because of Mascherano, but there were still times Carragher, among others, couldn't get over to cover.
I'm glad he's at Liverpool, even if the fee was too high. Or maybe I should say "was glad," or at least that I might be forced to change my opinion. In Benitez's 4-2-3-1 formation, width ideally came from the fullbacks, and Johnson provided width. He was Liverpool's best player for the first six weeks of last season with two goals and three assists before beginning to struggle, both because of injury and Liverpool's other defensive woes. Who knows if that'll still be the case under Hodgson. Fulham's fullbacks were often deeper, in a flat back four, especially away from home, and Johnson can suffer under those circumstances.
I've heard the winger argument before, but I don't buy it. Yes, as a stop-gap, but not as a consistent position. He's dangerous in attack when allowed to build up a head of steam; he'd be given a lot less space coming from midfield, and he doesn't have great close control to make that space. Johnson's almost prototypical of the tactical movement leading to 4-2-3-1 that we've see from most top sides. Fullbacks are crucial, which is why Maicon and Dani Alves, to name two Brazilians (naturally) are so highly lauded – this article from Jonathan Wilson, probably the smartest football writer working right now, excellently explains how vital they've become. Johnson, while nowhere near as talented or consistent, is a player in a similar vein.
On Thursday we talk about standout players from the tournament, which clubs newer/casual fans might want to pick up, and much more. Stay tuned!