15 June 2006

It's Almost Like Watching Leyton Orient

And I apologize to the fine players and fans of Leyton Orient for dragging them into this. I've actually seen Leyton Orient play on a few occasions, and seen them put on a more spirited and committed effort than was in evidence from England today. Who would ever have thought watching England could make me feel like cutting my wrists or popping my head in a gas oven? Seriously, they were that bad. So bad, in fact, that I wound up cheering for Trinidad and Tobago, because there was a side that really cared, that was going all out to win for the sheer pride and joy of it.

And to be fair, there are some England players who still give their all and play like heroes, though the only one who immediately leaps to mind today is John Terry. He singlehandedly stopped two Trinidad and Tobago goals - one certain one and one nearly so - through heroic acrobatics that I just can't picture a Beckham or an Owen even attempting. But for the most part, England floundered about the pitch, barely able to string two passes together and repeatedly hoofing predictable balls up to Owen, who just isn't fit (or motivated) enough to deal with them in a meaningful way. One has to wonder why he's even on the pitch, or rather one would have to wonder if the answer weren't so obvious: Sven Goran Eriksson. All right, all right, I know I've wasted more than enough bandwidth bitching about the dour old Swede (I actually just learned, distressingly enough, that he's a few months younger than me!), so I'll leave it there and tell you a story about high school that kind of reminds me of what we witnessed today.

I went to a small Catholic high school, all white and not particularly strong on athletics, but one year when I was 16 or so, our basketball managed to win the downriver Catholic league championship. That put us in the state playoffs, and our first opponent was River Rouge High School, a large, mostly black school whose team had won the state championship so many times that people had almost stopped counting. The tallest kid on our team was about 6'1", which was roughly the height of the shortest kid playing for River Rouge. I wasn't a big basketball fan, but I got caught up in the excitement, and went along to the game at River Rouge, who had what by our standards looked like an NBA arena to play in and an NBA-type crowd (with the exception that they were nearly all black) who saw our band of diminutive white boys as little more than a speed bump on the road to another state championship.

Somehow I got it in my head that with enough courage and tenacity our boys could pull off the upset of a lifetime, and spent hours fantasizing just what it would look like for our guys to outsmart and outplay the giants of River Rouge. That fantasy evaporated within about three seconds of the tipoff, as a River Rouge player casually took the ball out of the hands of one of our players and almost lazily tossed it to a teammate who loped down the court and buried it in the basket with a downward dunk. Most of our players couldn't even touch the rim jumping at full stretch.

And that was the way things went, with very little variation. By halftime they were up by about 50 points, and brought on the reserves, and then the reserves to the reserves. They weren't mean or offensive about it, they showed the normal courtesy and respect you'd show any opponent, but they systematically, easily, almost laughably demolished us.

The point? I was thinking about midway through England's barren and sterile first half that in the matchup against Trinidad and Tobago, England were the equivalent of River Rouge, yet instead of joyfully striding to a 3 or 4-nil lead and bringing on the reserves, they were struggling for all they were worth just to keep their heads above water. Eventually T&T succumbed to the inevitable - they were, after all, the equivalent of a second or third division side going up against Man United or Chelsea - but not until England had done a far more convincing impression of a second or third division side than Trinidad and Tobago. It was pretty much a repeat of the dismal showing against Paraguay, and not much different from the form England have, with few exceptions, shown for years now. Years that unsurprisingly coincide with the reign of one Sven Goran Eriksson.

Does blame inevitably have to come back to the manager? When you've got players of the caliber than England does, I don't see where else you can look. Contrast the dismal and desultory England showing with the heroic comeback staged by Australia, a national team that on talent alone would struggle to make it out of lower division football. Had England gone one down against either Paraguay or Trinidad and Tobago, who thinks they would have been likely to come back and win either game. At best they would have struggled mightily for a draw and Sven would have come out afterward with his pursed face and pronounce it a "satisfying result." The man almost singlehandedly embodies what is wrong with English society and culture today and he's not even English. No wonder the FA picked him, and no wonder that now that he's finally taking his leave, they couldn't come up with anybody to replace him except his even less imaginative understudy.

P.S. Even if against all odds England do manage to win this World Cup - and after 40 years in the wilderness, winning is the only result worth acknowledging - I will still maintain that it was in spite of, not because of Eriksson. He'll be content with a quarterfinal or semifinal exit, and that's exactly why he's a perennial loser. On the bright side for those of you who have no interest at all in these football postings, if Sven gets his way, they'll be ending sooner rather than later.

1 comment:

Tijuana Terry said...

I don't understand. Do you mean it was almost like watching Orient, but Orient were better?