Sunday, June 27, 2010

Layer 327 . . . The World Cup Runneth Over, and Lessons We Must Learn

Two weeks in, and it's half way house. The group stages are complete and we now know the 16 teams that will compete during the next two weeks en route to the final.

Not France (disgraced and shambolic). Not Italy (out-played - and serves them right for electing Berlusconi). For the first time ever the two previous finalists have been knocked out at the group stage.

England have come through by the skin of their undeserving teeth. Played three games against very average opposition and scored only two goals. And it's not like the Slovenian team were markedly worse.

The commentariat have been stupidly positive about England's efforts against Slovenia. The truth is that apart from Milner's superb cross that led to Defoe's shinned goal there was still a complete lack of wit, imagination, creativity and originality, let alone skill, in their play. It's all very well going on about greater effort and passion, but these alone won't win anything.

I heard an interesting theory that pre-tournament training at altitude (especially at the end of a long and tiring season?) can actually make your players MORE tired and LESS sharp in the short term. Let's hope this is the explanation for the complete uselessness of the likes of Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard, and that they'll now begin to re-acclimatise and return to whatever passes for normal, given that Rooney hasn't actually scored for England for literally years.

In boxing they talk about fighters losing their "hunger". Young boxers invariably come from mean city streets where use of the fists and physical strength are the sole means for many young men to guarantee a sense of self-worth and self-esteem - as a means of enforcing their will and desire.

England's footballers - this 'golden generation' - have never been 'hungry', either literally or metaphorically. Over-paid, over-coached, over-praised - their biggest issues are fearing mistakes and remembering what they've been programmed to do. Footballing robots. Hence lack of initiative, lack of spontaneity, lack of creativity.

Even as school kids they're over-coached and taught to follow orders. They fear being dropped from the team if they disregard the coach's instructions. Older readers might remember some notable players who hardly ever played for England because they were deemed to be unreliable and eccentric. It's a question of balance.

Nowadays you step out of line at your peril, even if you're John Terry. Pay attention kids - look and learn. Keep your mouth shut. Your ideas are not wanted, not welcomed, not needed. Industrial management has come to international football. Systems are all. Management strategies and policies rule - OK? England's manager gets £6m a year. It's City culture versus the spirit of the game.

Even the Brazilians seem to be suffering. Their game against Portugal was a disgrace. 0 - 0!!

And so sad England stagger on, with a desperate commentariat doing their best to see positives where there are currently virtually none. Today's the day of the Big One - England v Germany. Again.

Have England recovered from their altitude training? Will Rooney rediscover his mojo? Will Capello be smart enough to play Crouch and Joe Cole? Will Johnson and Milner fulfill their potential?

Maybe England should learn from the Japanese. Oxzen has already commented on the Japanese ( Layer 320). When England played them in a warm-up game last month it took a couple of unlucky own goals to defeat Japan - since England were completely unable to score a goal for themselves. It's worth repeating:

"The (Japanese Samurai) idea seems to be that with genuine effort, experience and application anyone can become good at performing skills and arts that demand high levels of fitness, balance, coordination, anticipation and flair. The Japanese football team seem to have taken hold of this attitude. Shame about the English."

In their last group game the Japanese team scored not one but two superb goals direct from free kicks - the only country to score a spectacular goal from a free kick in this World Cup. Honda managed to smash his kick through a narrow gap created by a Japanese player moving out of the wall, and Endo curled his kick beautifully right around the Danish wall later in the half, after Honda had faked the Danes into placing their wall too far to the left. And this was with a ball that's supposed to be unbendable and practically uncontrollable. It was wonderful to behold.

Here's another Honda special:

The other outstanding thing about Japan's play has been their ball control, again with a ball that's supposedly hard to control. Towards the end of the game against Denmark Honda in particular showed a staggering ability to take the ball in his stride and do things with it that only the likes of Ronaldo are supposed to be able to do. The way he created the third goal, and handed it on a plate to his colleague, was an absolute joy.

My conclusion is that if the Japanese can go from nothing at all to such high levels of skill in just a few years then England should take note and start asking how they can begin to emulate the Japanese.

How to stay calm in a tight spot? How to maintain full concentration? How to play without fear? How to apply imagination, spontaneity and creativity, and add them to discipline, effort, application, skill and determination? How to create empathy between team members? How to improve physical coordination?

Forget Total Football. Bring on Zen and the Art of Football, or Taotal Football.

PS Oxzen is sick and tired of listening to Eurocentric commentators being patronising about Asian and African teams, in a kind of watered-down Ron Atkinson way. Someone should pay attention to their comments and really take them to task about it.

PPS On Desert Island Discs this morning - Tony Adams - "As a young player I didn't know how to deal with life outside of football. The outside world was scary. So I drank." Spiritual Intelligence?

To his credit, Big T now talks about being an 'emotional cripple', and praises others for being emotionally intelligent.

"I now try to live usefully and walk humbly".

He also chose as his favourite track, "Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life." Good man.


Don't forget the return of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue:

Half a day left to listen to the previous programme.

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