Walcott Criticises Capello World Cup Regime

Pete South comments on Theo Walcott’s recent foray into the world of publishing – in which the Arsenal star may inadvertantly give us an insight into his relationship with Ar

Theo Walcott has openly criticised England manager Fabio Capello for his “cold and clinical” regime that undermined England’s World Cup campaign in South Africa last year.

Walcott was left out of the final squad that travelled to South Africa last summer before England crashed out at the second round stage against Germany, and the Arsenal midfielder believes the prevailing mood of discipline that surrounded the camp before the tournament did little to help.

In extracts taken of his book that has been serialised in the Sun newspaper, Walcott wrote:

“It became obvious straight away that Mr Capello was very strict. It was like being in the presence of a headmaster.

“If you are eating and you look over to where he is and he is looking at you, you look down and eat straight away. You’re s*** scared of him, basically.

“He picked players on form and that was it. No sentiment. No friendships. Cold and clinical.

“There was something very stiff and starchy about Mr Capello’s regime before the 2010 World Cup,

“I found it difficult to be myself. Players split up along club lines.” He added.

“There was an Aston Villa group and a Manchester United group and the staff weren’t very relaxed. It all felt a bit tense. Everyone was a bit too serious.” He added.

Most placed a Euro 2012 free bet on Walcott being involved in Poland and Ukraine next summer, although it is unknown how Capello will take the remarks.

Walcott added that there was particular incident at a training camp in Austria that shook his confidence ahead of the tournament and highlighted his authoritarian approach – something that the Italian was widely criticised for in the fall out following their exit against Germany.

“We headed out to a training camp in the Austrian Alps before we left for South Africa. Something happened out there that shook my confidence. It was the second day, and I made a run inside from my position out wide on the right.” He wrote.

“Suddenly Mr Capello started screaming at me at the top of his voice. Training stopped and everyone stared at their feet and looked embarrassed.

“’Theo,’ he was yelling, ‘I will kill you if you come inside like that again!’ Despite Mr Capello’s outburst, I never quite knew what was required of me. I was confused.

“I had been injured so much that season that my confidence was fragile, but no one ever helped me.”

“If you are the boss, surely you want everyone playing well and you want to encourage everyone. It killed me and I felt it wasn’t fair.”

But the former Southampton winger did have some words of encouragement for Capello, who will step down from his role with England after Euro 2012 next year, saying the former Real Madrid manager had changed his approach since last year.

“Things have gone well since then,” he wrote. “I came straight back into the first team after the World Cup and have been selected for Euro 2012 qualifiers when I’ve been fit.

“The atmosphere with England is much more relaxed now. There are more smiles around the camp these days. Mr Capello has changed, lots of things have changed. He is more approachable.” He added.

Capello is likely to take a dim view of Walcott’s comments when it comes to selecting him for the qualifiers next month – matches against Bulgaria and Wales which should see the England Euro 2012 odds shorten as the game’s approach.

Before We All Get Carried Away…

…about how we’re going to win the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, here are some stats to consider:

* Howard Webb is English and he’s a policeman. From Rotherham.

* There have been seven World Cup tournaments held in North, Central and South America. All seven have been won by teams from South America – but  worryingly for Brazil, the hosts have won only two of them (Uruguay in 1930, Argentina in 1978)

* Howard Webb is will be 43 in 2014, so he probably won’t be refereeing in Brazil.

* England have never got past the quarter finals in the four ‘American’ tournaments we qualified for. Our best performance in South America was the quarter finals in Chile in 1962, which was the last time we played in a South American World Cup. The last World Cup game we played in North, Central or South America was the ‘Hand Of God’ game…which is a almost a quarter of a century ago anyway!

* Howard Webb is from Rotherham, which is nearly 6000 miles from Johannesburg. It’ll probably be warmer in Rotherham today…but let’s see how Howard Webb (the English referee who’s a policeman from Rotherham) handles the heat of the World Cup final! We’ll be back after an annoying Hyundai advert about cars playing football.

Not sure who’s going to win tonight, but Holland’s price is probably far too big – however, the stat I like is that the country which eliminates Germany from the competition is far more likely to win it than the one that eliminates Brazil; it should probably be Spain in that case, but there have been a couple of times when Brazil were knocked out by countries that went on to win for the first time – Argentina in 1978 and France in 1998 – but both of them were hosts, which seems to count against Holland.

Let’s just hope the game is a good one. Unlike any of ours.

Update: my wife has just berated me for not knowing that Howard Webb’s wife is called Kay. Good job the BBC made up for this omission.

Don’t Mention The Euro

The 1966 final has cast a shadow over past five or so decades: in some ways it’s difficult for those of us that do not have our own memories of the game to really believe it happened and that we actually beat the Germans, despite being witnessess to the win in Belgium in the European Championship and the simply astonishing 5-1 win in September 2001.

Playing the Germans in tournament football always seems to signify the end of an era. The 3-2 quarter final defeat in 1970 – after leading 2-0 – ended England’s reign as World Champions: just over two years later a 3-1 home defeat in the European Championships was the beginning of the end for Alf Ramsey: it was another eight years until we qualified for the final stages of a major international tournament. In 1982 two of the best players we had in the 1970s – Kevin Keegan and Trevor Brooking– made their only appearances in the World Cup in a 0-0 draw that knocked us out of that tournament, Keegan famously missing a late header. A similar story with the 1990 semi final: no-one would have predicted that game would have been Paul Gascoigne’s last game in the World Cup. Even when we hosted the European Championships in 1996, the Germans beat us. Last game at Wembley: Germany won.

So before this afternoon’s game, let’s not forget that our record against them since an Alan Shearer goal beat them in Euro 2000 is three wins and two defeats. And that they have never beaten us in a tournament game over 90 minutes in neutral territory.

There’s every reason to be confident of an England win within the context of what’s already happened in this tournament. The draw with the USA was dire, but the USA won the group and only crashed out to Ghana last night in extra time. The Algeria game was terrible and looking back on it that result cost us the group rather than Landon Donovan’s late goal against the Algerians; we’re in the ‘difficult’ half of the draw because we deserve to be. The Slovenia game was a must win and England woke up and started to play something like tournament football.

We’ve not had anyone sent of yet (don’t worry, there’s plenty of time for that), we’ve not had the opportunity to thrash a poor team with ten men and we’ve not lost a game to the team that eventually finished bottom of our group have we? We also have an Italian coach: if you’re wondering why that’s significant, look at Italy’s record against Germany in the World Cup Finals. The Germans have never beaten the Italians and that includes two semi finals and a final. They won’t beat them again this year either!

A couple of weeks ago, Fabio Capello was being ridiculed everywhere; tomorrow, the red tops might be demanding an honorary knighthood. But remember that if we win, there’s a good chance we’ll be playing Argentina. A bit like beating the Cybermen in order to face the Daleks.

Here’s the team.

Slovenia Preview (World Cup Version)

Difficult to know where to start for this one: I don’t think any of us were expecting the current situation to be this dire. If we don’t win and the States beat Algeria then we’ll have been knocked out in the group stages for the first time since 1958.

We previewed our game with the Slovenes last year (the original article is here) and not a great deal has changed for them: Robert Koren has since been released by WBA and they have not been allowed to replace striker Nejc Pecnik (broken ankle).

Let’s start with the numbers. We won 2-1 at Wembley last September with a penalty from Frank Lampard and a Jermain Defoe goal before Zlatan Ljubijankic got one back for them six minutes before time. Since then they have only lost once (against Russia in the first leg of the qualification playoff in November) in their last nine games. In that respect, they’re actually doing better than us as we’ve lost twice since beating them: the last qualification game against Ukraine and the defeat in the desert friendly against Brazil.

When I have a punt I normally only look at away form for tournament games and this is where things start getting a little worrying. Over the last 20 games our form is better than theirs, but over the last five games Slovenia have outperformed us and have kept three clean sheets to our…ummm…one. And before you ask, that doesn’t include the game against the Platinum Stars, which sounds like some kind of Swedish pop band from the 1970s than a genuine football team.

That stat alone indicates that there won’t be many goals tomorrow. Under 2.5 according to the bookies, although interestingly the spread betting firms seem to think it might be around 2.6 but that might be to attract people who think this game is going to be a walkover (in the same way as Algeria was). Consecutive England clean sheets aren’t out of the question – the one bright spot so far is the defence – but once again it’s our lack of firepower up front that’s a problem.

As for all the other stuff…Fab and JT might be doing a wonderful job papering over the cracks, but there’s absolutely no doubt that there’s something wrong in the camp. So look out for various ‘inside stories’ being flogged to the tabloids after English interest in the tournament ends (but remember not to buy any featured in the Daily M*il) and enjoy the rather wooden declarations of love and peace while you can because if we go out tomorrow the fallout is going to be  absolutely spectacular. The only thing saving us from being a total laughing stock is that France have done that with their usual Gallic flair: in footballing terms we’re playing about as well as Greece, who are currently packing their bags after losing to Argentina.

I’ve had a couple of calls tonight about where I’m going to watch the game and to be honest I don’t know yet…but I’ve not ruled out behind the sofa. I’m also not completely sure if all red is the right choice sartorially (Wales anyone?) and when it comes to making a prediction here I have to be honest and say that I really have no idea what’s going to happen. I know what I’d like to happen, but I’m not prepared to put my money where my mouth is.

The best case scenario is an England win, but realistically speaking – and that takes out recent form into account – we may be looking at a tense game that might not be decided until well into the second half. An early England goal would be nice but wouldn’t necessarily guarantee the right result; it’s possible that an early strike by Slovenia might galvanise England into some kind of action. On the other hand, can we actually play any worse than we already have done?

Still, we’ve been in similar – and worse – situations before and we’ve got out of them. On June 11th 1986 we faced Poland in our last group game needing a win to qualify for the next round. It was a late kick off for those days (kick off was 4pm local time which means about 9pm GMT) and when Gary Lineker scored the third my dad and I made so much noise my mum told us off. Enjoy!

Algeria Preview

You often hear pundits claiming that there’s no such thing as an easy game in the World Cup anymore: while they’re probably correct, it’s difficult to contradict the argument that England’s game with Algeria tomorrow night is potentially our easiest game in Group C.

The Algerians do not travel well; the Desert Foxes also have a very poor recent record against European opposition. As well as losing 1-0 to Slovenia last weekend, they have also recently suffered 3-0 defeats to both Ireland and Serbia. Algeria have won three away games in the past year: 2-0 against the mighty Zambia during World Cup qualification, and wins over Mali and Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup earlier this year. Algeria were lucky to win the latter: they trailed 2-1 going into stoppage time.

Only three of their squad of 23 play in Algeria including two of the three keepers, one of whom (Faouzi Chaouchi) was to blame for the goal the Slovenians scored on Sunday. The rest of the squad play in Europe and it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that six of them play in France. Closer to home, defender Nadir Belhadj and midfielder Adlene Guedioura play for Portsmouth and Wolves respectively; Madjid Bougherra is a Rangers player, which might explain why he’s not exactly been backwards in coming forwards today.

Compounding their poor record in front of goal, they’ll be without striker Abdelkader Ghezzal, who was sent off for two stupid yellow cards in their first game. Veteran striker Rafik Saifi (who plays in the French 2nd division
for Istres) or the relatively inexperienced Rafik Djebbour of AEK Athens are the only other options at striker: Saifi is the only player in the entire squad who has scored more than ten goals at international level.

If you fancy a punt, it’s possible that we could keep a clean sheet (only Brazil in 1970 and Romania in 1998 have scored against us in corresponding group games since 1966), but in case you hadn’t noticed we’ve got a few issues of our own. Apart from the inclusion of Gareth Barry, the team for tomorrow is still a mystery and – perhaps more worryingly – Stevie G’s goal against the USA last Saturday was the first time an England player had scored in an ‘away’ game since Jermain Defoe scored twice against the Dutch before the start of last season: we don’t have any Japanese defenders up our sleeve for this game. Wayne Rooney and Emile Heskey haven’t scored in an away game since the 4-0 win over Kazakhstan just over a year ago – although I agree with John Motson that Rooney is due a goal for England.

It’s possible that there won’t be that many goals in this game: one of the less appealing scenarios (other than an Algeria win or another draw) would be something similar to the win over Trinidad & Tobago in the last World Cup. That game was going nowhere until two late goals settled it. The last time we failed to score in the second group game was in 1990 (a dreadful goalless draw with the Dutch) and we haven’t scored three since beating Argentina in 1962.

For anoraks and train spotters, here’s the list of the second group games England have played in:

England 0-1 USA (1)
England 2-0 Switzerland (2)
England 0-0 Brazil (0)
England 3-1 Argentina (4)
England 2-0 Mexico (2)
England 0-1 Brazil (1)
England 2-0 CSSR (2)
England 0-0 Morocco (0)
England 0-0 Netherlands (0)
England 1-2 Romania (3)
England 1-0 Argentina (1)
England 2-0 Trinidad (2)
P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5

1950: England 0-1 USA (yes, that game)

1954: England 2-0 Switzerland (we beat the hosts!)

1958: England 0-0 Brazil

1962: England 3-1 Argentina

1966: England 2-0 Mexico (Bobby Charlton scores from just outside Wembley station)

1970: England 0-1 Brazil (the Gordon Banks save, the Bobby Moore tackle and a thin…well, thin-ish…Francis Lee)

1982: England 2-0 Czechoslovakia

1986: England 0-0 Morocco (Ray Wilkins gets sent off)

1990: England 0-0 Netherlands

1998: England 1-2 Romania

2002: England 1-0 Argentina (the Beckham penalty)

2006: England 2-0 Trinidad & Tobago

Overall: P12 w6 D3 L3 F13 A5 (so that’s less than a goal a game)

11 Lions expects (and really, really wants!) an England win, although it may not be the landslide that some fans seem to be expecting. Having said that, a convincing win would be just what the doctor ordered and would set us up nicely for the last group game next Wednesday.

We’ll have some kind of reaction either late tomorrow night or on Saturday morning, although after a hellish work week Saturday lunchtime might be a more realistic option. Enjoy the game…and spare a thought for the French.

Only joking!