There was that moment when the old head of Andrea Pirlo reacted to his seemingly effortless free kick hitting the bar. A sublime kick that swerved in the air and had England goalkeeper Joe Hart wrong footed. Not for Pirlo a litany of expletives at the near miss. The head or hands were not raised skywards. No sinking to his knees in the manner of a drama queen.
Pirlo simply gave a rueful look as much to say “been there, done that” or “shit happens.”
Before the game with England some who should know better alleged Pirlo might be past it. He looked anything but that to me. The ‘dummy’ for the first goal, the manner in which he controlled much of the game and his fitness; the 35 year old is clearly not ready to put his feet up just yet.
And what about that fitness? English players, some almost half his age, went down with cramp once an hour had gone in the match. Why? I didn’t see Pirlo go down with cramp.
While people are busy talking about near misses, some defensive weaknesses and the Wayne Rooney ‘problem’; I thought there was a gulf in fitness between the two teams.
The squad picked by Roy Hodgson was all about the future, not the present. For decades I’ve been pleading for the Football Association to appoint a manager who builds a side for a World Cup in years to to come. As long ago as World Cup 1994 I was calling for Roy Hodgson to be the England manager. That year he took Switzerland to the World Cup.
Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle were good choices to coach England in the nineties. They were ditched for issues not remotely related to football matters. The terrible appointments that followed those men means that Roy Hodgson is not going to be a manager who wins honours with England. He knows that. But if he puts in place the pieces of the jigsaw that his successors can make the most of, then he will have done a fine job for the national side.
Even if England come home early, the Football Association must keep Hodgson on. What the media must not do is call for Hodgson’s head. What the fans must not do is demand yet more change for the sake of it. If they do England could end up with other ‘take the money and run’ con men like Sven and Fabio.
The young ones that Hodgson has given a chance to did their manager and their country proud. They attacked. They shot on sight. They are not weighed down by expectation. Every England fan must make sure it stays that way.
Don’t do to Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley, Welbeck et al what fans and the media alike did to Wayne Rooney. Namely build him up a young man into something he could never be. A world class footballer.
Rooney has become to Hodgson what for so long Beckham was to Eriksson. Seemingly undroppable. I would not be surprised should he score against Uruguay and/or Costa Rica; but probably not if he’s stuck out on the left wing.
Some fans who are twenty years or more younger than I am still maintain Rooney is world class. I understand that you were not old enough to see true world class footballers in the shape of Pele or Beckenbauer, but surely now you know what world class looks like. Andrea Pirlo.
It is true that Rooney was played out of his favoured position for much of the game against Italy, and that he delivered a fine pass for the England goal, but world class he is not, never has been and never will be. If England carried a passenger last night, his name was Wayne Rooney. And that wasn’t totally his fault.
If England are to play Rooney, and Hodgson will, then play him in his most dangerous position. Then you might see the best of the eager to please striker.
Defensively, England look vulnerable. Without the experience of Ashley Cole and John Terry, England were naive at the back. Glen Johnson is out of his depth on the world stage. Leighton Baines has much to learn, but learn he will. It takes years for a defence to knit together. In time, young Calum Chambers will replace Johnson. He’s with Southampton right now but Arsenal are chasing the lad who will be the England right back for years to come.
England didn’t lose last night because they were hopeless or disinterested (as has been the case in some previous competitions). They gave it a go and looked dangerous going forward.
Italy had more composure and experience. They won due to their greater nous, fitness and that touch of class called Pirlo.
But the young guns of England were far from disgraced. Do not throw out these babies with the bath water. Do not hand them over to some smoke and mirrors foreign manager.
The England players will be a more mature bunch in four years time. Judge them then.