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Football: Whole new blame game; THE LAST WORD.

Byline: Alan Poole

Well that's it then - worst England team ever! A shambles, a disgrace, an affront to national pride, an insult to the best supporters in the world and an indelible slur on our sporting soul.

Held at home, humiliated away' one point from two matches when four was the very least we had the right to expect against a bunch of east-European nonentities who have only been proper countries for 10 minutes.

But we all know what the problem is, and at least the FA will finally have to get rid of that Swedish clown who's too busy chasing skirt and counting his cash to do his job properly. Not that he should have been appointed in the first place' tactically naive and too timid by half - sack him now and bring in a British boss who can stir up a bit of pride and passion.

What? He has? Well what about Beckham then? Mincing about like a big girl's blouse - he was never as good as he was cracked up to be and now he's lost what little pace he had he's a total waste of space. Let's dump him and give Gerrard and Lampard the room to play like they do for Liverpool and Chelsea. And while we're at it, appoint a proper captain like Terry Butcher or Tony Adams, a man's man, a natural-born leader who can put a bit of fire in their bellies.

Really? When was that, then? OK, so Posh might be out of the picture but what about the rest of those WAGs, a bunch of slappers flouncing around on an eternal hen party, distracting our boys from the job in hand' surely we've got to put a stop to that.

You don't say? OK, I'm fresh out of ideas - get Yellow Pages and look up Scapegoats Are Us.

Paul Robinson won't do, I'm afraid. Yes, the red-top comics had a bit of spiteful fun at his expense on Thursday morning, but anybody with half a football brain knows that that he wasn't remotely responsible for Croatia's second goal and that, if we exclude pitch-induced flukes from the equation, he was probably England's best player in Zagreb.

Wayne Rooney will fit the bill for a while, and it's obviously a major bonus that he hasn't got the self-control to ignore morons who think they can prove their patriotism by bawling out bovine insults from the sidelines. But class will tell sooner rather than later and the media will be forced to get off his back, just as they did when Alan Shearer and Michael Owen became the targets of equally ludicrous campaigns because they'd gone a couple of games without producing miracles on demand.

When Rooney first burst upon the international scene a couple of years back a national newspaper (I can't remember which one but it certainly smells like the Daily Mail) detailed one of their female writers to knock up a full-page article on how his spectacular arrival had put Beckham's nose out of joint.

There wasn't a shred of evidence for this theory, of course, but a picture of Beckham leaping on to Rooney for a piggy-back celebration was reproduced to 'prove' that the former golden boy was insanely jealous and desperate for any opportunity to gatecrash the young tyro's glory.

Now the woman who churned out this garbage was clearly too stupid to deduce that Beckham was usually first in the congratulations queue because, more often than not, he had provided the assist. But one would hope that the point hasn't been lost on Steve McClaren because the self-evident fact is that whatever formation you choose - 4-4-2, 3-5-2, the Christmas tree or the good old W-formation - you won't score too many goals if your players can't pass or cross the ball properly.

The lack of that most basic skill was the truly alarming feature of England's displays against Macedonia and Croatia, and I'm not at all sure I accept Neil Warnock's theory that home-grown techniques are suffering because of the growing number of foreign players infiltrating the Premiership. That's surely as much an opportunity as it is a threat - witness Theo Walcott's clinical finishing for the Under-21s which he attributed to training-round lessons learned from the likes of Thierry Henry.

Walcott, presumably, is one of the youngsters that McClaren says are "knocking on the door." But if the Arsenal youngster does step up to the senior ranks will he find Beckham there to help continue his football education?

Max Clifford popped up yesterday to assure us that the door (presumably the same door) hasn't been closed on Beckham. But as McClaren, bizarrely enough, feels the need to have Britain's premier news-manipulator speak on his behalf, he will presumably have been made aware of the dangers of recanting his most controversial decision to date.

Ditching Beckham might have been an eye-caching way for McClaren to declare his independence from the previous regime, but it made no sense in football terms and our qualification hopes would unquestionably be strengthened if he was back in the side, sliding through-balls to Rooney or delivering those inch-perfect crosses, corners and free-kicks.

But that moment is gone, and recalling him now would represent an even bigger gamble. Were Beckham to shine, McClaren would be damned for dropping him in the first place - were he to struggle, the manager would have to go through the whole process again and subject his squad to a fresh round of damaging distractions.

It's a poser, all right, and what McClaren really needs now, surely, is a new No.2, a seasoned, tactically-astute campaigner loved by the players, respected by the fans and with a hand-picked gang of Fleet Street cronies hanging on his every word.

What's Terry Venables doing these days?

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HEMMED IN... But Wayne Rooney is far too good a player to be cast in the scapegoat role
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Oct 14, 2006
Words:984
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