The fan - Hunter Davies has little time for Lynne Truss's next book
OK, so the England team are boring - but that's a fascinating problem
Lynne Truss's next book is going to be about football, which is good news, as she was awfully amusing and observant when she wrote those personal pieces on matches for the Times. The bad news - wash your mouth out, Lynne, spring-clean your punctilious mind - is that her main point will be that football is essentially boring. How could she think such a thing, during Euro 2004? Is not Wayne Rooney a genius, a saint, a veritable god? Have England not scored more goals than anyone else so far? Leave it out, Lynne.
Or has she got a point? England played boringly against Switzerland for 70 minutes, managing only 20 minutes of reasonable stuff. Against France, they were excellent for 45 minutes, then went back to being rubbish. In the Croatia game, they gave us a fright when the Balkan side got their second goal, but they played well, were positive and composed, and (thanks to the Blessed Rooney) it was an exciting game. It does seem that England have got better as the games have progressed, but no doubt they'll get boring, and infuriating, and useless, and we'll all be clutching our heads and hiding behind the couch again soon.
Sven deserves most of the blame for the boring bits. It's caused mainly by nervousness, lack of confidence, lack of energy and enthusiasm. The only player who is blameless is Lord Rooney of Scouseland. It's Sven's job to fire the team up, not sit around in his suit, folding his arms, buttoning his lip, saying and doing nothing. We don't want sweet reason. We want stupid passion. Sven's style has translated itself on to the pitch, where there is no longer a captain, anywhere, in any position. No shouters, screamers, motivators. Sven did well to stick Rooney in from the beginning, which was a bit of a chance, as the striker hadn't had a brilliant season. So, full points there. His use of Darius Vassell, whom few of the experts have ever rated, has also worked out.
In international competitions, teams are rarely the sum of their parts. France, Italy and Spain have many excellent individual players, world-class figures, and so, to a lesser degree, have England and Portugal. But the problem is to get them to function together, as a unit, as well as they perform for their clubs.
There are obvious reasons why this might not be so easy. Your best national players might all play in similar positions, as with England's midfield, and so cancel each other out. Many star players, such as Thierry Henry, depend on a certain supply, the right environment, to be the focus and focal point. Even first-class players often have to play out of position and take secondary roles in their national teams. A rich club can buy from anywhere to ensure the perfect balance. A national team, even with riches to draw on, has to accommodate what it has. Sven gets more than £4m a year to solve this problem, and I don't think he's done it. So far.
Most people would agree on his first-team squad. There's no one left at home whom I would have included. So his choice of players is not controversial. It's what he's done with them, or failed to do with them, that's the worry. He has neither moulded them into a unit, imposed or even created a pattern of play for them nor, worst of all, inspired them. David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes have all underperformed. Are they poorly, carrying injuries, or just ill in the mind with the worry of it all? Whatever the reasons, Sven is there to sort them out. Only Rooney looks as if he's enjoying it, playing like a free spirit. Somehow, the rest have become inhibited, indecisive, grey and, yes, boring. A bit like Sven himself, or the image he gives to the world.
But this problem is actually fascinating. Admit it, Lynne. How will Sven sort it? Will they all suddenly come good together? I think they will, with St Rooney getting even more goals. Portugal, whom I dearly wanted to do well, will be able to say that at least they got put out by the winners.
By the way, Lynne, I've got a suitable title for your footer book: Shoots, Scores and Leaves.