The World Cup Ends (for England) – Part 2

If there is one factor I’d hold responsible for our quarter-finals exit, not just now but so many times before, it would be the excessive pressure put on the team by the high expectations we have of them. The unrealistic expectaitions. If the infamous incident with Rooney, the Ref and Christian Ronaldo is to be seen as the moment that let us down, (lets call it "RRR incident"), then also we have to look at how Rooney was left alone up there to be swarmed by other players, that seemed to be fouling him just as he committed his foul. My take on what happened is that he was being fouled in the sense of being illegally tackled and in the tangle stamped his foot down- most probably accidentally (though this only Rooney knows) and the referee was about to award a free kick to Portugal for it, Rooney’s foul being the worse one. Then Ronaldo came up and protested, calling for a red card, a protest which the ref was carefully listening to. Many have said this was unsportsmanlike, assuming it was an accident and his subsequent wink would seem to confirm this- some even saying that the whole thing was planned by him in advance, which I think goes way too far. It may well not have all been premeditated and being pleased to have an advantage at the other team’s expense is hardly unusual in the tournament- very unsportsmanlike maybe, but not unusual. At any rate, this cost Ronaldo a FIFA award for best new player and it is generally agreed that he was in the wrong here.

At this point Rooney cracked and angrily, even violently, shoved his usual Manchester United team-mate. This push, beside the referee, came just before he produced the red card. Officially, Fifa has pointed to ‘Article 11’ which calls for dismissal of a player for violent conduct. The referee privately said to Coach Erickson that it was the stamp, but if it was in fact accidental it wouldn’t be a violent act as such, as was the shove. The red card was certainly for something deemed intentional. In any case, Rooney’s attitude was revealed at that point as unrepentant- which made the most severe punishment far more likely, if not actually necessary. Well, now he has been punished and I hope he can learn from it. he is not just responsible for his own sense of honour when out there- he is a member of a team and needs the humility to remember that.

For his part, Ronaldo was wrong to push Rooney over the edge in a display of immature, unsportsmanlike behaviour- just as Rooney had failed to control his temper. It’s a great shame, not only for the fact that it also helped push England over the edge, struggling as they were to survive in the tournament, but also for the fact that two of the brightest new stars in the world cup damaged their reputation- more especially C Ronaldo, who may well be booed wherever he goes for a time now, despite his obvious talent and youth. Is he a villain, is Rooney too irresponsible? It’s hard to really judge, but it does show what happens when too much pressure is placed on young people’s shoulders- pushed to win, they can forget it is all just a game.

Too much pressure and we all crack- and the pressure on Rooney, the pressure on the team, was of the unhelpful sort that didn’t bring out the very best in them and made them scared to let down the fans, rather than concentrate on the passion to win for winnings sake. What we need is a team captain that can galvanize them to do their very best. A Zidane.

But nevertheless with the team we did have (you play with the team you have, not the team you wish you had!), they did do well all things considered, which they deserve appreciation for. We are ranked in the Fifa top ten (even if we like to think we are in the top five, that has yet to be proven on the pitch) and we achieved what we are accustomed to- even if it isn’t exactly satisfying, it shouldn’t produce the disappointment it does. England winning the cup would be an upset to the system, not business as usual (despite all the hype)- not because of the players, but because of the lack of a tradition of having a winning team. You can’t expect to win something you haven’t won for 40 years- but you can hope to. Whether the spirit and fair-play of England warrants more success in it’s own right is another issue, certainly the fans, the real fans, are some of the best, certainly it is hard for our fair-play philosophy to survive with all the diving and cheating going on- yet I really believe it can, and is the reason the team’s popularity exceeds it’s talents.

Let’s hope one day we have a winning team, instead of just good players. Let’s hope we make world-class players, instead of just famous stars that we spoil and indulge, only to get upset when, put to the test, they aren’t quite as perfect as we though they were. Let’s have a realistic plan to reach the dream, not mere dreams of reaching a dream, thinking that wanting something badly enough is what gets you it. Then we’ll win the golden cup. Again.

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