Jack’s the lad for England
If history has taught us anything when it comes to supporting England, it’s never get carried away by a good result.
How many times over the years have we got our hopes up on the back of a decent performance only to have them dashed when it really matters? An England fan’s life is littered with false dawns.
But, and I say this in a state of complete sobriety, Wednesday night’s game against Brazil gave me a sense of optimism I haven’t felt for a very long time.
Fair enough, it was only a friendly against a Brazil side that is very much a work in progress for next year’s World Cup. And, from what I saw, they are going to need to work hard on that progress over the next 12 months.
But on this occasion, I don’t think the overall context of the game should be allowed to detract too much from what was an accomplished and assured display from England.
They were fluid in attack, creative in midfield, and, bar a couple of moments of madness at the start of the second half, solid in defence. Across the park they were coherent, intelligent and pleasing on the eye.
However, as much this 2-1 win was about the team as a whole, it was also about one man in particular – Jack Wilshere.
Wednesday night was the moment many England fans have been waiting for, the time when the young Arsenal player announced himself on to the international stage. And he did it in great style with a man-of-the-match performance.
Not since the early Paul Gascoigne era have I watched a player in an England shirt who truly excites me. There have been some good ones and even some great ones in the intervening years, but no truly magic ones.
Finally, England have that man.
To be honest, you didn’t need to be a soothsayer to know this moment was coming. I’ve watched a lot of Arsenal in the past few weeks and I’ve seen Wilshere tear teams apart for fun. He has it all: passing, dribbling, shooting, tackling and an engine that keeps him in the heart of the action from first whistle to last.
It was only a matter of time before he translated that club form to the international stage. No doubt his time would have come sooner had he not been injured for over a year.
The really beautiful part about this is that Wilshere’s coming of age could not have happened at a better time with the World Cup just round the corner. He may have only played seven games for his country but I think we already know he will be crucial to England’s hopes of achieving anything in Brazil next summer. In fact, he will be crucial to actually getting there.
With Wilshere in the side, England finally have what they have needed for so long, a player who will make their opponents nervous when they see his name on the team sheet.
In another positive twist, I think Wilshere’s presence will finally allow us to see the best of Wayne Rooney. The Manchester United striker has far too often failed to shine for England. But maybe that was because he had nobody behind him in the midfield with the creative talent to play that killer pass he thrives on.
A central midfield partnership of Steven Gerrard and Wilshere is probably as close to perfect as England are going to get. It combines age and experience with youth and enthusiasm. Wilshere’s energy and determination to be involved in everything will allow Gerrard to take a more pragmatic view of the game, dictating play from the middle of the park instead of having to do all the legwork himself.
Of course, England are not suddenly a one-man team. There are others who seem to be growing into Roy Hodgson’s plans, like Theo Walcott, who has improved massively this season. And Joe Hart, Ashley Cole, Glenn Johnson and Frank Lampard are all looking back to their best.
But the fact that England have finally unearthed a player of world-class talents with the ability to change a game and terrorise opponents gives me confidence I haven’t felt for almost 20 years.
Maybe, just maybe, one of those dawns may turn out to be real…
Gazza teetering on the brink
It’s ironic, not to mention incredibly sad, that in the week we are talking about England unearthing a new Gazza, the old one has once again succumbed to his drinking demons.
Footage emerged over the past few days of a very drunk Paul Gascoigne at a charity function where he was swearing, sweating and shaking uncontrollably. He even had to be physically helped on to the stage by two men.
According to his agent, Gascoigne has been mostly ‘dry’ for the past two years. But he has fallen off the wagon in dramatic fashion, prompting concerns that he could be about to drink himself to death.
Some of Gazza’s celebrity friends rallied round and paid for him to be whisked off to a rehabilitation clinic in America.
Unfortunately we have been here before. I’ve lost count of the amount of times Gazza has been in rehab and come out a ‘changed man’ only to relapse shortly after.
Maybe he needs a complete life change. A new job, a new agent, a new set of friends.
It really is heartbreaking to watch a man who once had such love for life throwing it all away.
Unfit and not proper
When Nottingham Forest’s new owners bought the club last summer, there was a feeling that the former European Champions could be back on the road to glory.
A rich Kuwaiti family taking over one of football’s most famous sleeping giants sounded like the perfect combination. It had Manchester City mark II written all over it.
Just over half a season later, however, and the only thing the Al Hasawi family have done is turn a once proud club into a laughing stock.
They have fired two managers, the second dismissal coming on the back of a 4-2 victory and with the club nicely placed for a promotion push. They have disposed of much of the club’s senior management and even removed Forest legend Frank Clark from his role as club ambassador.
But the icing on the cake came last week when new manager Alex McLeish walked away from the job after just 40 days. His departure followed a series of transfer disasters in the January window which saw the owners repeatedly pulling the rug out from under his feet.
Now the hot seat has been handed back to Billy Davies, the club’s popular former manager who I can only imagine was reappointed to avoid a fan revolt.
What gets me is how people like the Al Hasawi family can end up running a football club when they obviously have no idea what they are doing. They are as bad as Venky’s over at Blackburn.
I understand there is a ‘fit and proper’ person test that these people have to go through before they are allowed to complete their purchase. One can only assume it doesn’t include sections on intelligence, decency and common sense.
What’s in a name?
Hartlepool United may be heading firmly in the direction of League Two, but at least there will be one match of this season they can look back on with some fondness.
The club ended their 12-game winless run at home last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Notts County.
Nice but not massively remarkable in itself considering they are still bottom of the league and 10 points adrift of safety.
What was remarkable, however, was the names of the two scorers for Hartlepool: Peter Hartley and James Poole. That’s certainly one for the record books.
Now if they can only find a player called United, they might actually have a chance of survival.