Armchair Pundit

Matt Jarvis, England captain

Alex Chick

View photo


Matt Jarvis trains with England

At Murrayfield on Saturday, England's rugby team were led out by a 25-year-old with only one previous cap to his name. A player with an excellent record in domestic competitions but never previously thought ready to make the step up.

Chris Robshaw's England beat Scotland 13-6.

What do you think are the chances of England's footballers taking the field against France in Donetsk on June 11 with Matt Jarvis wearing the hallowed armband?

For the Wolves winger is football's answer to Robshaw: 25, capped once, and routinely excellent in the Premier League.

Jarvis, obviously, will not be England captain in Ukraine - and I'm not seriously arguing that he should be.

He probably won't even be there - England's shallow fame obsession means flawed big-club players like Theo Walcott and Stewart Downing are more likely to go.

But it illustrates how different sports deal with failure and crisis. Rugby, a true team game, places the collective above the individual.

Players are genuinely picked on form alone, and the omission of a big name does not create the hullaballoo generated any time Frank Lampard finds himself on the bench.

If a player fails to meet expectations, he is out. Just look at the purge of England's World Cup squad. Though the RFU handed out a number of fines for misbehaviour, the personnel changes for the Six Nations were never about finding players guilty of anything.

The World Cup simply proved the existing crop lacked the ability to win, and the mix of characters on the playing and coaching staffs led to off-field issues. So they changed it.

Players were not axed as a punishment, like naughty schoolchildren. They were left out because they had a demonstrably negative impact on the team's performance.

There can be little doubt that if we took rugby's approach, John Terry would not be going to Euro 2012.

He might be slightly better than the next available centre-back, he has become detrimental to England's chances.

Clearly, Terry's continued presence in the England camp has become a massive distraction. Far more massive than the step down in quality from Terry to Joleon Lescott.

It is not about pre-judging Terry's upcoming trial. The reasons for omitting the Chelsea man are sporting, not disciplinary.

England have a better chance of winning without him.

Terry's bizarre attempted 'coup' at the World Cup was one reason among many why England failed so lamentably in South Africa.

Why set yourself up for a repeat - with possible added awkwardness if Terry and Rio Ferdinand are both in the squad.

Terry's supposed importance as a leader of men has never translated itself into results - at international level, at least - so why gamble on a potentially divisive figure?

Fabio Capello's anger over Terry's removal is surely more about the FA's chain of command rather than a sense of loyalty to the Chelsea man.

But it's not just about Terry, but the whole, stale, England setup.

In most sports - as in most areas of life - you try something, and if it doesn't work you try something else.

England have tried the 'Golden Generation' in every tournament since Euro 2004. We might think they are good, but the empirical evidence very strongly suggests they are nowhere near good enough.

The Guardian's Kevin McCarra wrote on Monday: "Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have to tailor their game to the fact that both are moving into the veteran phase."

Fat chance of that - the pair have notched up a half-century of matches in the same England midfield without tailoring their game to the fact they are playing with each other.

Of course, the rugby team are at the beginning of the cycle between World Cups, whereas it is now too late for Capello to do much about his present squad. As we stumble towards Euro 2012, how depressing is it that he failed to seize the opportunity for change after the World Cup?

It would be wonderful to see England enter a major championship without big names - and not for reasons of spite.

Is it not the largely unheralded but truly united teams that punch above their weight in major tournaments?

Not just the likes of Uruguay, Paraguay and even New Zealand at the last World Cup - but also Germany.

Jogi Loew's side only truly came out of their shell once injury ruled the old stager Michael Ballack out of the tournament.

A supposed crisis turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to a dynamic, fleet-footed team weighed down by Ballack's lumbering presence in the centre of the park.

Of course, the Germans have both quality and unity. So do Spain. That is what makes champions.

The likes of Jarvis, Phil Jones and Daniel Sturridge may not be ready. They may never be ready. But let's at least give them a go.

Spain have exceptional players, but before Euro 2008 they first had to sweep away the generation of Raul.

England have a similar chance to turn the page, yet stick with the same formula that has failed time after time.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as: "Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

What on earth would he make of the England football team?

View comments (53)