Boring England could be headed for the play-offs

Paul Parker

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It's a do-or-die game against Montenegro. If England lose tonight, people will be down.

We'll be headed for the play-offs and they are not easy any more: we could be playing against Spain, or France - depending on how that group works out - and there's also Portugal.

Good, good sides rarely lose over two legs, as we've just seen with Barcelona against Milan. The game will affect the mood of the country: we still can't write off Poland, and we've got to play Ukraine again as well.

These days we shouldn't have expectations of beating nations such as these. Many of their players play in top sides around Europe, while the big clubs on the continent simply don't want our players.

People wonder why we can't translate the success of the Premier League to England - it's because the Premier League is not English any more. We only talk about English players when something is in the background, like Frank Lampard's contract.

I've played in Romania, Hungary, places like that. It's nasty, it's horrible: during the day, everyone is fine to you; as the game gets closer, they change. Football is their life. We're talking about a war-torn country and football is their love: the people, the fans, the players are hungry for it. England have got to be on their guard.

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We've lost that hunger in England - football used to be a working-class game, but it's a middle-class game now, and that is one of the consequences of that. Stuart Pearce is keeping it alive as much as possible with the Under-21s - we've got to use that old English mentality rather than trying to play tika-taka. That's fine for the next generation, but this lot can't do it.

I've been reading that Steven Gerrard thinks this World Cup is the last chance with the old boys - I thought that was three years ago at the World Cup under Capello. Every England manager seems too scared to try anything different. I'd say that time is even running out for Wayne Rooney if something doesn't change.

Take Lampard: can he maintain his club form for another season then do it at the World Cup in Brazil? No. At the minute he's working hard and doing what he's doing just to prove a point at Chelsea. He wasn't showing the same form under AVB.

Gerrard may be the one who leads by example - you can't leave him out for a game such as this. He's got the personality and we still need him in there. But if we're saying Michael Carrick is having a good season and he's one of our key players, we're not as good as we think we are.

I also wonder about the standard of England's midfield when Tom Cleverley is expected to start in a crucial game like this. He's been good for Manchester United, but you relate him to a Nicky Butt or a Paul Scholes, he's not as good as them yet - especially Scholes. He's got a lot of energy and he plays at a high tempo to keep the game alive, but the players around him don't play that way for England, they slow the game back down.

We'll set up in the same way as the Euros, boring the pants off anyone who watches. Roy Hodgson's not going to play exciting football because first and foremost he doesn't want to be beaten. If we are, people will be talking about the play-offs - Montenegro might slip up once, but will they slip up twice? I very much doubt it.

He's hoping we'll catch them on the counter-attack or maybe from a set-piece; we haven't got a cutting edge through the middle. Our young players just don't get the chance to play and train regularly with top players week in, week out at their clubs. Look at the Under-21s - most of them are on loan at Football League clubs. These players are not going to be prepared to make the transition to the full England side any time soon.

We're not a long-ball side, as the Montenegro coach has suggested, but when we get into the final third we don't have the patience or the ability to keep the ball in tight areas. Our whole game is all about closing down and pressing.

We're still playing negative football just to get by - it's the mentality Hodgson has had with his clubs, where he was happy just to keep them in the top division.


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There has been a lot of focus on Rooney and the red card he got in the last game at this ground.

The press sees an angle and suddenly throws everything at him. Why are we talking about it? Why is Gerrard talking about it? All of a sudden you've got the captain of Montenegro talking about it - and the pressure is back on Rooney.

We all know what happened there - and he learnt a big lesson from that. He's changed - not 100 per cent, but a little bit. He'll count to 10 now and give himself a bit more time to think about the next situation.

We're suffocating one of our better players again before the game has even kicked off.

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