Thursday, March 29, 2007

McClaren no nearer credibility

Steven Gerrard spared Steve McClaren from a humiliation that would have cost him his job as England coach, but left a man seemingly out of his depth with a new headache.

Frank Lampard's broken wrist allowed McClaren to make a decision he seemingly lacks the nerve to take himself - namely put Gerrard in central midfield.

McClaren has foolishly refused to play a man with claims to be the world's best central midfield player in central midfield.

And perversely, England's coach may have been glad to have his folly so brutally exposed in exchange for a win that stopped his dismissal.

Gerrard silenced the abuse of frustrated England fans and at least left McClaren in his post for a while longer with an inspirational driving display in the centre.

So what does McClaren do next?

Restore Lampard? The coach's lack of imagination suggests he probably might.

Take Gerrard and a bright debut from Preston North End's David Nugent out of the equation, and this was another desperate night for McClaren and England.

The first 45 minutes was as embarrassing as it gets as England were reduced to niggling with Andorra's selection of part-timers while their supporters heaped abuse on them from the terraces.

And for McClaren and the Football Association, they must have squirmed at the level of discontent that descended from the stands as England's torture increased with every passing second of the opening period.

John Terry suggested the fans should save their opinions until the final whistle.

Dream on John.

They had every right to pour vitriol on what they saw in Barcelona after paying good money to watch the dreadful fare that was served up.

This England team does not deserve blind loyalty - they have had enough of this in the past and there is no credit left in the bank.

And this 3-0 win, earned eventually on the back of Gerrard's outstanding display, will not dilute the feeling that McClaren has been promoted well above his powers.

Rarely has an England coach united the nation's opinion so firmly against him so early in his reign.

He has a public image problem in that he was an unpopular choice and is regarded as a purveyor of meaningless soundbites rather than someone of footballing substance.

And when the England team he sends out takes 53 minutes to unlock Andorra, his footballing credibility takes a bashing as well.

McClaren may still sit in Soho Square after this - but he will sit uneasily and with England's footballing public no nearer being convinced he is up to the job after another wretched display.

If Gerrard was the catalyst, what are we to make of the latest appalling effort from Wayne Rooney?

This great hope of English football was so unnerved and rattled by someone called Oscar Sonejee that he was effectively hauled off after an hour to avert the danger of a red card.

True Rooney was roughed up, but it seems he cannot respond with his talent.

He responds with his mouth and by getting involved in a succession of petty spats before a face-saving and ridiculous removal.

It has happened to Rooney with England before and says nothing good about his temperament.

If he is being taken off to spare him against the might of Andorra, you can bet that message will get around Europe for games ahead after he has served a well-deserved suspension.

Rooney has been cut plenty of slack on the back of his performances at Euro 2004 and for Manchester United, but it is time he got his head and his act together for England.

It is unlikely McClaren - who cut a lone figure when England arrived at the stadium and appeared ill-at-ease throughout - will find the headlines any more palatable after scrambling past Andorra.

Sadly, it is a verdict that will be justified as McClaren stumbles on, unpopular and lacking inspiration.

And if there was an extra gloss on his praise for Gerrard after the final whistle, it was because he is the reason he is still England coach.