This odd hiatus between Fabio Capello’s resignation and the appointment of the next hired gun was memorable only for Arjen Robben’s brilliance in a Dutch shirt and a spirited English fightback after Pearce’s makeshift side fell 2-0 behind. For the caretaker himself, the night was a restatement of his own nostalgic principles, but the new manager will take nothing from it beyond the need to start afresh with his own ideas.
The next man in will have watched Robben rip England apart with a run from inside his own half, and Chris Smalling leave the pitch on a stretcher after a gruesome clash of heads with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who scored Holland’s second goal. Then he will have seen Gary Cahill narrow the deficit before Ashley Young equalised and Robben closed the deal just when England thought they had staged a great recovery.
Somewhere out there in the night was an appointee — Harry Redknapp, maybe — who may feel Euro 2012 is coming round too fast for this young England team. Pearce is still offering himself for Euro 2012 should the recruitment drive come up short. But England cannot go down this route. The Under-21 and Team GB coach is not qualified to take England into a senior tournament yet and there is no guarantee he ever will be.
These were not auditions. This game was a slow dance between two sides with other things on their minds, until Robben set off on a 60-yard gallop in the 56th minute, evading both England centre-backs to slap the ball past Joe Hart. Two minutes later Huntelaar extended the lead, finishing with tufts of grass in his mouth as he and Smalling lay on the turf, discombobulated.
England’s players went through the motions of Pearce’s big day against superior opposition but will expect the real beauty parade to come against Belgium and Norway in May before the opening Euro 2012 fixture against France.
From the second the team-sheets dropped the Wembley crowd could see where the issues are as Pearce’s men confronted a nation who have reached three World Cup finals to England’s one —– and who can summon Robin van Persie, Wesley Sneijder and Robben to inflict misery on defenders.
Against this illustrious trio stood an England back-four of 27 caps.
Smalling had not started at centre-half for the senior team and Gary Cahill, his partner, has endured a sticky start to his Chelsea career.
At full-back were Micah Richards (12 caps; the last in 2010) and Leighton Baines, making his seventh appearance. Hardly a fortress. But then a Rolodex of names has spun at centre-back in the last 12 months. Apart from Cahill and Smalling, “stopping” duties have been taken up by John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Michael Dawson, Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott.
Result: fluidity, and no clear hierarchy. Almost all successful teams are built on a strong and consistent centre-back pairing. England, on the other hand, have groped in the dark of Ferdinand’s creeping age and injuries and the John Terry alleged racism imbroglio. A reasonable assumption is that both were in decline anyway even before external factors intervened.
The problem-list for whoever takes over from Pearce contains two hot questions. First — who to deploy in the absence of Wayne Rooney for the first two Euro 2012 games (and the injury to Darren Bent). Against the Dutch, Pearce sent Danny Welbeck through the centre with Ashley Young and Adam Johnson wide: a reasonable tactic, given Holland’s strength in front of their back-four, where Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel harass and hustle.
England matched this sentry system with Scott Parker, captain for the night at Steven Gerrard’s expense, and Gareth Barry, who brings left-right balance to that defensive block. Parker, a leader in Pearce’s intense own image, put in a second shift at centre-half, throwing his body at the ball as it cannoned off the boots of Sneijder and Van Persie during early strikes on goal.
In the 19th meeting between these contrasting nations much was made in the programme of the fact that Capello’s last two assignments were a 1-0 win over the World and European champions (Spain) and a first victory in 43 years over Sweden. Intended as a thank-you to Capello, these boasts increased the stress on an experimental side to maintain that momentum.
The beaten World Cup finalists played much of this match at training-drill pace. They are a team who know who and what they are, hence Robben’s audacity, his talent for changing the plot in games.
Few at Wembley are drawn to Pearce’s offer to take England to Poland and Ukraine as a kind of favour to the nation. For this to be the outcome the Football Association’s headhunting department will need to fail between now and May and the senior players would need to be enthusiastic of Pearce’s management, long-term: an unlikely scenario.
On Wednesday night bookmakers made Redknapp 4-1 on to take over. Whoever inherits the electric chair will have watched this game and seen the limitations of patriotism and tenacity. Those limits were shown up by Arjen Robben. — Telegraph.