Anthony Brown: Liberated English free to flourish

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WHO’D be an England internationalist? That may seem a stupid question, as every football fan would jump at the chance to represent their country and get paid a ridiculously high wage which, in most cases, far exceeds their actually ability.

Lavish salaries, allied to the spectre of 1966 and the over-the-top media intrusion, are part of the problem with the England team. As the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney are all paid well in excess of £100,000 a week for playing for the biggest clubs in the richest league in the world, there is then an expectation that they should routinely be expected to at least reach the semi-finals of World Cups and European Championships.

From a non-British point of view (imagine you’re a German looking in from the outside who doesn’t have English Premier League matches beamed into the living room every other night), although these guys are all excellent English Premier League players, none of them, aside from Wayne Rooney, can be considered genuinely exceptional when judged against what the other supposedly elite countries have at their disposal.

The same could be said of older members of this ‘Golden Generation’, such as Sol Campbell, Michael Owen, Gary Neville and David Beckham. Yes, they were fine players, but were they really any better than their German, Italian, Argentine, French, Brazilian, Italian and Dutch counterparts of the time? As was generally the case throughout the noughties, it transpired that they weren’t even any better than the Portuguese, whom twice they lost to in quarter-finals. The problem these days is that any Englishman in a top-six side these days seems to automatically assume the tag of being world-class.

Granted, these players regularly play in the later rounds of the Champions League but this success at club level is hugely reliant on the input of foreign teammates. It may be good for the ego and the bank balance to be perceived (wrongly, in many cases) as being among the world’s elite, but on the flip side, it must be demoralising when you’re branded a failure for getting knocked out a World Cup at the hardly-disastrous quarter-final stage. The high wages provide an easy stick for the public to beat the players with when they don’t get further than the last eight, but another problem is the sense of entitlement England derive from once winning the World Cup.

Since their win in 1966, they’ve never been past the semis, while smaller nations like Denmark and Greece have both won the Euros. The Danes and the Greeks, however, won’t rock up in Poland and Ukraine next summer expecting to tear up the tournament just because they’ve won it before. Thankfully, in the wake of the second-round exit at the 2010 World Cup, the English media finally appear to have realised their expectations of the national team have been badly skewed and are now more realistic about their chances, albeit a relatively-favourable group stage draw – they will face Ukraine, France and Sweden – has allowed a minority of dimwits to assume a place in the knockout phase is a mere formality.

Perhaps significantly, they’ve also convinced themselves that their manager, Fabio Capello, is a clown despite the fact he’s one of the greatest of his generation. This disrespect of the Italian coach allied to a renewed sense of realism from the English public, however, could yet see the team flourish next summer. It would still be a huge shock if they won the Euros – odds of 7/1 are ludicrously short – but reduced expectations should at least ease the burden on the players and allow them to enjoy the tournament a little.

Capello has undoubtedly made mistakes but he’s not stupid and seems to have learned lessons. This is evident in the way he has made the side less reliant on the aforementioned big names, with the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Jack Wilshere and Theo Walcott providing a more vibrant feel.

Outwith Holland, Spain and Germany, England are not much better or worse than most of the other Euro 2012 teams. But, having seemingly shed their delusions of grandeur, it’s not beyond the realms that the Three Lions could surprise their public to the extent that there may even be a clamour for Capello to be kept on.

Fans not Kean but Blackburn Rovers boss is due more respect

Defending Steve Kean doesn’t seem to be the done thing but the vilification of this guy is going way over-the-top.

He may have been the wrong choice as Blackburn Rovers manager in the first place but the job he is doing is not as bad as is being made out.

He has a young team who are generally playing well but not getting results. There have been teams in worse predicaments whose boss has not had to endure the same ridicule – for starters, Bolton and Wigan are currently beneath Rovers in the Premier League. Kean still seems to be paying for the fact the much-hated Venky’s regime gave him the job after sacking the much-respected Sam Allardyce. Last week’s “forfeit” comment (after a 2-0 defeat at Cardiff) was ill-advised, but it’s hardly a secret that most bosses view the Carling Cup as a distraction. It was disgusting to see fans boo when Yakubu ran to celebrate a goal with his embattled boss on Saturday. Good manager or not, the vitriolic abuse needs toned down before Kean – a decent guy who has a family – cracks under the strain.

Hats off to . . .

. . . The whole football fraternity for dealing with Gary Speed’s tragic passing so graciously. I was at the Leeds game on Saturday for what was a high-emotion tribute, but all across the country people have paid their respects in a touching manner.

Not a fan of . . .

. . . The fact that, just 17 games into the season, an ordinary Rangers side are 20 points and more ahead of Hearts, Dundee United, Hibs and Aberdeen. I’d love to talk our game up but, sadly, when these four are all toiling, it’s grim.

Tweet Street

WHAT the footballers have been tweeting . .

“Freezing today. Better get the training gear in the tumble dryer before I put it on. Gary Mackay-style 1996.” – Robbie Neilson adopts his old Hearts mate’s tip for keeping warm.

“Tweeds on, Racing Post purchased, Kelso races here I come. Tally ho, chaps.” – Hearts’ Andrew Driver.