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England's interim manager Stuart Pearce trains with his soccer squad in London Feb. 28, 2012. (Toby Melville/Reuters/Toby Melville/Reuters)
England's interim manager Stuart Pearce trains with his soccer squad in London Feb. 28, 2012. (Toby Melville/Reuters/Toby Melville/Reuters)

John Doyle

England's soccer team a 10-act farce Add to ...

England plays The Netherlands in London on Wednesday, in an exhibition game, part of its preparation for the Euro 2012 tournament coming in June in Poland and Ukraine.

There are at least 10 things in keep in mind about England right now. 1) The nickname of the current, caretaker manager is Psycho. 2) Stuart (Psycho) Pearce has hinted he’s available to do the job through Euro 2012. 3) England has no current captain and the name of the player who will captain this game won’t be known until just before it. 4) The most recent captain, John Terry, was stripped of the role because he’ll be in court this summer, accused of racially abusing an opposing player – Anton Ferdinand, a black Englishman who toils for Queens Park Rangers. 5) Ferdinand’s brother, Rio, has been a fixture of the England team for 10 years, but is dropped for this game.

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6) It was not former England manager Fabio Capello who stripped Terry of the captaincy, it was the England Football Association. 7) Capello, an Italian, expressed his disagreement with the FA, from the vantage point of Italy, on Italian TV and speaking in Italian, before resigning from the job in person in England. 8) Pearce was obliged to apologize in 1994 for using racist language in an altercation with a black player, Paul Ince, who was at one time was a fellow England player. 9) The front-runner to replace Capello, according to opinion polls, is Harry Redknapp, who was recently cleared of tax evasion charges. 10) England strikers Wayne Rooney and Darren Bent are not available to play in the game Wednesday.

The last item on this list of 10 is probably the most crucial to the outcome of the game. (Prediction: England 0, Netherlands 2.) But that’s only on the surface. Once again, England is imploding before a major tournament. No manager, no captain 100 days before Euro 2012 and a team ripe to be rent asunder by feuds and egomania. There are kindergarten teams with more stability and unity of purpose than England.

For decades now, this is the England way and from any distance the situation looks grotesque. Under Capello, the bedlam that is the England set-up achieved a modicum of stability and small successes. The team qualified for the World Cup in 2010 and performed poorly but qualified with ease for Euro 2012. This was an improvement. England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 under Capello’s predecessor, Steve McClaren. Capello was hired as a disciplinarian and tactician. A solemn figure with a short temper, he was paid handsomely to ensure qualification for tournaments and curb the foolish behaviour of star players.

It was also hoped he wouldn’t draw attention to himself with antics that might put him in the English tabloid papers at regular intervals. Before McClaren’s brief and unsatisfactory reign, there had been Sven-Goran Eriksson, in charge of England for five years. Eriksson took England to the World Cup in 2002, Euro 2004 and the World Cup in 2006, each time exiting at the quarter-final stage. But, worse, he became a tabloid sensation. His relationship with a Football Association employee led to her selling her story to a tabloid and suing the FA, claiming sexual harassment. Later Eriksson told a man he believed to be an Arab sheik that he’d quit the England job to manage a club team if the fee was right. The sheik turned out to be a News of the World reporter wearing a bed sheet on his head.

The English national team and organization are catastrophically addicted to creating tabloid drama. They inevitably succumb to it, creating a culture of hysteria about backroom and locker-room machinations. The game itself seems merely an afterthought.

The game Wednesday actually matters, which only illuminates the tragedy lurking beneath the farce. England has few games arranged to prepare for Euro 2012, a tournament in which it can hope to do well – in Poland and Ukraine it is drawn against Sweden, France and Ukraine. Every outing for the team matters if success is to be achieved.

But the list of 10 things to keep in mind about England doesn’t suffice as context. No. 11 would be that Rooney is already banned from playing the first two games at the tournament. That’s thanks to an outrageous foul on a player for Montenegro in the final qualifying game for Euro 2012. No. 12 would be that Pearce’s brother is a prominent member of the far-right British National Party. He has even stood as a Parliamentary candidate for a party that advocates “firm but voluntary incentives for immigrants and their descendants to return home.”

Normally, No. 12 wouldn’t matter. Nobody’s business. But in the England context everything matters, everything adds to the farce.

Follow on Twitter: @MisterJohnDoyle

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