David Hirshey will write regularly during the World Cup.
In his five years at the helm of England's glamorous underachievers, England coach Sven-Goran Erickson has been called a lot of things — Hey, Turniphead! Screw you, Mr. Magoo! — but there's one moniker that has yet to be affixed to the bespectacled Swede. No one, so far as I can tell, has ever called him a Tactical Genius.
Not that he hasn't garnered attention for certain of his sophisticated strategies — play like rubbish for 83 minutes, hit long balls onto the head of a 6-foot-8 mutant giraffe, pray he doesn't fall over jumping for them, wait for Steven Gerrard to open a can of thunder in stoppage time, promise you will do better next time, take your 5 million pound salary and run - but, by and large, he has never had to rely on his coaching legerdemain to get by. Until now. Despite playing like Scunthope United for much of the time, England is in the second round and faces a crafty Ecuadorian side on Sunday in its first true World Cup test. That's the good news. The bad news is that Erickson has no strikers. That's like the Yankees heading into the heart of the season with a banged-up Jeter, A-Rod, Giambi and Matsui. Oh wait, that's kind of like what they're doing.
Going into the Cup, Erickson gambled on a strike force that was thinner than Victoria Beckham after a high colonic. His two starting frontrunners were the Metatarsal Millionaires, Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, both of whom were battling back from foot injuries that kept them sidelined for four and two months, respectively. In reserve, he had the pencil-necked skyscraper Peter Crouch and the untested 16-year-old prodigy Theo Walcott. When Owen's knee buckled in the first minute of yesterday's game against Sweden, it was difficult to gauge who was in more pain, Owen or Erickson. That forced Crouch to, er, step up. Granted, he already has one goal in this Cup, but for all his height, he still comes up short as a world-class soccer player. As for Walcott, Scotland Yard should issue an Amber-alert for the missing teenager. Honestly, is he even sitting on the bench, or is he just watching TRL in the hotel?
That leaves Rooney, a one-man wrecking crew when he's fit and happy. Alas, he is neither, as evidenced by his Terrell Owens-like tantrum when Erickson subbed him out yesterday after 69 argy-bargy minutes. Stalking off the field, the 20-year-old former pug laid into the top rail of the dugout before angrily throwing his boots to the ground. Rooney recently signed a multi-book deal for five million pounds, with the first epic allegedly dealing with his World Cup experiences. Working title: Sod Off, You Swedish C***!
So the question begs: What was the Svenmeister thinking when he left off perfectly healthy and useful strikers like Jermaine Defoe and Darren Bent from his World Cup roster? Is it possible that he's so incredibly naive he figured that a half-fit Owen and Rooney would withstand the physical rigors of a month-long tournament, or that Crouch would suddenly morph into a fox-in-the box and Walcott would provide youthful pace and gusto picking splinters out of his ass? Remember, this is a man who was famously duped by a fake sheikh into spending two days aboard his yacht in Dubai discussing how he would lure David Beckham and other England players to a team the Arab was going to buy for Erickson to coach. Is it any wonder that a slightly less ingenious opponent like Sweden could bamboozle him on simple set-pieces, which England defended like an AYSO team yesterday? I mean, where were Beckham and Lampard when Marcus Allback leapt unfettered to head in a corner kick in the 51st minute? Poring over Ferrari brochures? Contemplating their summer vacations in D'Cap Antibe? How much longer can England really depend on 30-yard speculative strikes from Joe Cole and dramatic wonder goals from Gerrard to escape ignominy?
Hey, Turniphead? Time's up.