In 1998 it was Marcelo Salas. Last Friday at Wembley it was Alexis Sanchez. Each the scorer of both Chilean goals in the 2-0 humbling of a mediocre England team. Salas, who would flourish for Chile in the World Cup finals, got one of his goals from a penalty. Sanchez scored both of his from open play.
Before the match he had spoken graciously and modestly of England’s football and had special words of praise for Friday’s debutant England goalkeeper Forster, who had made a series of spectacular saves playing for Celtic against Barcelona, and Sanchez last season.
Now that injury has put Lionel Messi out of action for some weeks, one assumed that Barcelona will have the good sense to make Sanchez the spearhead of their attack, when Messi plays, they don’t have or need a spearhead. He has licence to roam menacingly wherever and whenever he likes.
At Barca, Sanchez, when he plays, is on the right wing. That was where he was expected to be against England but instead he played in the middle and played superbly, the fulcrum of Chile’s attack, quite the best player on the field, showing, like Messi himself and another Barcelona star still in Brazil’s Neymar, that football is physically a supremely democratic game. Even in these days of strong highly trained athletes, a small gifted player can still excel.
Sanchez was initially supposed to be playing on the right wing and certain newspapers still seemed to think he was doing so but in the event he gave an exhibition of centre forward play which would not have shamed a Johan Cruyff, even if he could hardly display the phenomenal versatility of an Alfredo Di Stefano.
From England and Roy Hodgson’s point of view, it was a pity that the Chile game was played at all. As a friendly, the result may not have “mattered,” but in fact a humiliation such as this, for that is what it was, can do nothing for hope and morale.
This was an unbalanced, poorly assembled, hotch potch of a team. True, Steven Gerrard had to be rested in my view the fact that he required a pain killing injection, however willingly accepted, should logically have ruled him out of the German game as well.
But where was the balance in the Friday side? What could be expected of Frank Lampard, deployed so deep in a role which should ideally have gone to a ball winner – if we can find one.
Why give debuts to both Southampton attackers with Rodriguez struck sadly on the left wing, Adam Lillana happier and more impressive on the other flank where, at Southampton, he enjoys a more versatile brief.
James Milner, essentially a winger, mistakenly deployed in central midfield. And oh, the defence. Another awful goal costing blunder by Gary Cahill giving Sanchez his easy second goal, evoking memories of the goal he gave away to Scotland. Oh, for John Terry.
Rene Meulensteen, the accomplished Dutch coach who has just arrived to assist his compatriot, reported friend and Fulham manager, Martin Jol, had warm words for him on his arrival. But first acquaintance with the Fulham players has resulted in damning words.
“I’ll help up the training tempo,” he promised. “It’s so low at the moment that the players can’t get to a level of fitness required to play at a level required on match days.”
Talk about a candid friend. If this really be the case, what does it say of Jol, where the buck must presumably stop? And what kind of collaboration can the two Dutchmen have now? Meulensteen, praised for his coaching work at Manchester United, lasted only 16 days in his previous, managerial, job in Russia. Jol’s own contract runs out at the end of this season, and perhaps Fulham’s very new millionaire owner was reluctant to dispense with him so soon in his reign.
One heard that Meulensteen is an outstanding coach rather than a natural manager. Meanwhile, if he can quite literally get the team running, and winning, where will that leave Jol? And if Jol should go, the temptation might be to install Meulensteen as the manger. In which case he would presumably and essentially have to be a tracksuit one.