Friday 22 March 2019

Green believes England can avoid No 1 problem by keeping the faith

Former West Ham stopper says question marks over his starting place may have contributed to 2010 blunder

Rob Green has signed for Chelsea
Rob Green has signed for Chelsea

James Ducker

Eight years on from the 2010 World Cup, Robert Green gives the impression of being a man still scratching his head at Fabio Capello's logic in South Africa.

But the former England goalkeeper at least takes comfort from the knowledge that Jordan Pickford has already been spared the bizarre situation that befell him.

Pickford is Gareth Southgate's first-choice goalkeeper in Russia and should be between the posts when England take on Tunisia in Volgograd on Monday.

In that context, it almost seems inconceivable now to consider that, two hours before England's opening match against the United States in Rustenburg in 2010, Green still did not know he would be starting the game.

"A night or two's [notice] at least would have been nice," Green says, with considerable understatement.

Capello waited until just before his squad left for the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, with only an hour and 45 minutes to kick-off, to inform Green he had got the nod over David James.

The team got off to a flier, with Steven Gerrard scoring after four minutes, but calamity struck shortly before half-time. Green mishandled Clint Dempsey's speculative shot and watched despairingly as the ball rolled into the net.

"It's all ifs, buts and maybes as to whether the mistake was a product of the situation I found myself in, but it was a unique scenario, where we were probably the only team in the tournament who couldn't name our starting XI and the first name on the list - the goalkeeper - was the biggest question mark of all," Green reflects.

"I can't remember any specific conversations with David (James) but a lot of the time was spent just shrugging your shoulders. The only thing I can liken it to in my career is when QPR signed Julio Cesar. He started the season and was playing a lot, then I started playing a lot, then he played a few games and then I played a few games.

"We got to the point where we were going for our pre-match meal a couple of hours before kick-off one day and I said to him, 'Do you know what's going on?' And he replied, 'I haven't got a clue!' That's the only other time I've experienced anything similar to South Africa."

Green took responsibility for his error in that 1-1 draw but it is clear he is pleased Pickford has not had to spend the weeks leading up to the Tunisia game fretting over whether or not he will play.

"I think it's more the build-up to that moment than the actual two hours before kick-off," he says. "It's the posturing for weeks beforehand that is the more difficult bit to deal with. You don't know what all the wondering and nervous energy does to you mentally but the preparation is never going to be as good compared to when you are in a settled scenario.

"I think it's good for Jordan that he knows he's starting. Footballers are creatures of habit. They crave a settled environment, so if you treat them as adults and say, 'You're my No 1, you're my No 2, you're my No 3', brilliant. Everyone knows their role and it makes everything a little easier."

Green's blunder was not the first by an England goalkeeper at a tournament, nor was it the last. From Peter Bonetti allowing a Franz Beckenbauer shot to slip through his grasp in the 1970 World Cup defeat by West Germany, to Kolbeinn Sigthorsson's shot slipping through Joe Hart's left hand in the 2-1 capitulation against Iceland at Euro 2016, there have been dark moments that highlight what an unforgiving place a tournament can be.

In Green's case, though, it is easy to forget that England might easily have lost to the US had he not made an excellent save in the second half to tip Jozy Altidore's shot on to a post.

"I actually kept us in the game after that. Not that you'd assume an ounce of credit for it after making a bad mistake but that's one of the things I'm most pleased about - the reaction.

"David Beckham was there in a sort of coaching capacity and he said to me afterwards, 'You won us a point in the second half after that mistake'."

It was not enough to prevent Capello from dropping Green for England's next game, against Algeria.

"The manager said to me, 'It's just too big a mistake'. I said, 'Well, for you, perhaps it was, but not for me'. I didn't mention the saves I made afterwards," Green says. "He was not that type of person. Conversations were 95 pc one way. They were not an exchange of opinions." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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