Manchester City

Robert Green – Stick or Twist? Asks Paul Stephen

His Mother would be proud

This, of course, is the intriguing debate that will rage all week throughout the pubs, clubs and living rooms of our great nation. Fabio Capello will have to start earning his £6m salary in deciding whether to grant Robert Green a reprieve or throw him to the dogs that bay for his blood following the 30-year-old’s decision to turn goalkeeping into the latest charity.

His howler effectively cost us victory in our World Cup opener against the USA on Saturday and has led to a familiar sense of deflation amongst the England faithful that tends to characterise every major tournament.

It’s perhaps the worst dilemma that our esteemed leader could face because, quite simply, Capello’s damned if he does stick with him and damned if he doesn’t. By dropping him for Friday’s must-win clash with Algeria, the Italian leaves himself open to accusations that selecting Green was a mistake in the first place. If he keeps faith, and the West Ham custodian makes another mistake, they will both be crucified. That’s why I’ve decided to the patriotic thing by offering him some sound guidance on this most taxing and burdensome of decisions.

The more pious and self-righteous individuals amongst us could point out that there is nothing to be gained from recrimination. Heaping all the blame for our dour and uninventive performance against the Yanks squarely at Robert Green’s door will not change the result. They have a point as the hideous mistake that led to Clint Demsey’s speculative 25-yard shot creeping over the line has certainly taken the heat off the two outfield players who were truly dreadful. Fabio’s biggest selection headache will surely concern who to slot into the left of midfield due to the misgivings most of us possess over any further use of Milner, given his ineptitude at keeping American right-back Steve Cherundolo in check, or Wright-Phillips who may as well of laid on the floor and had a kip.

We have to get it into perspective – just because he made a mistake, it doesn’t make him a bad goalkeeper. Would David James have made the same mistake? – Possibly given his track record as ‘Calamity James’ during his time at Liverpool. Would Joe Hart? – Probably not given his excellent track record in the Premiership but that is all just speculation from the sidelines. My point is that chopping and changing personnel will not encourage a squad already riddled with anxieties. I am not Green’s no1# admirer but consistency is important and now he has started the campaign, he should finish.

Goalkeepers above all derive psychological benefit from knowing they are trusted and discarding Green would have a profound effect on his confidence as well his future at this level. He needs to tell himself that 24 hours before showing himself up at the Royal Bafokeng Stadium, Fabio thought he was the best ‘keeper in the country. His only hope is to play on and exorcise the demons of the past much like Stuart Pearce overcame the guilt of missing a penalty in 1990 by standing up to his critics and smashing one past Spain in Euro 96.

It is also sometimes tempting to forget that World Cups are not won and lost on first games only. England drew their opening matches in 1954, 1966, 1990 and 2002 and went at least as far as the Quarter Final stage each time.

There were some positives to take from the game (albeit not many), namely Lennon’s liveliness and Gerrard’s well-worked goal whilst we also looked reasonably solid at the back so we must cast off this uniquely English disease of chronic cynicism and stop confusing our frustration with Green with our exasperation with England as a whole.

Whatever happens, Capello must decide quickly as uncertainty as much as anything will prove to be the most unsettling factor for England’s goalkeepers.

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