Chief Sports Writer Hyder Jawad says player-power, not the coach, is now in charge of the England team...
Sequels rarely work. They usually leave the viewer debilitated by anticlimax. Perhaps Paramount Pictures struck gold when they produced The Godfather: Part II in 1974, but this was a freak.
For those of us expecting the England football team to produce their version of The Godfather: Part II at Old Trafford on Saturday, there was only a hollow feeling. True, England qualified for the 2006 World Cup but there was not the style or passion of previous years.
Four years before, in the same stadium, we were surprised by the excitement of England's 2-2 draw against Greece that clinched a place in the 2002 World Cup. That day, we marvelled at David Beckham's talent and Sven-Goran Eriksson's luck.
For the sequel, when England defeated Austria 1-0 two days ago to book their place in Germany, we lamented Beckham's misfortune and Eriksson's aloofness.
Beckham should not have been sent off, England should have won by more than 1-0 and Eriksson should surely reflect the passion of the supporters who indirectly pay his wages. Joi de vivre is not Eriksson's approach.
If Beckham has been England's most celebrated captain since Bobby Moore, Eriksson has been England's most inappropriate head coach since Don Revie. If England win the World Cup in Berlin next July, it will be in spite of Eriksson and not because of him.
Eriksson is not a Godfather. He has the salary of a Vito Corleone - at #4.2 million a year, Eriksson is embarrassingly overpaid - but not the sophistication or charisma. The perception remains that player-power is controlling the England team.
For charisma, we need to look to the pitch, where such luminaries as Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney combine to suggest that this is, or should be, the best England team since 1970.
If this is so, why did England struggle to defeat Austria on Saturday, lose to Northern Ireland on September 7, and struggle to defeat Wales on September 3?
There are many problems and negative publicity is already threatening to place a black cloud over England's preparations for the World Cup.
Eriksson was a tactical genius at club level but quite the opposite at international level. You can get away with changing tactics in the context of a league because matches take place twice a week.
But when you are playing only ten matches a year, you need to have a clear idea of how you want your team to look. Eriksson either does know but does not have the power over his squad, or he is still not sure about which formation best suits his players.
Diamond shapes in midfield, Rooney on the left wing, Beckham in the middle . . . Eriksson has not endeared himself to the media or, it seems, a significant section of the supporters.
How can it be difficult to find the right way of playing when you have Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Owen and Rooney at your disposal?
In terms of personnel, the best England XI would be among the favourites for the World Cup. The tournament is being played in Europe and England have the potential to reach their peak by the time of the final in Berlin on July 7, 2006.
Germany will not have matured by then, France will be in decline, Holland and Italy will probably selfdestruct, Brazil and Argentina rarely do well in Europe, Spain do not appear to have the big- tournament mentality.
"England are one of four or five teams who could win the World Cup," Eriksson says.
The word "lucky" here is rich in significance. England potentially have a good team but not necessarily a good squad. Unlike the 2002 World Cup, when England could not cope without Beckham, this time they do not rely on their captain. He is a marquee player. In 2006, England will need a fit Gerrard and a fit Rooney. Without these two, success is unlikely.
Eriksson at least showed some signs of strength when
he dropped Rio Ferdinand. It is unlikely that there is a more over-rated player in the world. Ferdinand looks the part but is more style than substance and should heed the warning that even the most famous players need to produce.
England have, in John Terry, Sol Campbell and Jamie Carragher, three of the top 20 central defenders in the world. Ashley Cole, who missed the match against Austria, has improved
immeasurably since Euro 2004, and could be the answer to England's traditional problem on the left of midfield.
Peter Crouch, formerly of Aston Villa, now of Liverpool, did not look the part up front for England and is more likely to be a squad player come the time of the tournament. His height and touch provides options and, while there are question marks over his international credentials, he should still make the squad.
But England's problem is not about personnel. The players are, in most cases, world class. The main problem could be the fear of losing.
It is more than four years since an England team played with style and panache, fearlessly and creatively, with an obvious desire to win. That was when they went to M?nich in September 2001 and defeated Germany 5-1 in a World Cup qualifying match.
England have not come close to those heights since. They defeated Argentina 1-0 in Japan during the 2002 World Cup but that victory owed much to a performance of determination rather than class and to a penalty that should not have been given.
There was also the first 90 minutes against France during the 2004 European Championships, but England conceded two goals in stoppage-time and lost 2-1.
Managers are no longer judged just on results. If they were, Gerard Houllier would be revered by Liverpool fans for winning five trophies in 2001. If they were, Eriksson would be revered by England fans for taking the nation back to the World Cup.
England play Poland at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Victory will ensure that Eriksson's merry men will go to Germany as group winners and with the possibility of a seeding when the draw is made in Leipzig in December.
England need a Vito Corleone rather than a man who looks and behaves like everybody's favourite uncle, but history has shown that teams can win the World Cup even with the wrong manager.