There are no shades of grey involved when following the fortunes of the England football team.
After dreadful recent performances against Denmark and Northern Ireland, they are dismissed as dilettantes but, following Saturday?s victory over Argentina, some hysterical pundits are already imagining the scenes in Trafalgar Square as the boys brandish the Jules Rimet Trophy next July.
That thrilling match in Geneva told us little that we don?t already know, yet in some quarters it?s been billed as the Second Coming of Sven-Goran Eriksson.
The truth is more prosaic. We again discovered that the midfield still isn?t working properly. Some day soon, Eriksson must look forensically at the competing claims of Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Frank Lampard and decide which of the three won?t start the World Cup games.
It simply doesn?t work, playing all three. They get in each other?s way, their roles are duplicated and no-one fits naturally into a role on the left side of midfield.
At various times in a match, they?ll all make important contributions and so they should, because they are very fine players. But they don?t blend happily.
In 1966, no-one could make out a claim for Nobby Stiles to be one of the best midfield players available to Alf Ramsey, in terms of ability. But Stiles willingly accepted his unspectacular role, hunting down the most skilful opposition player and minding the shop in front of the back four, as Bobby Charlton, Martin Peters and Alan Ball marauded further up the park.
Stiles? marking of the great Eusebio in the semifinal of the 1966 World Cup is commonly acknowledged as one of the most perfect examples of its kind and Ramsey always said that the little Manchester terrier was under-rated outside the England camp. But the manager had the tactical sense and gumption to recognise what Stiles brought to the common good.
Is Eriksson as sharp as Ramsey in this regard? The signs aren?t reassuring.
He still appears set on keeping Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard happy by starting with all of them, rather than making the unpopular, yet necessary, call.
Why he persists with Ledley King in the midfield holding role is beyond me, when he clearly prefers playing at the back and does so for his Tottenham club.
His team-mate, Michael Carrick, is manifestly superior to King in that position ? indeed, he does it every week in the Premiership ? yet Eriksson seems not to fancy him. Curious.
This imbalance in midfield will eventually lead to England being outclassed by a technically superior side in the World Cup. Argentina?s Juan Riquelme and Maxi Rodriguez gave masterclasses of possession and subtle inter-passing and if it hadn?t been for the predatory instincts of Michael Owen and the doziness of Argentina?s defence in the last few minutes, England would have lost.
The tendency of the three galacticos in England?s midfield to concede fouls and Gerrard?s chronic selfindulgence in opting for spectacular passes mean that possession is given away too readily.
And teams like Argentina, Brazil and Italy loan the ball out, rarely giving it away as often as England. Our lot will end up chasing shadows in the Bavarian sun if Eriksson persists in his loyalty.
The Argentine game also underlined the importance of Gary Neville and Ashley Cole at full-back and their injuries have, ironically, solidified their places because Luke Young and Wayne Bridge clearly aren?t up to scratch.
Then there?s Rio Ferdinand. Why did he retain his place ahead of Sol Campbell after being deservedly dropped for the Austrian game? Ferdinand has been hopeless recently for Manchester United, apart from a competent performance last week against Chelsea.
Eriksson stoutly maintained that Ferdinand was outstanding against Chelsea. If that?s the case, I must have been dreaming that Lampard?s pass to Didier Drogba caught Ferdinand dozing and flat-footed early on.
The truth is that Eriksson wanted Ferdinand back after his short spell in porridge and relied on sophistry to justify his volte-face.
If Wayne Rooney gets sent off or is injured ? and both are entirely possible ? then England have no chance of winning the World Cup.
Rooney is a virtuoso, remarkably mature with a ball at his feet, marvellously aware of the geometry of a football pitch and reassuringly precise in his finishing.
More and more, he appears at ease with himself and his role in the England team but in 1982, Trevor Brooking and Kevin Keegan were central to England?s fortunes and their injuries proved significant.
So it proved with Bryan Robson in 1986 and David Beckham in 2002. Fingers and legs crossed, then, for Rooney ? s continuing wellbeing.
Charities deserve this bonus ball
Do the England players deserve #300,000 bonuses if they win the World Cup? That?s the deal they hammered out last week before flying out to Geneva with Gary ?Scargill? Neville among the negotiators. And he?s never short of a trenchant comment.
We need more natural communicators like Neville in football, a natural leader of the Professional Footballers? Association when he packs up playing.
Initial reaction would be something along the lines of ?they get enough dosh as it is from their clubs; what about Ferdinand insulting Manchester United by stalling on an offer of #100k a week?? And never forget that they usually double their salaries by boot deals, newspaper articles and the other perks culled from the fertile minds of their agents.
But consider what the FA will be making out of the World Cup. Conservative estimates are put at #100 million and the feelgood factor from winning would mean increased revenue from TV deals and sponsorship agreements.
So why shouldn?t the England players have at least a portion of their snout in the trough?
In other areas of commerce and industry, those who achieve success automatically get bonuses, even though already remunerated handsomely. There seems no reason why the players shouldn?t be rewarded if they do the necessary.
Mind you, what they do with the extra money is another matter. It would be reassuring if various charities benefited from all that largesse.
After all, Gordon Taylor at the PFA is always telling us how much unsung work the top players do for charity. Prove it then, lads.
Opportunity chimes, allowing gutsy Bell to prosper
We?ll never know how relevant Michael Vaughan?s absence proved in Ian Bell?s welcome rehabilitation as an England batsman on Sunday. Perhaps he was due some luck at last.
Many have hinted that the Warwickshire player was short of the character and mental steel needed to prosper at the game?s highest level.
They point to his total of six runs in the last two Tests of the Ashes series, including a ?pair? at the Oval. They conveniently ignore his two classy half-centuries in the Old Trafford Test against Australia and that he copped more dubious umpiring decisions than any other batsman throughout that dramatic series.
Clearly, Bell had dropped down the pecking order when he got out to Pakistan. Paul Collingwood, feisty competitor and handy bowler, was set to play ahead of him because the Durham man was perceived to be a better bowler.
That is arguable because Bell has turned himself into a useful medium-pace bowler and there is no comparison in batting ability. Collingwood is a magnificent fielder but Bell is admirable in all parts of the field, as he demonstrated amply last summer.
Once again, a specialist young England cricketer looked as if he would miss out, with the bits-and-pieces rival prevailing.
Then came Vaughan?s knee injury. Bell had to play and, dauntingly, in the captain?s No 3 position.
Bell?s 71 in the first innings in Multan was the perfect response to his detractors. Right from the start, he was positive, nimble on his feet and his confidence and dexterity against the spinners bode well for the rest of this tour and the Indian leg after Christmas. It was Bell at his crisp, authoritative best.
Perhaps he was psychologically freed by the circumstances of his selection. Bell was basically given a free hit. No-one else was available, so the shackles were freed and he could play naturally, without looking over his shoulder.
This innings should be the making of him. The only disappointment was that he ought to have gone on to make a big hundred.
He?s now given the England selectors a pleasing dilemma. Vaughan will probably be fit for the third Test against Pakistan, so who makes way? Collingwood is a top bloke, a worthy cricketer and tremendous team man, but he lacks the class to bat at No 4 for England.
Duncan Fletcher, the coach, is very keen on the Durham player but that should be an irrelevance. You don?t get to bat at four in a Test for reasons that include popularity.
Bell is also popular in the England ranks and ? more importantly ? exudes class. He is only 23 and the selectors must take a consistent punt on him. And, in his more reflective moments, Bell ought to take a look at the early Test career of Warwickshire chief executive Dennis Amiss.
In his first 13 Tests, Amiss passed 50 just twice. He was 29 before he hit his first century in a Test. After that, he was a marvellous England player for the next five years. Bell has the technique and natural ability to be around for longer than Amiss.
Luck can be so influential in shaping an international career.
When Vaughan?s knee gave out when batting in the nets at Lord?s in 2004, that left a berth open for Andrew Strauss. He promptly made a century on his Test debut and hasn?t looked back since.
Perhaps Vaughan?s dodgy knee will also favour Bell.
In 30 years? time, as he sits by the fireside in reminiscent mood, will he reflect on the moment when his captain crumpled in a heap as he tried for a second run and fell over?