Losing faith in Fabio Capello's England
Fabio Capello's England team are in Bulgaria, before taking on Wales at Wembley next week with qualification for Euro 2012 still very much in their own hands.
That's the good news; but it's still been an indifferent qualifying campaign which has fallen a long way short of erasing the memories of that pitiful World Cup campaign in South African.
Fabio Capello's performance at the 2010 World Cup would have seen most coaches sacked, except of course that the Football Association had already decided to reward the Italian with a new contract before a ball had been kicked in the finals. This contract has been reported to be worth £6m a year. It is surely so lucrative that only a fool would resign from it, while the FA certainly did not want the expense of terminating it.
So what have England fans got for their money over the last 14 months since the embarrassment of being torn apart by Germany and the disappointment of being so poor even against Algeria, the United States and Slovenia?
England coach Capello has tried to rebuild since the 2010 disaster. Photo: Getty Images
Capello has overseen nine matches since, of which four were friendlies. At Wembley, England have drawn with Montenegro, Ghana and Switzerland and lost to France. Away victories against the Swiss and the Welsh have kept England on course for next year's finals in Poland and Ukraine; but there are still a couple of tricky hurdles to negotiate before England can be confident of finishing above Montenegro and avoiding a nerve-jangling play-off.
That's Montenegro, a country that had just one representative in a 23-man squad for the 2006 World Cup, when they still played alongside Serbia as a merged nation. That sole Montenegrin was the goalkeeper Dragoslav Jevric, who conceded 10 goals in three games at those finals.
Montenegro have improved, and like many international teams, they make up for a shortage of outstanding talent by relying on finely tuned organisation. It earned them at point at Wembley last October from a goalless draw.
Sadly, simple organisation has been enough for opponents to trouble England for far too long. Against England, being organised and talented, like Brazil, Spain and Germany, almost always secures a win. England have a group of players whose abilities range from the moderate to the very good; one or two of them even look world class now and again, but not often when wearing the white of their country.
Of Capello's current squad only eight have South Africa 2010 on their CV. That can only be a good thing; but somehow exciting, fresh faces have so often been dragged down into England's miasma of underachievement once they break into the international fold. None other than Gary Neville recently wrote that he often felt playing for England was a waste of time; watching England has too often been the same.
I would love nothing more than to be surprised at the finals in 2012, and I am sure England will at least qualify for the Euros this time, a step up from 2008. I remember brief, exhilarating moments when supporting England was to be proud and uplifted; but I just cannot picture England winning the trophy next summer.
I remember being asked by a press officer for Turkey's national team how his nation, once one of Europe's whipping boys, could possibly have achieved in the last 10 years the same as England have managed in the 45 since 1966, namely semi-final defeats in a World Cup and a European Championship.
I did not have the answer then and I still don't now - and I'm not sure anyone in an England tracksuit does either.