Stuart Pearce may not survive long but he could leave a legacy in his choice of captain
A whirlwind finish made up for long passages of amiable stalemate last night but it could not prevent Stuart Pearce from emulating the experience of his predecessors as England's caretaker manager. Like Howard Wilkinson against France in 1999 and Peter Taylor against Italy the following year, Pearce went down to defeat at the hands of one of the world's best international sides.
England showed enough spirit in their belated revival to salvage Pearce's pride, but the late dramas could not disguise the feeling that there was nothing much in last night's contest to suggest that he is the man to be given charge of the squad for any longer than this one match. He may leave a short-term legacy, however, in the shape of the captaincy of Scott Parker. The 31-year-old defensive midfielder is hardly one for the long term, but even in defeat against Holland he showed that for now he is England's best option as a leader on the pitch.
If the interim manager had been hoping to give the job to a player intimately acquainted with the business of winning trophies, then Parker would not have been his first choice. Thus far in a professional career now in its 15th year, he has won the second-tier title with Charlton Athletic in 1999-2000 and the utterly pointless Intertoto Cup with Newcastle United in 2006. Luckily, as Fabio Capello was slow to recognise, his individual qualities transcend the absence of trophies in his cabinet.
To give him the captaincy last night, Pearce had to ignore the claims of Steven Gerrard, who was winning his 90th cap and has captured the European Cup, the Uefa Cup, the FA Cup twice and the Carling Cup three times with Liverpool, whose captaincy he has held since 2003. Steve McClaren made him England's vice-captain, and the vicissitudes affecting the careers of John Terry and Rio Ferdinand gave him plenty of opportunities for promotion. But he was not a lucky or an effective skipper: he was at the helm when England lost the matches against Russia and Croatia that cost them qualification for the 2008 European Championship, and he led the squad through their disastrous World Cup campaign two years later. Last night Gerrard contributed for barely half an hour, withdrawn after a feeling a twinge in his hamstring, possibly as a result of attempting a series of over-ambitious crossfield passes, none of which found their target.
Until Arjen Robben and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar stripped the English defence bare twice in two minutes as the hour mark approached, Parker had given a good account of himself as a leader by example. He started promisingly, as though unburdened by the cares of office. With his first real touch, in the third minute, he showed why he is such a welcome inclusion in a role that has troubled England since Owen Hargreaves' career crumbled after the 2006 World Cup.
Robin van Persie had found a gap in the England defence and was making ground towards the edge of the England penalty area when the new captain, hardly noted for his pace, suddenly overtook him and stole the ball with a deft flick of his boot.
Ten minutes later, having retreated into the back line as Holland pressed, he responded when Robben squared the ball to the unmarked Wesley Sneijder by sprinting out of defence to make a challenge that prevented the Internazionale midfielder from unleashing a shot. His third important intervention came midway through the first period, when Van Persie dribbled across the area and was starting to think about shaping to shoot when Parker arrived from nowhere with a perfectly timed tackle. His neatness in possession was also noticeable. He makes simple passes and does not give the ball away, thus avoiding the besetting sin of so many of his England predecessors in a deceptively demanding role.
Since the first 45 minutes had passed without great alarms, the arrival of James Milner to replace Gareth Barry as Parker's partner in the defensive shield may contributed to the sudden and spectacular collapse to a two-goal deficit. Seemingly inspired by the arrival of Huntelaar in place of Van Persie, Holland moved up a gear and dismayed England with two moments of applied menace that would not have disgraced the side which won at Wembley almost 40 years ago under the leadership of Johan Cruyff.
A handful of unusual statistics sum up Parker's career as a senior international. Having made his debut in 2003, he made no appearances at all in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. His first four caps were earned when he was playing for four different clubs, and his 11 caps have been awarded by four different managers. After such a choppy introduction, he deserves the chance to show what he can do when given the benefit of a little consistency.
The last time an England caretaker manager took a chance on a new captain, Taylor launched David Beckham on a long and not entirely undistinguished relationship with the armband. Beckham was 25 at the time, whereas Parker is at an age that cannot offer the prospect of such longevity. But he is emerging at an interesting time, when young players are coming into the squad in such significant numbers that experienced leadership will become a valuable commodity. A defeat is a defeat, but not all the signs were devoid of hope.