I say “review”, it’s really more of an autopsy.
Phil McNulty, Chief Football Writer for the BBC and a man who walks with a limp after having sat on the fence for so long, called the English players a “national embarrassment”. This is plainly ridiculous.
Firstly, it’s just a game. Get a little perspective.
Secondly, that’s unnecessarily cruel. There is no lack of passion or desire from these players, I’m sure of that. I am certain they want to be responsible for winning a major trophy for England even more than I do.
The problem is that they have “the fear”. I’ve been following England at major tournament for 20 years, and in that time I have seen, tournament after tournament, players who are absolutely terrified.
These aren’t an untalented group of players. They are capable of basic skills. But put them in the pressurised environment of a tournament, where they feel the knives of the national media sharpening, and everything starts to fall apart.
Think about it. If the person who did your job before you had a history of completely and inexcusably f*cking it up every time it mattered, and if you had a group of harsh critics with the potential to make-or-break your reputation watching your every move, you’d get nervous, right? You’d start making mistakes. Then your colleagues start chanting “you’re not fit to wear the suit” at you when you send an email with a typo in it. Then your name is plastered across the BBC website for your poor performance, and the Chief Business Writer says as inflammatory and unnecessary things as you are a “national embarrassment”, less than a week after we actually embarrassed ourselves with proper consequences.
Raheem Sterling, so frequently and unfairly made out as the scapegoat in this campaign, tried to get psychological help to get through the crisis in confidence he was suffering from. He was promptly mocked for it. What an idiot for recognising a problem and doing something logical to fix it.
And don’t give me that “money” argument either. It doesn’t matter how much they’re paid, they’re still human and will still react as such. Especially considering they have missed out on the socialisation everyone else in society gets between the ages of 16-21.
Personally, I’d like to see us follow the Greece 2004 or Iceland 2016 approach of picking not the best players, but the players that can fit in to a system so the sum is greater than the parts (as opposed to the opposite that we have now. And the parts aren’t even that valuable anyway). We should focus on being organised and having players who know their roles and help lift the team beyond what the names on the team sheet would suggest.
This would never work, of course. As soon as a team with Troy Deeney, Michail Antonio and Danny Drinkwater lost a game they’d be hung out to dry, with the media clamouring for the return of Wilshere and Alli. “You have to pick your best team” Alan Shearer would argue, despite having argued the exact opposite 90 minutes earlier.
Few teams can get away with this approach. Germany and Spain are able to pick their best players and look like *gasp* a team, but that’s because they have a cohesive ideology and don’t have half a century of failure and public hatred weighing on their shoulders.
Teams like France and Belgium, who have far superior players to us, have shown that just having good individuals isn’t enough to guarantee success. Any time you watch them they feel disjointed, like they aren’t quite fulfilling their potential. They can get away with it because Payet, Griezmann and Pogba, or De Bruyne, Lukaku and Hazard, are good enough. Our players just aren’t.
This isn’t to say ours are bad. They’re not great players, but not bad ones either. Not as bad as Monday night made them out to be, at least. They became unable to do things that even I can do, “like trap the ball”, or “move”.
For years we have been saying to give youth a chance. We’ve said we should throw a bunch of people untarnished by previous failures who will take the tournament by the scruff of the neck and not be overawed. “What’s the worst that could happen?” we would ask.
I’ll tell you. We’ll lack leadership, and under the slightest pressure they’ll absolutely crumble. So what’s next? Go even younger? Throw a bunch of twelve year olds out there in the hope that they haven’t developed enough to understand what pressure is?
We’ve been here before with our “solutions”. We said we needed a foreign manager, but that didn’t work (or at least, so the argument goes. I’d kill for three consecutive quarter finals now). We tried “passionate” managers. That failed. We tried disciplinarians. Wise old owls. We tried a 4-4-2. A 3-5-2. A 4-3-3. A 4-2-3-1. A 4-1-2-1-2. We picked the golden generation. We picked the youngsters. We tried long ball. We tried possession football. Every possibility there is for how we approach a tournament we have tried and ultimately failed at. Just like my suggestion of picking a weaker but more cohesive team would. Just like “give youth a chance” did.
To suggest that these young players would have been clean of the previous failures is a myth. The tarnishing and crashing and burning of previous generations is not on the shoulders of 11 men, but on a whole footballing culture. I’m toffee at football these days but I have no doubt my performance would cut in half if I pulled on an England shirt in a major tournament. It’s just what happens.
We clearly aren’t part of the elite. That we won the World Cup in 1966 and reached the semi finals in 1990 and 1996 isn’t a sign that we are, and that we didn’t in 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1992, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and now 2016 isn’t a sign that we are underperforming. We have won 6 knock-out games since 1966. This is very much our level.
It always will be, too. It will be because everything in the system, from youth development, to the press, to the media, to the FA, to the clubs, to the players, to the coaches, to the fans, is absolutely poisonous from top to bottom.
Without a complete reshaping and, more importantly, a cultural shift in the way we react around English football, it will stay poisonous. And that means we will keep having tournament after tournament of “national embarrassments”. Over and over again.
Happy Wednesday, everyone.
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Finally, with the referendum done and England out of Euro 2016 done, we’ll be returning to the regular Monday postings from now on. Make sure to check back in every Monday morning for the latest update.