So another World Cup tournament, and perhaps predictably, given their group opponents, after just two group games, England are out. And following the players’ slumped shoulder exit from the pitch in Sao Paulo comes the sadly predictable knee-jerk reaction from fans and press alike. Despite a generally positive response to England’s opening defeat to Italy, a performance generally seen as positive despite the defeat, England’s campaign has now been labelled as “a shambles on par with the Ashes fiasco” by a particularly hysterical member of the press. Let us not forget that England have just been beaten by the odd goal in three by the teams ranked 7th and 9th in the world according to FIFA’s rankings, with the South Americans also being the current holders of the Copa America.
Of course, England weren’t the first team to be knocked out…the reigning champions gained that unfortunate label, and let’s not forget that Spain were not narrowly beaten in either game, soundly thrashed by a counter attacking Dutch and pressed and harassed to a deserved defeat by Chile. That doesn’t matter though. Apparently qualification from the group stages is the minimum requirement from a typically arrogant English press.
Surprisingly, not all of the press are calling for the head of the manager Roy Hodgson, but inevitably those that are would have been the likely advocates of Harry Redknapp when Hodgson was appointed in 2012. An example is the Daily Mail’s Martin Samuel, who in his piece today called for the England manager to go, while conceding that there really isn’t anyone better to replace him. When pushed, Samuel of course suggests his pal Redknapp, using the example of the Spurs team he managed, conveniently ignoring the ridiculously highly paid QPR squad relegated under the former Portsmouth boss and who also were arguably fortunate to gain promotion straight back. Samuel’s other suggestions were Steve Bruce for his work with Hull, and believe it or not, Alan Pardew…yes the headbutting Alan Pardew whose Newcastle side won just five games in the second half of last season. With the press’ insistence of “no more foreign mercenaries” (of course a top international manager is just a mercenary for accepting a large pay packet to take a job in which they will just get abuse from the press), there’s hardly a queue of English coaching talent ready to step into Hodgson’s shoes.
Of course, Roy Hodgson would be under far more pressure if he had a wealth of talent to choose from, but even his harshest critic would concede that the numbers coming through in the English game are not at their optimum, and those that do some through are getting limited experience at the top level. The squad selected for the tournament virtually picked itself…see our selection from back in February here, and you will see only three differences. By the time the end of the season came around, we probably would have gone with both Lambert and Barkley over either Lampard or Carrick and Carroll. Our only dispute with Hodgson’s selection was the exclusion of Ashley Cole, an experienced head in a relatively inexperienced defence, and undoubtedly the English back four has been under much scrutiny in the two games so far. However, Cole was short of match practice in the second half of last season, and most of the press thought the inclusion of the exciting Southampton left back Luke Shaw was a positive. But isn’t hindsight is a wonderful thing? The other name being thrown around for his leadership skills as much as anything is John Terry. Let us not forget though that this is the same John Terry who retired from international football, and despite the belief that the Chelsea skipper would have steadied the England back line, let us not forget that Terry was in the defence that were ripped apart like this…
Nevertheless, there is undoubtedly plenty of talent in the squad preparing for a meaningless (at least as far as England are concerned) game this coming Tuesday against group winners elect, Costa Rica. Two of the more experienced members of the squad seem to have been singled out for particular criticism; captain Steven Gerrard and striker, Wayne Rooney. The latter probably helped to silence some of the critics with his performance against Uruguay, however Gerrard had the misfortune to set up his Liverpool team mate Luis Suarez for Uruguay’s winner. This is a problem you get with the England skipper. His passion and energy are a positive for driving the side forward, but when things get pressurised, and particularly if he feels responsible, he does take on a headless chicken role and tries to do everything on his own…notice the ridiculous shot from about 35 yards out following the aforementioned goal. He’s not perfect for sure, but without Gerrard, who do England turn to, to play the deep midfield role and to lead the side?
So the lack of available choices brings us back to the question of the English talent production, or rather lack of it. Plenty of fingers are being pointed at the Premier League and the large number of non English players making up the squads, an issue discussed plenty on this website. But remember that 25 years ago, before the Premier League came into force, since 1966, England had failed to qualify in 1974 and 1978, and only once progressed further than the quarter finals. And the issue of English versus foreign players runs much deeper…there’s a reason clubs buy foreign – the English players are generally not good enough. Young English players are not being stifled…they need to improve. Already in this World Cup we’ve seen some pretty average performances get the required results simply by a piece of brilliance from a real world class talent (Argentina twice by Messi, Uruguay arguably by Suarez). Is there an English player capable of such a thing? Probably not. Better coaching in England at an early age is required, and that’s sadly not a situation that’s going to change tomorrow.
Forgetting the other ridiculous English accusations at the players….they play without passion because they don’t run around enough….they play without their brains because they run about too much….they don’t care about playing for England because they don’t sing the national anthem (you know the one, the British national anthem that for some reason England have to use as well, and anyway, what’s singing got to do with playing football?), it’s clear that England’s failings run far deeper than the knee jerk rants from our beloved press suggest. Wayne Rooney suggested in today’s press conference that England are a better side than four years ago and are moving in the right direction, and while I’d agree with the first point, the second we will be able to confirm in time. Even Mr Mourinho has claimed England have been unlucky with the draw they received. Now is the time for stability, to back the younger talent coming through, and with a hopefully more straightforward qualifying process, back Roy Hodgson to get England to improve in time for a better show in Euro 2016.