Back in 2014, we looked at the aftermath of a failed World Cup performance from the England national team and tried to look forward to how things could improve for the next international tournament. Here we are again, and while at France 2016, England progressed from the group stages, they were last night defeated by an Iceland team at their first ever international tournament, with a performance from the home nation as bad as any in living memory. Depending on how you viewed the result of the referendum last Thursday, it’s been a bad week for England, a country without a Prime Minister, a nose diving economy, and a manager-less football team following Roy Hodgson’s immediate resignation.
Let’s deal with the manager first of all. A quick scan of the morning papers will tell you that they knew all along that Roy Hodgson was not the man to take England forward. Back in 2012, I felt Hodgson was probably the right man to take the reins from Fabio Capello, as England looked to not only stabilise and move forward as a national team, but also to balance with the FA’s England DNA, a way forward for the country’s coaching development. It’s great to be wise after the event, but frankly I haven’t seen any other coach pushing their name forward, and the list of potential replacements does not provide me with confidence that things will improve. There is a xenophobia of appointing anyone not from the British Isles which leaves the country short of contenders to take over.
You could probably question the make-up of England’s squad for the tournament, but it’s easy to be wise after the event. But it was clear that England not only lacked variety and players who could change games on the bench, but also there were too many players who either hadn’t played enough for football or were woefully out of form. The Spurs pair of Dele Alli and Harry Kane, part of a team who had impressed so many this season in the Premier League, had poor tournaments. The Everton pair of John Stones and Ross Barkley had suffered from a disappointing season at Everton. Raheem Sterling, seemingly the scapegoat for many, was short of confidence. Jack Wilshere, an undoubted talent, was short of match practice. When teams needed breaking down, there was a lack of a wide player like an Andros Townsend, to come on, run at players and get crosses in. When teams like Slovakia parked the proverbial bus, there was no-one to win headers in the box. Looking to the bench and seeing willing but limited players like James Milner and Jordan Henderson, it was difficult to see where England could turn when things got desperate against a well drilled Iceland team.
Hodgson also faced criticism for not knowing his best team or his best formation. I find that a little unfair, however that doesn’t mean that questions cannot be asked. The England DNA talks of teams from the seniors to the younger age groups working off a standard 4-3-3, obviously copied from the successful Spanish model, and in the tournament, Hodgson followed this model. My only argument would be whether we actually had the players to play this way. For me there were too many square pegs in round holes, and England, with the exception of the opening half against Russia, failed to move the ball quickly enough to trouble teams. Compare to the organisation and fluid play from the Italians in the earlier game against Spain, in a formation which suited the players available and tactics which they carried out to near perfection. England struggled to break down teams, failed to deliver crosses of sufficient quality, and their set-piece delivery was as poor as I can recall from any international team.
England are still way short of the quality required to win tournaments. One hopes that the FA have the strength to move forward with their DNA project for a bit longer and focus on producing players of the quality to play in their desired formation. There is some hope in the younger age groups, but the lack of playing time some of these players will get will likely hinder their progress. As for the national team, a new and inspiring leader is required. But right now, it’s far from clear who takes things forward.