I have to confess right away, I am not a fan of the English national team. I’m not sure when and where this happened; I seem to remember being full of patriotism during Euro 96, but somewhere between now and then I’ve actually developed something of a dislike for our nations football team. I can only hazard a guess as to some of the reasons why.
I think traditionally a lot of patriotism towards the national side is London-centric, and over the years travelling around the country with Liverpool has lead me into contact with a number of fans of other clubs whose behaviour left a sour taste in the mouth. Perhaps I identify them with fans of England. There is of course the feeling that Liverpool as a city and Scousers see themselves as fiercely independent from the rest of the country. We rally round our own and after being on the receiving end of the biggest government cover up in the history of the British justice system; you can’t really blame us for looking away from that British Bulldog style feeling.
Or maybe it’s the idea that an inherent arrogance surrounds the national team’s plight, despite only ever achieving success way back in 1966 as a nation. It was an arrogance in many ways that was in full flow last night against Iceland and yet a familiar story come the final whistle. An arrogance with no substance resulting in England out of yet another tournament, having hugely underachieved and with another manager heading for the hills.
I have to admit, I sat with a wry smile last night as the England’s superstars postured uncomfortably as they ran out of ideas on how to break down ‘little’ Iceland. I’d already developed a soft spot for them in the wake of Ronaldo’s comments after his Portugal side failed to beat them in the first group game.
His sentiments irked me a lot if I am being honest and in many ways were the perfect metaphor for England’s national teams problems. A sense of self entitlement. Ronaldo seemed to think that Portugal had a god given right to roll over Iceland, a country I believe in their first ever meaningful International Tournament, and a nation with just 330,000 people in situ (so less than Liverpool as a City). Indeed the fact that they celebrated wildly having avoided defeat to Portugal was in some way offensive to Ronaldo who insisted that, “only one team came to win the game,” and that, “you’d think they had won the tournament.” It brought down the red mist for me personally and I indicated via social media that instead of the petulant stance he had taken, perhaps it would have been better to look at his own personal failures in front of goal that night, and that of his team on the whole, rather than point the finger of blame elsewhere.
It is a notion that the English national team should take heed of also. Every single tournament they approach it with the same sense of arrogance and self-entitlement. “We are England, home of the Premier League, fear us!” (a sentiment that seemed to have spilled over to the fans also until the Russians turned up). And every time, it ends the same way. Exit and sub-standard performances. In a world that saw Leicester City defy the juggernaut that is modern day football, right here in their very own back yard; you would have thought England’s footballers would have entered Euro 2016 with a sense of caution; and a refining of the essence of the game that inspires no ego’s, hard work and a desire to run through brick wall’s for your team mates. Sadly for England there was only one team on display last night that elicited that and they play France in a few days’ time whilst Joe Hart and co sun themselves on a beach.
This current England side seemed to be seduced by the successes they had in a sub-standard qualifying group, and coupled with the usual over indulged romanticism of the nation’s press when it comes to England, brought rise to the notion that this group of players seemed to be some sort of golden generation. A misguided sentiment if ever there was one. Throw into the mix the fact the manager, a lovely bloke we are all told, is one of the most over rated, average managers I have ever had the displeasure to experience, what was produced was a team high on over confidence, full of individuals, harbouring a fierce sense of self-entitlement and one with no discernible game plan imposed on it by the ‘manager’ and ‘coaching’ team. You can, if you wish, drill down into specifics.
Why was Wayne Rooney shoe horned into the side with this idea that all of a sudden he is a world class midfielder. No. He is either good enough to start up front or not. Which one is it. If it’s ‘not’ then he starts from the bench. Midfielders who had great seasons with their clubs were either sat on the bench or not in the squad at all. Milner, Barkley, Noble, Drinkwater all spring to mind.
What was the game plan and the system? What was the preferred starting XI. Roy is still working it out, it is just a shame he didn’t work it out as quick as he worked up that resignation statement.
If a team/squad had been put together that had a clear game plan, with players playing in their correct positions, based on form and not reputation, and crucially, had been moulded into a unit designed to work for each other and as a team, not individuals, then I am sure progress would have been much more achievable. Previous England sides have had much bigger and better individuals in tow (Gerrard, Lampard, Beckham, Scholes, Terry), and failed due to the same misgivings and having fallen into the same trap that individuals will bail the team out or drag them through with pieces of individual brilliance because let’s face it, “we’re England and we deserve it.”
Antonio Conte summed it up brilliantly with his perspective on Italy, a side who I personally am tipping for success this year. He stated that his squad does not harbour the same individual brilliance of former Italian sides and that his task has been about moulding a team who work for each other and win as a unit, not as individuals. It was a beautifully refreshing piece of honesty and humility from a manager of a nation who have achieved regularly throughought their history. Maybe when the FA look to appoint their next manager, they take that into consideration but I wouldn’t hold your breath. As for me, I’m a Shankly, aren’t I? Scottish blood flows through these veins!