Euro 2016: England prove why they are delusional, naive and massively overrated yet again
Is anyone even surprised anymore when England make an early exit from a major international competition? Their no-longer-so-premature exit from UEFA Euro 2016 in the Round of 16 may have been predicted long before the tournament started – even if they won all their games in the qualifiers.
But to be knocked out by Iceland – a team that has qualified for an international tournament for the first time ever – will be etched in our memories for decades. Or at least until the next debacle from the Three
Lions *cough* Pussycats.
The hype that surrounded this team saw “pundits” reach new levels of delusion. Discussions centred around how England would tackle France in the quarter-finals with a win over lowly Iceland with its population of 330,000 a foregone conclusion. Expectations only come crashing down when they are either built up with unhealthy doses of over-confidence or failure to correctly identify potent threats.
No matter how popular or how brilliant the English players are in the English Premier League, they have simply failed to come together as a unit in the past two decades. To put things in perspective, England’s only wins in the knockout stages of an international competition in this millennium came against Denmark (2002) and Ecuador (2006).
The bottom line? High and mighty England – the founding fathers of modern association football and probably the only squad where the average fan knows each and every player thanks to the rise in popularity of the Premier League – are nothing but minnows who exceed expectations when they reach a quarter-final. A mediocre team with ridiculously overrated individuals whose collective popularity eclipses their less-than-average tactical intelligence.
Do England have world-class footballers on the international stage?
Many of the England players are considered world-class, and rightly so. However, that is only ever evident when they play club football. Under the guidance of world-class managers who know how to mould players on a daily basis and get the best out of them, they strut their stuff for nine months a year on hallowed turfs across England (and Wales) in the so-called 'Best League in the World'.
But it is that very support system that helps bring out the best in them. The coaches and the foreign players. The Premier League came into being in 1992 but it gained worldwide popularity only in the late ‘90s thanks to the arrival of foreign talent – both on the pitch and the touchline.
Look at any title-winning side in the past few years and you will notice that each successful side had a set of foreign players at its core. Be it Thierry Henry, Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo or Sergio Aguero, they lifted their squads with the talent they brought to English shores. Ironically, the successful Brexit campaign could well and truly affect football in England.
Yes, we have seen a few English players rise to prominence such as Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy this season, but experienced players they are not. The last great talent to emerge and perform consistently was Wayne Rooney.
Since bursting onto the scene in Euro 2004, Rooney is probably the only player to be considered a formidable opponent on the international stage. But that notion has eroded in the past two years since his fall from grace.
The ‘Golden Generation’ is long gone. David Beckham, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard... They came, saw and conquered absolutely nothing but the hearts and minds of fans worldwide thanks to the Premier League that made them household names.
However, when put on the same pitch with matching pristine white shirts, they were just a bunch of individuals with no clear intent, relying on flashes of brilliance that were few and far between. Fans have every right to be irate with their performances after having paid for rising ticket prices every season – fans that pay their wages and build the illusion that the players are beyond reproach.
But it's not entirely the players' fault.
Will England find a coach who isn’t swayed by general opinion?
The post for the coach of England is a poisoned chalice. It looks good on the resume and the bank balance but ultimately breaks men thanks to the constant pressure and underwhelming performances from the team.
Before they even get going, they are burdened with high expectations and a magnifying glass constantly focused on each and every decision they take. The media's penchant for tabloid journalism trumping expert opinions only serve to incense fans even before things start to go awry.
Then comes the matter of selecting the ideal playing eleven. Either seniority in the squad or favouritism to players from the top clubs comes in the way of selection and coaches end up trying to fit in all-star players into a formation that eventually leads to their downfall.
Take Euro 2016 for example. Why was Rooney even picked in the XI? Because he was the captain. Did he have a great season? No. Was he deployed in his natural position, that of a forward? No. Was he the ideal playmaker? Absolutely not!
Rooney may be the record goalscorer and captain of the squad. But to play him as a midfielder just for the sake of having him on the pitch was tactical suicide. Spraying balls to full-backs and wingers while ignoring forwards does not make you the complete midfielder. He is not Paul Scholes. And being the highest-earning member of the squad, his weekly wage is enough to give one pound to each and every citizen of Iceland (although Brexit may have devalued that comparison as well)!
In the qualifiers, he was deployed as a forward and was England’s top scorer. So why play him in midfield? Because Hodgson felt he needed to start the Premier League Golden Boot winner Harry Kane. The Tottenham Hotspur striker was far from his best and was even given the task of taking set-pieces instead of being on the end of them! Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge provided much more whenever they came on or started and it was pitiful to see Hodgson carry on with the same failed experiment.
Hodgson earned £3.5m a year until he resigned after the defeat (even though his contract came to an end). In contrast, Iceland coach Heimir Hallgrimsson had a day-job as a dentist!
England’s system needs an overhaul
Ultimately, it is the system that has failed England and will continue to do so until it is overhauled. Other countries have done the same, such as Germany more than a decade ago, and the fruits of their labour are clearly visible.
Most teams have an identity, a style of play that has helped define their success on the international stage. Sadly, England is devoid of any style or tactical know-how. The Premier League is glorious thanks to its hustle-bustle nature and entertainment value. But when these players are up against organised sides with an effective gameplan in place, they are clueless.
English players are nowhere close to the individual skill of the Spaniards, the tactical intelligence of the Italians or the teamwork and efficiency of the Germans. The sooner they realise they are not entitled to winning trophies because of a single World Cup win 50 years ago, the better.
The lack of football knowledge permeates through most of the so-called experts too. The majority of English ex-players-turned-pundits wax lyrical about ‘passion, grit and dedication’ with their tactical know-how limited to the use of cutting-edge technology to draw arrows and circles on slow-motion replays to describe the obvious to the viewers.
English football is back to square one and it’s a cycle that occurs every few years. In his resignation speech, Hodgson said: “I will look back on the four years with pride. It’s been a fantastic journey.”
If a group stage exit in the World Cup and getting knocked out by Iceland in the Euros constitute a ‘fantastic journey’, that misplaced mentality will lead to England’s downfall again and again. And again.