World Cup 2018: England's struggle against the media over the years and why it must end now
Over the years, it has been agonising and downright depressing to be a supporter of the England national team. Every major tournament would follow the same doomed pattern. After a period of hype and excitement, England ends up disappointing at the big stage. There could be many factors which have contributed to the consistent failure of the English. They are, more often than not, a victim of their own hype. It is no secret that the English media is no friend to the players, but how much do they really affect the team? The country is really hungry for international success, for football to come home if you will.
Over the past few generations, England has been trying to replicate the heroics of 1966, when Sir Geoff Hurst fired the Three Lions to World Cup glory and their only major success as a team. There were times when they did come close. England reached the semi-final at the 1990 World Cup. They got beaten by West Germany on penalties in what would be a recurring theme over time. They lost another semi-final penalty shootout to the Germans at the European Championships in 1996.
The 21st century saw the rise of the Golden Generation of English football. A huge array of impressive young talent was coming up the ranks of the English clubs and the national team looked to take advantage of the new burst of talent. The likes of Steven Gerrard, David Beckham, Michael Owen and Frank Lampard became mainstays for the Three Lions while Euro 2004 saw the international emergence of Wayne Rooney. Expectations were at an all-time high with a ridiculously talented squad for major tournaments.
There was misfortune aplenty as England lost two straight quarter-final penalty shootouts to Portugal. Club rivalries took over as the best of Manchester United, the best of Liverpool and the best of Chelsea could not coexist together. This caused the English media to turn on them. Fans were also growing increasingly tired of seeing such high levels of talent being wasted on the international stage.
Expectations remained high for every major tournament, but the results did not change. The media always put enormous pressure on the shoulders of the national team and more often than not, they folded. And after every stumble, the players would be blasted for not being good enough. Every major tournament seemed to be like a chore for the English. They seemed like targets of media sites for clicks and views. Every year would keep on getting worse and worse due to the pressure.
England failed to win a game at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil despite a good performance in their opener against Italy. Again, the pressure got to them and they missed out due to narrow losses against the Italians and Uruguay. The English had their reputation sink even further at Euro 2016 as they fell to an embarrassing 2-1 defeat to Iceland. The fear was visible on all the players. They were fearful of the newspaper headlines the next day and the shame bestowed upon them by the media. They were incredibly unsettled and did not seem comfortable at all. Once Iceland got their second goal, England could do nothing. The pressure got to them.
Despite the continued failures, the media remain defiant on putting massive pressure on them at each and every tournament. They are getting hungrier for “juicy” news stories as evidenced by the constant criticism of the players’ lifestyles. It is not wrong to eat breakfast after losing a game. Raheem Sterling has been at the brunt of some baffling and ridiculous criticism for the smallest of things. A tattoo of a gun on his leg sparked a controversy from the media despite him giving a valid explanation for it.
The way the English media treats the players is unbelievably unsettling and factors a huge deal into why the Three Lions cannot perform. They are the first to just on the hype train and put pressure on the players but once the team fails, they are the first to jump on their backs and destroy them for it. We don't see the Spanish, German or even Italian media create such hostility for the national team. It is the sheer desperation of wanting to perform well at major tournaments which end up falling on the players’ backs through all the media criticism.
This year, the hope has returned as Gareth Southgate has adopted a new bold attacking approach for England with the likes of new young talent such as Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Dele Alli. There were lots of positive signs in their opening game against Tunisia, but the defence is still vulnerable as ever. A few tweaks would see England emerge as an extremely attractive side and one which can return to the latter stages of major tournaments. World Cup victories at under-20 and under-17 levels have also raised hope and confidence for the future.
However, if the media will continue their endless barrage of unsettling the national team, it will be hard to find much success. They must step back a little bit and give players their own space and make them comfortable as well. Footballers are humans too.
Here's hoping that this talented group will go far in Russia and lay the foundation for future success on the big stage. Reduced pressure on the team would be an encouraging sign as we have seen how well these players have done in the Premier League. They can do it, but only if the shackles of the media are off. It is not normal for players to have half of their focus on what tomorrow's newspaper headline will be, during a World Cup game.
Playing for your country should be a privilege, not a burden. It is time that the English media understands this and backs off from the ridicule they have always given to various underperforming English teams in the past. It is time for the Three Lions to break out from the shackles of the media. It will work wonders for them, it really will.