“England are Out” is a 50 year old phrase that is yet to lose its relevance and is unlikely to lose it in the years to come.
Like most fans, I was distraught at England’s 3 Lions loss to Iceland. I wasn’t distraught because England lost to what was considered a lesser side it was because they failed to turn up. They failed to put up a fight. They went out meekly like puppies instead of Lions.
They went out for many reasons, Coaching, lack of willpower and determination by the players and the desire of their opponents not to play dead.
The determination displayed by Iceland is one reason why most people love football. The unpredictable nature of the game: Greece winning the Euros; Leicester winning the Premier League; Tottenham ‘almost’ winning it; Arsenal remarkably overtaking Tottenham to come 2nd on the final day of the season.
We also love football when the players show their abilities and talent, be it pace, power and that unerring habit of putting the ball in the back of the net that is synonymous with a Jamie Vardy or the trickery of pin point passes that is Mesut Ozil’s claim to fame or those sweet dead balls from Dmitri Payet. There is always something to admire about football.
There was however nothing to admire about England in the Euros. I am not an expert but I felt Roy Hodgson’s decision to shift Rooney into midfield, changing everything he had done in qualifying to accommodate Rooney in that role slowed the team down.
I get the fact that Rooney is perhaps the finest player of his generation for England, a player at par with the best the world had to offer in Rooney’s prime, but he is not that player any more. He is not the player to build any aspirational team around. If a West Brom or Hull decided to make that type of decision or a national team like Malta or something did the same, you wouldn’t question them. But to build the England Team around Rooney in 2016 was a massive mistake by the England manager and he has rightly paid for it.
I am of the opinion that this Rooney decision did not allow the England team play to its strength. Players were passing sideways to Rooney, slowing down England’s play and transitions. I can also imagine the impact on the psyche of the players once they realized the team set up was modified to accommodate Rooney. We all know the players all have above average ability but they clearly didn’t have the togetherness to make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Many blame the manager. I wouldn’t disagree especially given the decision on Rooney. Before the FA appointed Roy, I preferred Harry Redknapp. Not because Harry was tactically astute, but because his previous teams had flair and were largely exciting. His achievements in English football also towers above Roy’s. When Roy was appointed, I understood the reasons especially the FA wanting an establishment person and all the legal issues Harry had to deal with at that time.
In his time as England manager, Roy has had his detractors even when he was blowing out teams in qualifiers. He was subjected to insults in the media, some of these, I believe bothered on ageism and good old snobbery. I changed channels frequently and refused to read articles that appear to have a jaundiced view of what Roy was doing,. I was a silent supporter of Roy and a great believer that England could go far in the Euros.
However once Roy made the decision to rebuild the team around Rooney, he lost my support and I am not surprised England not only underperformed in their Group, they crashed out at the first knock out stage.
So wither England? The crop of players wont change although I strongly believe Rooney should be told in no uncertain terms that England is done with him. I think England should look for a young English manager like Eddie Howe (if he wants it), task him with building a team of players minus the prima donnas, give the new manager a free hand and let the whole nation know there is no expectation except that we want to see England players play as a team, play to their strength and be seen to be playing to the best of their abilities.
At the end of the day, football matches can be won and lost by the littlest of margins and referee errors, but by taking care of the things in your control – psyche, physical and mental strengths, conditioning, logistics, team selection etc. you put yourself in a position to benefit from those little margins.