So another tournament passes by and a team high on technical ability romps to the title whilst England are left to lick their wounds at yet another penalty shootout exit at the quarter final stage after being outplayed for the preceding 120 minutes.
It marks a huge shift in the country’s expectations when a last 8 exit is seen by some as an over achievement. Yes, Roy Hodgson only had a few weeks preparation, but we seem to be going backwards, praising team spirit and the fact the players were relaxed and allowed to walk around Krakow for a coffee. This should surely be a pre-requisite.
Whilst it wasn’t the disaster of South Africa 2010, England once again failed to inspire or play any sort of attacking football other than for the ten minutes they were behind against Sweden. Once more some people are calling for a complete overhaul of the system whilst pinning every last hope that St George’s can change our fortunes.
But the problem goes deeper than that, one trophy win and two semi-finals are all England have to show for ‘giving football to the world’. We are always looking to copy successful teams of the past, the current Spanish set up is the best so we must adopt that … previously there have been calls to copy the French style, so successful at the turn of the century, or the ruthless Germans of the 1970’s.
None of this will work as we have to find our own style, one we feel comfortable playing. However, this will never happen for one reason. In England we value effort and determination far too highly, and certainly value it over the desire to actually win.
Andy Murray is a perfect case in point. Fourth in the world in what’s generally regarded as the greatest era of men’s tennis ever, yet he divides opinion much more so than the inferior Tim Henman, and why? Because he has such an intense desire to win he comes off as surly and ungrateful when he loses, as opposed to Henman who was the epitome of the gallant loser and just happy to be there.
This is the same with English football. We value tracking back, tackling and giving everything for the cause over possessing the right amount of technical ability to win. Alan Shearer hit the nail firmly on the head with his analysis:
“If you just want 11 guys to go out and work hard, I can find you 11 men from Newcastle city centre who will work their socks off”
Andrea Pirlo was almost canonised by the English press following the way he marshalled Italy in the quarter final encounter. However we had a player every bit as good as Pirlo. He wasn’t very fast, and was an awful tackler, but Paul Scholes could pass the ball and create space like none of his compatriots. And what did we do with him? Played him out of position and dropped him so often that he got fed up and quit international football. Glenn Hoddle’s England career went the same way, one of the most gifted Englishmen of all time didn’t play enough for England because in the late great Sir Bobby Robson’s opinion, he couldn’t tackle.
I for one don’t care if Hoddle, Scholes, Gazza or Wilshere can tackle, they aren’t on a football pitch to do that, they are there for their technical ability to change a game, but trudging off, kit caked in mud, head bandaged up seems to be a pre-requisite for having played well. It is not.
The old Corinthian spirit is something to be admired but is out of place in modern day football and puts us at a disadvantage when playing the best teams in the world. Ashley Young was rightly criticised for diving against QPR but Man Utd have such an inbuilt ability and desire to win that their fans /hierarchy barely blinked. And let’s be honest, if he’d have done that against Italy in the quarter-final would anyone have cared?
My point is that we can play long-ball, tiki-taka, speedy wing play or any other style that’s en vogue at any particular moment, but unless we stop rewarding mediocrity and realise that second is nowhere then we will forever fail at international level.