For the umpteenth time, another generation of Englishmen have failed to bring pride to their nation in an international football tournament. In this instance, the team endured quite possibly their most embarrassing moment since not qualifying for Euro 2008 in a 2-1 defeat to Euro newcomers and massive underdogs, Iceland. While objectively and on paper this would go down as the most shocking result of the tournament, to a few others it seems awfully predictable and expected. The typical narratives will be to flack the media and that heads will roll. Yet with all that being done the solution to the problems England face remains to be seen, continuing the cycle of mediocrity. At what point will actual change and vision be introduced to the English football set up?
The initial blame will fall on the manager from most as he would be seen as naive, unprepared, tactically inept and a poor man manager. However at the time, Roy Hodgson was the best English-born candidate among the list of names mentioned; his years of experience in England and across Europe, even at the international level spoke for themselves. Hodgson represented the most prepared candidate that played a relatively good brand of football who could possibly see England move to the next level. Fast forward four years later, we have another Euro disaster and the same names popping up as possible candidates. Throw former players with very little managerial experience into the mix and you have yourself a joke of a line up. This simply represents the level of coaching and development young British born managers are exposed to. Having not displayed any skill set which would be required at the top level, English managers remain at a distinct disadvantage in comparison to other European counterparts. Ultimately, this has had an adverse effect on not only the national teams but the development of youth players.
Secondly, people will look to the players and question their quality, commitment and if they deserved to be in the team in the first place. What must be understood is that despite the form of players such as Raheem Sterling, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney, these players represent a select group that have played at the highest level, against some of the world’s best players and like any other player have endured both good and bad performances. The value of that experience, especially in a young squad lacking exactly that, cannot be overlooked. Additionally, while many will question these players inclusion, the likes of Harry Kane and Deli Alli who enjoyed a fantastic season with their club, must shoulder majority of the blame as players who failed to impress and show up during the tournament. While this will no doubt be a learning experience for them, it does not remove the expectations people had of them based on their ability. Overall, the greater issue lies with preparation and utilisation of the players selected, the roles they’re asked to perform for the team and the impact on team performance these things may have. While under-performance is a player issue, proper utilisation of the players is a much bigger problem that England has and selecting the right squad to play against particular opponents only adds to the continued embarrassment.
Then there’s the almost reflexive response of blaming the FA as they handle the overall development of players, facilities and managers. While these are concerns that the English FA are finding it difficult to fix, they are not the only one. In terms of infrastructure and transparency, the FA are quite easily one of the better ones globally and other big footballing associations such as Argentina, Brazil, Italy and Spain all have faced their fair share of scandals and mismanagement. While the FA could push for better grass root projects and reduce the cost of earning managerial badges, which is noted as one of the highest across Europe, the bigger issue would possibly be to change how football is seen and coached across England. As pointed out earlier, there is significant lack of top English managers that are competitive at the highest level and the FA can only work with and choose from the options available to them. Calls for stricter regulations against overseas players and managers will only be detrimental to the English game and as that hinders competition and the development of top class players and managers. Equally detrimental would be for the FA board to resign as they have been unreasonably called to do considering what they have spent to better all the necessary aspects of development of the game in England.
Ultimately, with all that has been highlighted one thing that must be addressed is the culture of arrogance in the English game. The belief of them being the best or having the best simply is not being reproduced on the field. The mindset of coaching and the criteria under which coaches assess and promote youth players needs probing. That aside, for England to move forward, England not only needs experience but a manager with a clear directive of how to best utilise the group of players picked and how to best approach each game. England, with the players they have, are not far behind in quality but they lack the ability to operate with an objective in mind and as a unit. Issues with which players deserved to be picked and the FA are nitpicking at best. Ensuring that there’s a shift in the quality of coaching by Englishmen and appointing a prepared and objective manager must be their chief priority.