I was always going to make this article because let’s face it, England were going to be knocked out of Euro 2016 at some point. BUT NEVER DID I THINK IT WOULD BE IN THE ROUND OF 16 AGAINST ICELAND. Usually I would name this article ‘What Went Wrong For England?’, like I did at the 2014 World Cup, but this time around I thought: why not just be honest. England are sh*t. I’m writing this 48 hours on from our 2-1 defeat to Iceland and I’m still struggling to really come to terms with the fact that we’re actually out. Fuming doesn’t even cover it.
Fair play to Iceland. Before the game, I called for them to come out and attack England, not to sit back and hope to take the Three Lions to penalties. They did come out and attack. They reacted brilliantly to going behind after just four minutes, equalising within seconds. To then get a second goal showed that they meant business, and I have no problem with them defending a lead they earnt. The minnows were solid, and England just couldn’t break them down. So on that front, congratulations to Lars Lagerback and co, and good luck against France in the quarter-finals.
BUT ENGLAND SHOULD STILL BE BEATING THEM. It’s been put into context many times, but I will reiterate it because it is so pertinent. Iceland has a population of just 330,000. Around 165,000 are women, and 120,000 of the men are either under 18 years old or over 35 years old. That leaves them just 45,000 odd to choose from. Take away the 25,000 fans in France for the tournament and you’re left with 20,000. This is their first major tournament and they were the lowest ranked nation going into the competition (34th). As much as Iceland deserved their victory, this is without question the most embarrassing England competitive defeat of all time. You could perhaps throw in there the loss to USA’s part-time side at the 1950 World Cup, but certainly in my and many other people’s lifetimes, we have never witnessed a worse defeat.
There’s many reasons why this was allowed to happen. The first is that the England team took for granted the statistics I have just presented to you above. The media were already talking about facing France in the quarter-final as if beating Iceland was a given, and that was clearly the same attitude the squad had. Taking a lead so early on probably didn’t help either, as strange as it sounds. At least if Iceland had kept them at 0-0 until half-time, they would have known it was a tough game. But Wayne Rooney’s penalty put them on cloud nine far too soon.
It’s a mentality issue. Not only taking smaller teams for granted, but just the whole tournament situation. England can’t cope with it. Not since the 2006 World Cup, when even then we performed only slightly above average, have we won a knockout game. Qualifying as the best in the continent is well and good, but it counts for nothing when you get to the tournament. Out of a total of 38 qualifying games for the last two World Cups and European Championships dating back to 2010, England have won 30. Yet when it comes to the biggest stage, we’ve won just four out of 15 qualifying games. Granted, the games are arguably tougher in tournament football, but to me it says that English players cannot cope with the pressure of a major international competition. We know these players are excellent players. We’ve seen Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane score 49 Premier League goals between them. We’ve seen Dele Alli pick up the PFA Young Player of the Year award. So why can’t these players replicate their performances for England? Whoever the new manager is needs to give the players a reality check and tell them to buck up their ideas in major tournaments. And probably employ a psychiatrist.
Speaking of the manager, I’m glad Roy Hodgson’s gone. Well, glad is an understatement. I wrote after the disastrous World Cup campaign that he should be sacked. How he survived that horror show in Brazil when we picked up just one point, only the FA will be able to tell you. Some of the decisions he made at Euro 2016 were baffling. The squad selection was a sign of things to come. Picking players based on reputation and his own personal favouritism meant that the unfit Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson were selected and Danny Drinkwater and Mark Noble, both of whom had tremendous seasons were not. The only true winger he picked was an out of form Raheem Sterling, and in a 4-3-3 system where width is key, this decision astounded me. He had players such as Andros Townsend, Michail Antonio, perhaps even Theo Walcott to choose from, but instead was left to rue his mistake as he was forced to select Vardy and Daniel Sturridge out wide. This is not their natural position and therefore they were never going to be as effective.
When it came to the tournament itself, we saw a few errors against Russia despite a dominant performance. Putting Harry Kane on set-pieces is perhaps the worst tactical decision I have ever heard of, and although the Tottenham man moved off corners as the tournament progressed, why on earth was he still taking free-kicks? If they were just outside the box then I might understand, but Kane was having a go from 30 or 40 yards out, with one effort in particular against Iceland being atrociously bad. He’s 6ft 2in, GET HIM IN THE BOX.
Secondly, not to bring either Vardy or Sturridge on when the Russia game needed to be closed out was poor. After Hodgson enraged the population by sticking with the same side for the Wales match, he thankfully brought the pair on at half-time with England 1-0 down. It was the only good decision he made the entire tournament, and both players scored as we turned it around to win 2-1.
Then came the SIX changes against Slovakia. I might have understood if we were already qualified, but this was a game England had to win to top the group. I agreed with three of the changes – Kane, Sterling and Alli should have been dropped. But to rest the full-backs, despite replacements Ryan Bertrand and especially Nathaniel Clyne doing good jobs, I found strange as it Danny Rose and Kyle Walker were perhaps two of England’s best performers in the opening two fixtures. But most infuriating of all was the decision to leave out Wayne Rooney, who was flourishing in his new midfield role. He dictated the tempo, created chances and was our leader on the pitch, but of all this was taken away until the 56th minute. But Rooney is rarely effective as a sub, he’s a player that needs to be started.
Recalling Raheem Sterling for the Iceland game was a strange decision, and Hodgson’s persistence with the winger was equally bizarre. It was clear Sterling was low on confidence, and by subbing him off in his two appearances against Russia and Wales, surely Hodgson knew that he wasn’t on form. Surely it would have been best to leave Sterling out of the starting XI. Yes, he won the penalty, but as usual his play on the ball was poor and he was substituted once again on the hour mark.
It was clear that Hodgson had no plan B, and this was something I also mentioned after the 2014 World Cup. He wasn’t quite sure what to do when his team began to struggle, and bringing on an unfit Jack Wilshere on at half-time for Eric Dier was a debatable decision. I can see why he did it, to try and bring more attacking impetus to the side, but I’d have thought possibly Ross Barkley would have been a better replacement.
I want to end with Roy now, as I’ve gone on far too long, which probably tells you how incapable he was. To tell the media ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’ the day after his resignation came across to me as rather arrogant. Yes, it may not be his job anymore, but he owes an explanation and an apology to nation. He has provided neither. To offer to resign was a clever move. His contract was up and he was never going to be offered a new one, so the 68 year old saved the FA the trouble and effectively fired himself. I was surprised when was appointed in 2012 and surprised when he kept his job after the World Cup, Roy was a yes man following FA orders. This cannot happen again, which is why Gareth Southgate should not be his replacement. I’ll assess the candidates in another post, but I can’t think of a standout man and I don’t envy who ever does succeed Hodgson. It might be the best paid job in international football, but it’s probably the most difficult.
This is where Part One ends. I realised after writing my rant that I’d probably written the longest article I have ever done. So to save you from getting bored, I’ve split it into two parts. I’ve covered the mentality and Roy Hodgson in this piece, and tomorrow’s will focus on the players and where we go from here. When that is published, I’ll provide a link to it here.