Moving on to my final target – the players. In the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Iceland, I tweeted this:
And I stick by that. Especially the ‘passion’ and ‘desire’ parts. Against Iceland, I saw nothing from any of the England players that suggested they wanted it more than their Nordic opponents. They may well be able to go back to their luxury homes and model wives/girlfriends, but those fans who travelled and turned up to watch what can only be described as trash cannot. They will have spent money on travel, accommodation and a match ticket as well as having to take a chunk out of their annual leave. They, and the whole country, deserved better. Against Slovakia and Iceland (I didn’t notice if it happened against Russia and Wales too), the players went straight back to the dressing room after the full-time whistle. Most countries that I’ve seen at these European Championships go over to virtually worship their supporters, even following a defeat, in a manner shown below by Monday’s victors Iceland. It seems common around Europe except in England and our national team – it’s not a major issue, but it would be a nice touch and recognition of fans.
Finally, their ‘capability’. As mentioned in Part One, we know these players are good. We saw many of them perform well week after week in the Premier League. So they do have capability. But in France, we just didn’t see it, especially against Iceland. The amount of wayward passes was shocking and the first touch of many players was atrocious. They looked sluggish and off the pace, and in goal, Joe Hart who some have previously called ‘world class’ had perhaps the worst spell of his career between the sticks.
But why are these performances so different to the impressive displays we have seen in the past? I’ve already discussed two reasons – the mentality issue and Roy Hodgson deploying players incorrectly. But a third explanation for me is tiredness. It’s an issue that particularly seemed to effect Harry Kane and Dele Alli, who played nearly 100 games between them for Tottenham in 2015-16. It raises the arguement for a winter break in the Premier League.
It occurs in the rest of Europe’s top leagues and I think the FA need to follow suit. If they are so against it maybe not every season, but certainly in those leading up to major tournaments because it could be really beneficial to the energy levels of English players. We may call footballers overpaid prima donnas, but it is a physically demanding sport, with a maximum of one day off a week. Festive fixtures may be one of the most exciting and entertaining times of the campaign, but adding in an extra midweek fixture or two at other points might be for the best.
But it will take many more reforms, I think, until we see success on the international stage with England. FA Chairman Greg Dyke has set a target of reaching the last four of Euro 2020 and winning the World Cup in 2022, so it’s up to him to try and make his aim a reality, because personally I can’t see it happening. The process starts with appointing a new manager, and then the World Cup 2018 Qualifiers begin.
We’re in a group with Slovakia, Scotland, Slovenia, Lithuania and Malta, and no doubt we’ll qualify with flying colours before flopping in Russia. All these years of hurt just continue…