European Football

Geezers 1 Geysers 2: These island races

The land that makes better footballers than England...

The land that makes better footballers than England…

THE BRITISH are getting used to leaders making resignation speeches full of futile dignity. Frankly, Roy Hodgson could do nothing else after yet another failure by the England football team. That he had a carefully crafted speech, just minutes after the final whistle, demonstrated that he had clearly planned this should his grossly-overpaid gang of millionaires fall on their faces against “little” Iceland.

Comparisons with USA 1950 are totally misplaced. The England team in the Brazil World Cup that year had some outstanding players. The current England squad has some talent, but it is still in its development stage and has the typical flaws of today’s generation of international players. A distinct lack of character and determination, coupled with low levels of motivation and hunger.

Look at the Euro 2016 campaign and you see Hodgson’s charges underperformed and failed to convince. A 1-1 draw with a dreadful Russian side, a spawny (but hard fought) win against a Welsh team that has the one thing England do not have – a world-class individual – a tame draw with average Slovakia, and defeat at the hands of Iceland. When you throw in the hooliganism in Marseille, Euro 2016 merely adds to the growing theory that Britain is, indeed, a tad broken.

But never mind, because the Premier kicks off soon and our teams of multi-national s will swing back into action, claim the competition is the best in the world and we’ll all believe again – until they all fall at the next significant Champions League hurdle.

Has England’s decline now bottomed out? The nation’s performance in international competition has steadily got worse over the past 26 years. Consider that during this period, which comprises 14 competitions, seven World Cups and seven Euros, the benchmark has now been downgraded to the last 16. In the past, we were a quarter-final nation – before and after 1966 – but today we do well to get out of the group. Between each competition, hope builds that, at last, England might have a decent team, but even in this year of an expanded European Championship, we cannot make a dent in the competition.

But somehow, Wales, Iceland, Croatia, Hungary and Poland have managed to do just that. Italy have even exceeded hopes, despite telling us that they have a lousy squad.

Amid concerns that the Premier League is over-dominated by foreign players and coaches, it could be that we latch on to any reasonable English player and become too expectant of what they might achieve. Joe Hart, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have all disappointed in Euro 2016 and we are still trying to squeeze the last drops out of Wayne Rooney. Don’t be surprised if he also announces his departure from the international stage. Other such as Dier, Alli and Rashford are still learning their trade.

When it truly matters, England’s players just don’t have what it takes. Compare the tournament performance of the top nations since 2000 and you can see that England lag behind the other top nations. Spain (3), Germany (3), Italy (3) and France (2) have all appeared in finals on more than  one occasion in this timeframe. England have not even reached the last four.

This is hardly surprising given England’s appalling record in the latter stages of a major competition. In 26 years, England have only won five knockout games, and one of them was on penalties. In 1990, England beat Belgium (1-0) and Cameroon (3-2) and then lost on penalties to Germany in the semi-final of the World Cup. Since then, they disposed of Spain in 1996 (0-0), Denmark in 2002 (3-0) and Ecuador in 2006 (1-0).

England’s departure in the knockout stage of major competitions, before tumbling out to Iceland, has been at the hands of Germany (1990, 1996 and 2010), Argentina (1998), Brazil (2002), Portugal (2004 and 2006) and Italy (2012). Iceland, doubtless worthy winners, represented a new low.

  2016 2014 2012 2010 2008 2006 2004 2002 2000
Germany * W SF SF F SF Group F Group
Spain R16 Group W W W R16 Group QF QF
Italy * Group F Group QF W Group R16 F
France * QF QF Group Group F QF Group W
Holland N/A SF Group F QF R16 SF N/A SF
England R16 Group QF R16 N/A QF QF QF Group
Portugal * Group SF R16 QF SF F Group SF

The annoying aspect of this is that we do know what has to be done, but we continually ignore the warning signs. Our players play well for their league clubs, but their performances are enhanced by overseas imports. Or should we say migrants?

Which really tells us that club football has replaced international football as the pinnacle of the game. But even then, our clubs also fail on the biggest stage – just consider the recent UEFA Champions League displays and the fact that a team like Sevilla, not one of the title-chasers in Spain, can comfortably win three Europa Leagues in a row.

This also reveals that despite having more money than Croesus, our clubs are not making the most of it. Plenty of it is being poured into the pockets of young players, but it is not making them top-class international stars of genuine class.

We are in the age of the “team” now as genuine individual brilliance starts to wane. Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic will soon be gone, and it is currently difficult to see who will inherit their position at the top of the game. Messi, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic, for all their talent, never won a bean on the international stage, but at club level, they have won virtually everything.

The tight-knit, busy and energetic “unit” could be the new black. Germany are very much the “unit” – not reliant on a stellar performer like Messi, but an all-round team. There is a lack of new virtuosity around and this will mean that well organized, fit and tenacious teams can rise to the top and compete against those that may have more resources. Iceland and Leicester City are a case in point, but all over Europe, small, committed clubs are rising through the ranks.

If Iceland can develop a team that can compete with much more fancied outfits, then it is within England’s grasp to do likewise. Perhaps the FA should conduct an investigation on how Iceland did it, but the chances are, they will feel it is beneath the mighty England to learn from a bunch of “bearded fisherman”.

It says a lot that we will remember Euro 2016 for the antics of Wales and Iceland long after we forget  a more celebrated nation’s  tepid offering.

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