Time after time, England’s highly paid professional footballers fail to deliver when it comes to major tournaments. It has now been half a century since England were crowned world champions on their own turf, but, in that 50 years, there has rarely been a poorer display, and a more embarrassing result, than that experienced against Iceland last Monday.
Having seen the team spirit behind the minnow’s success, and their national pride even in defeat to France, plus the rampant Welsh efforts to reach the semi-finals, it is clear that motivation, effort and team spirit can outperform reputation, skill and talent. Clearly, England have no trouble qualifying for these tournaments, but when it comes to cup time, there’s something seriously lacking.
Since the retirement of David Beckham, who would cover every blade of grass, chase any ball and outrun all his team mates, it has been a struggle to find any England player performing above and beyond the call of duty. In patches each player is clearly brilliant and committed, but their ability to play as a team and to score enough tournament goals from limited chances is no longer a surprise – in fact, it’s more of a certainty for fans.
Who’s the boss?
To change the situation, England’s next manager, whoever is chosen to succeed Roy Hodgson, needs to adopt a different approach. Whether foreign or English, they need to be in absolute charge of the side, and not running a boy’s club, as previous managers have been accused of. They need to be above the whims of the Premier League and able to build a team at its most basic level.
Instead of picking the most talented “flair” players from the top clubs, perhaps a focus on mid-table Premiership and Championship sides, picking those who show a commitment to work ethic, would provide more spine to an England tournament team.
Rather than regularly promoting the next-generation to the full England side, players like Marcus Rashford, only 18, should play more matches and tournaments in the under-21 side to prepare them for the big events. Nay-sayers might suggest that his Manchester United experience proves he is ready for the big time, but decades of reality has shown young England starlets failing in the big tournaments and going on to have mediocre careers.
Finally, perhaps the biggest potential change would be moving England players to central contracts, as happens with the England Cricket Team, when it comes to tournament time. It will probably never happen, given the might of the club game, but with players spread across a wider pool of teams, having them totally dedicated to England team training and tactics would free their minds from club matters.