England Football Malaise

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Following another abject performance by England at the recent Euro 2016 tournament the press are once again searching for answers. Dumped out by Iceland the performance represents the lowest performance by an England team ever. As one who has viewed this phenomena since 1970 when a two goal lead was relinquished to West Germany, a period of over 45 years, it would be nice to think there may be at least one success before the reaper comes.

Why then has it proved so difficult for a country so steeped in footballing tradition and passion to succeed at major competitions. General probability should have produced at least a modicum of success. Even teams that would not be expected to do well at tournaments such as Denmark and Greece have won major competitions.

What then holds England back?

One reason for sure must be the weight of expectation from press and public. This must create additional pressure on the team to succeed. But the team itself at the start of any new tournament must feel confident that it will do well. Where the expectation issue comes into play is when things start to go wrong. Once the pressure of not scoring or going behind arises the expectation issues compound themselves and create a playing paralysis in players who ordinarily take such setbacks in their stride in a club fixture. It cannot be said that these players lack the skills required or that the team itself is handicapped in some way in its preparations for major tournaments. But these are professionals and the foregoing is a pretty weak excuse for 40 years of failure. And it is a variety of players. Surely at some stage a new generation would have evolved to bury the previous history of English tournament failure.

Another is the fact that club football is much more important than playing for the national team. England players invariably come from the top clubs and those clubs are either in or are competing to get into the Champions League. This annual club competition is far more important to any player in terms of prestige and wealth than any international success. Fans too, despite the hand wringing when England fail care much more about their club whether it is successful or not. But this shouldn’t and doesn’t account for England’s lack of success in international tournaments. Other countries have equally passionate club supporters and players of other teams are equally involved in The Champions League. Many in fact play for English clubs.

Perhaps then it is down to the management and technical nous of the England coaches. Certainly we have had a bizarre bunch. England’s most successful club manager, Don Revie, failed to qualify for any major tournaments. England’s most successful national coaches in terms of major competition success were Bobby Robson (World cup semi final 1990) and Terry Venables (European Championship semi final 1996). Neither had much domestic club success although Robson had come close on two occasions of winning the league with Ipswich. Venables had been successful in Spanish football winning La Liga and runner up in the forerunner to the Champions League. Two overseas coaches have been appointed to bring some verve but both suffered abject tournament performances. Of the other appointees their qualifications in terms of club management have been slight. The new incumbent, Sam Alardyce also has had little success in club management but then club success in the main is down to money, Leicester City being the major exception.

The two most successful European nations are Germany with 14 major finals and 7 wins and Italy with 5 wins. Spain and France have both made it to 5 finals winning 4 and 3 times respectively. Whilst acknowledging that luck players a significant part in any sporting event there does appear to be a number of factors that influence success.

  1. Sound defense.
  2. A midfield creative to control the game and who scores goals.
  3. A striker who will give you goals.

All very obvious you might say but so many teams avoid the obvious. Leicester won the Premier League with a midfield creative (Mahrez) second top scorer with 17 and a striker Vardy with 24 goals. The striker was actively looked for by the rest of the team as was Mahrez. Morgan, Schmeichle and Huth kept it tight at the back. Look back at all successful teams and I reckon you will find the same look.

The problem for England is currently defensive. Hart has had some shockers recently and the two central defenders get lost at times. Deli Ali is capable of managing the midfield role and Kane (or Vardy ) and Rashford can score. The rest of the team needs to support these 3 and the defense needs to learn to defend first and foremost and not get caught up in attacking roles.

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