England must address identity to allow for progress
England's inflated sense of self proving to be their biggest downfall
On the world stage, if little else, England have been consistent in recent years.
Aside from a memorably disastrous qualifying campaign for Euro 2008, the Three Lions tend to qualify comfortably then stutter in the group stages before stumbling and falling in the knockouts.
Predictable as each tournament cycle may seem, this doesn’t save the nation from crippling disappointment and the pitchfork mobs always re-appear at some point.
Perhaps our best players do fall short and under-perform in white, but the fundamental problem here doesn’t lie with England as a team, but with the considerable ego of the English fans.
The same ‘Little Englander’ mentality which saw jaws drop and excuses fly when Athletic Bilbao thoroughly outclassed Manchester United in the Europa League last season should also shoulder much of the blame for our skewed, inflated sense of self.
The constant referrals to the Premier League as the ‘best league in the world’ and England as the birthplace of football seem to instil in the majority a misplaced belief in some inherent right to success - an unhealthy attitude that only intensifies the inevitable bitterness that comes with elimination from a competition.
At international level, just as in club football, too much culpability is laid at the feet of the manager when things go up the spout. It’s absurd to think that a man with such a glittering managerial career as Fabio Capello could have his tactical prowess questioned so vehemently after World Cup 2010.
In much the same way that Avram Grant could do nothing to stop John Terry from missing the crucial penalty in the 2008 Champions League final (going on to be sacked), Capello had no hand in the defensive horror show that led to Miroslav Klose’s goal in that 4-1 humbling - nor could he cater for Wayne Rooney’s violent conduct against Montenegro in qualifying for Euro 2012.
In truth, until the requisite changes to grass-roots youth coaching have had a generation’s time to truly bear fruit, we simply cannot hope to be able to go toe-to-toe with the best and match them for quality.
That said, we can still cling to certain clichés that do mark us out and worry opponents. That ‘steel’ characterised by the likes of Terry and Rio Ferdinand in Germany, 2006 - when captured - creates a fierce competitiveness and certain robustness which make England difficult to beat; look at the 1-0 victory against Spain in 2011.
Many questioned Capello’s decision to put Phil Jones in midfield but the Italian was vindicated: he certainly didn’t have an easy time of it but Jones’ combination of brawn and defensive nous did more to stifle Spain’s central stars than an inferior English playmaker could have hoped to.
Realising that champions are made and not simply born will be key to the progress of England under Roy Hodgson and his successors.
That said, while the future may very well be bright, for now we should content ourselves with accepting England for what we are.
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