As the draw for the FIFA World Cup got underway in Brazil, fans and pundits alike are optimistic of the Three Lions’ chances in the world's most elite competition, no matter how muted their expectation.
And in my mind it's exactly this expectation that has made England perennial World Cup favourites.
However, it is only in the British Isles that such optimism is rife as England have showcased time and again that they don’t have what it takes to win the World Cup, nor any major international tournament for that matter.
Since the country’s triumph at the 1966 edition held on home soil, England’s best ever finish at a major competition remains a trio of semi-final appearances at Italia ’90 and Euro ’68 and ’96 respectively.
Looking at successive England teams at major competitions, it is not for lack of endeavour or effort that they have stumbled at knockout stages of tournaments on the occasions they managed to qualify.
Though Brave Heart seem to be a more apt synonym associated with England’s tireless efforts at major international competitions, it is actually more of a large dollop of ill-luck and perhaps more importantly, a distinct lack of flair and street-smartness, that has often been their major undoing.
While England may gain sympathy for their penalty shoot-out exits at Italia ’90, Euro ’96, France ’98, Korea-Japan 2002, Germany 2006 and Euro 2012, it is their lack of flair and creativity that has made them odious to football purists.
Playing against creatively superior teams like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and the like, the English have often not only failed to match their opponents skill for skill but have shown a baffling and frustrating inability to be street-smart.
In no game was this more evident than the quarter-final match at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. Diego Maradona’s brilliant brace were twin lessons which England has subsequently failed to learn from over the years since.
While his first goal would forever rile the proud English, perhaps because it seemed to mock their inability to be deft and adroit, more like having their pants pulled down by a street-wise kid’s prank, his second goal brought to the fore their creative impotence.
For the Three Lions' campaign in France '98, that lack of guile reared its ugly head as Diego Simeone provoked David Beckham into getting sent off with the game finely poised at 2-2.
Ronaldinho conjured up the magic which effectively put paid to the hopes of the ever-fervent English fans in 2002 while a certain Cristiano Ronaldo goaded the referee to have a young and naive Wayne Rooney sent off for an alleged stamp on Ricardo Carvalho in Germany 2006.
When Andrea Pirlo strolled up and poked a cheeky Panenka past Joe Hart in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012, the English must have realised that they had come up short again. That it was not all about tactics and endeavour, bravery and guts, but a certain flair and ingenuity that couldn’t be inculcated in academies but honed individually in street corners by free-reined players not shackled by the pedagogy of youth teams.
As harsh as this commentary might be, the bitter truth remains that when a push turns to a shove, the Three Lions lack that extra either in the form a prima-donna who can grab the game by the scruff of the neck and win it single-handedly, or the street-smartness to out-fox an opponent in a keenly contested game.
England have been unlucky in the handful number of technically gifted players they've had to call upon for major tournaments.
And their cause has not been helped either by growth of the Premier League. The star-trek to England has more than stunted the creative development of many an English lad who may have gone on to star for the national side.
Joe Cole, Paul Gascoigne and to an extent, Jack Wilshere seem to be the only genuinely technically players that could walk into the national teams of any of the global footballing powerhouses.
For all the hype that surrounded the so-called 'golden generation, there wasn’t any truly endowed player who could carry the team on his shoulders ala the likes of Francesco Totti, Alessandro del Piero, Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho.
It can only be classed as a preposterous notion to mention the likes of Darren Anderton, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in the same breath as the afore-mentioned world-beaters.
Until England jettisons the gung-ho football style they’ve played over the years, fuse tactical nous with grit and flair, they may perennially remain also-rans in any major competition they enter.
Perhaps too the English FA would do well to pay more than scant attention to Stan Collymore’s recent comments about encouraging English players to adopt futsal in development of younger players, during his recent trip to Shanghai.
It may not be so much a bad idea, after all.
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