England expects more than 'heart & spirit'

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Football News

It merely demonstrates the depths from which the England football team has had to ascend that the overriding message from the camp is not that they are technically talented, tactically more advanced, fitter, better prepared or any other such qualities that make for a world or continent-beating team – no, the message from England is that they are playing with “heart” and “spirit” and a “togetherness” unknown to recent campaigns.

I am pleased about this. It is good that England players now have heart and spirit and togetherness.

However, it is also an insult to anyone with the remotest passion for the Three Lions shirt that these are ingredients that could even be worth noting.

Can we not take it for granted that if you are playing for your country in one of the two biggest international tournaments of your life, that heart and spirit are a given? How can we even have allowed players to set sail for foreign lands if we were not unquestionably convinced that heart and spirit was what they were all about?

This is an insult and a slur on the players but, more so, the debate makes a total mockery of previous management teams. No matter the tactical and technical wisdom of a Capello or an Eriksson, if you cannot get heart and spirit from your players, then you have failed.

Much attention in recent analysis of our new hearty and spirited England has been focused on the type of accommodation laid on for the England team. Apparently there were too many WAGs and too much glitz at the Germany 2006 World Cup, and there was too much isolation in South Africa two years ago.

I accept that details such as the standard of your hotel room and location of the nearest coffee shop are factors of some interest, but are we really expected to buy into the idea they can have a genuine influence over the mindset that an England team takes to the pitch? Surely they could stay on a campsite and still be expected to contribute heart and spirit.

These comments are not intended to dismiss team building and team dynamics as an irrelevance. Quite the opposite. The study of sport science has flourished in the last two decades and, as a weighty part of it, the value of understanding group psychology.

In the world of Olympic sport, for instance, these weeks when last minute detail is being applied to teams going to the Games, it is too late to build up strength, fitness and technique, all that work has been done. The final touches are all about ensuring that the mindset is right.

The Great Britain men’s hockey team, for instance, have been to comedy classes. Why? Because they have never before played under the huge levels of public scrutiny that they will experience in the London Games. They have never been so far out of their comfort zone. And so the management decided to give them practice in performing in such distinctly uncomfortable surroundings. Thus the comedy classes: perform in front of each other, feel uncomfortable, get over it.

I have no idea if this will work; I just mention it as an entertaining example of the extremes to which some will go to ensure that they get the mindset right.

Back to the Euros. Here is the news. John Terry has not tried to trigger a mutiny. The players are not involved in alpha-male one-upmanship. They sing the National Anthem before the games; yes, it seems, all of them. There is a togetherness, a band-of-brothers feeling about the squad.

But that is how it should be. That is what England fans are entitled to expect of their team. We should not be amazed or surprised. Likewise Roy Hodgson has been commended for achieving the right team psychology, but he is just doing his job. This, surely, is what you would expect of an England manager.

Heart and spirit and togetherness are not great triumphs. They are essentials. The fact that they are being celebrated demonstrates not the success of the class of 2012 but the terrible failures of those that preceded them.

Follow Owen Slot on Twitter - @owenslot

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