If you didn’t see that coming then you’re either incredibly naive or haven’t been watching England long enough.
The way in which England crashed out of Euro 2016 to Iceland on Monday night shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, yet we’re all sitting here completely shell shocked and struggling to comprehend how a team full of multimillionaire Premier League footballers couldn’t overcome a nation that doesn’t even have it’s own professional league.
You should have seen it coming a long time ago, all the signs were there but you refused to acknowledge them like the early stages of a broken marriage. You refused to accept the fact that, once again, it was all going to end in tears. It always does when one half of the relationship continuously makes mistakes, and never learns from previous ones.
Alarm bells should’ve started ringing louder than ever when Hodgson announced his preliminary squad for the tournament. So many baffling selections, very reasons to be optimistic about our chances of ending 50 years of hurt.
Quite frankly, Hodgson’s team selection was an insult to the nation, and especially the players he ultimately decided to ignore.
Taking Wilshere over Drinkwater encapsulated the problem with #ENG. Obsessed with big names, style over substance. We need to build a team
— Mark Carruthers (@MarkNLDaily) June 28, 2016
His decision to give Jack Wilshere a call up after playing just 146 minutes of Premier League football last season was farcical and handing Marcus Rashford a place in the squad on the back of a handful of impressive performances for Man United was questionable.
The way in which he overlooked several English players who had enjoyed consistent and successful campaigns for their clubs was expected, yet equally insulting. The likes of Jermain Defoe, Mark Noble, Aaron Cresswell, Danny Drinkwater, Michail Antonio and Andy Carroll must have wondered what more they could’ve done to earn a call up other than seek an unrealistic move to a big club – because that’s clearly all it takes for a player to get the England manager’s attention.
But England’s elimination was ultimately down to much more than that. If you weren’t alarmed by the team selection, you should’ve been when Hodgson continued to experiment with his starting XI and style of play in the last warm up friendly against Portugal.
Hodgson went in to this tournament without knowing what his strongest XI was and without knowing the best possible formation and style of play in order to be most effective at this level, and that is a complete and utter disgrace.
He proceeded to experiment with the likes of Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge deployed in wide areas, despite the trio scoring 57 Premier League goals between them last season.
The fact he was even attempting to make that work while overlooking the likes of Andros Townsend, whose performances for relegated Newcastle were pretty much the only positive the Magpies could take from such a dismal campaign, was baffling. The answers were staring him straight in the face, yet he decided to ignore them and do things his own way.
— James Jones (@jj2388) June 27, 2016
However, we could go on forever about Hodgson’s team selection and his inability to find the perfect tactics to make it a successful tournament for England. We all know the entire thing was flawed from start to finish, so why continue to pinpoint each individual issue?
From Harry Kane taking set-pieces to a big club mentality to playing Daniel Sturridge out wide, the whole thing was a complete and utter shambles. A disgrace to the nation, to the thousands of fans who spent their hard earned money to travel to France and sit through 90 minutes of watching a handful of the country’s best players huffing and puffing against four relatively poor footballing nations. A disgrace to themselves.
But instead let’s highlight the root of the problem and how we can pick ourselves up from yet another embarrassing exit from a major international tournament.
For me, the root of the problem is the way in which England managers continue to look to the Premier League’s big clubs for their English players and equally fast track young players straight to the first team without giving them experience at U21 level.
I always turn to Germany where this argument is concerned. Their failure to progress beyond the group stages at Euro 2000 and 2004 respectively led to the Germany FA deciding to rip up the rule book and start again – adopting a different approach to international football in an attempt to be great again.
A lot happened between then and their 2014 World Cup victory in Brazil, but it was arguably their 2009 U21 European Championship victory that provided such a successful period in the country’s footballing history.
What #eng need now is a Germany style inquest as to why we're so crap but we won't.
— Adam Jarvis (@acwjarvis) June 28, 2016
That year, Germany’s U21 side thrashed England 4-0 in the final, in what can only be described as the beginning of a superb era of German international football, one that would go on to win the World Cup five years later.
Incredibly, six of Germany’s starting XI that day went on to lift the World Cup for the first team two years ago, five of which started against Argentina in Brazil. In contrast, James Milner is the only member of that England U21 side of 2009 who regularly gets called up to the first team. The others are either in and out of the squad sporadically, in prison, or never even got a call up for the first team – most notably Mark Noble, who captained England that night in Malmo.
Of course, that young England side may never have gone on to win a World Cup five years later. It will have been very unlikely. Though the sheer fact that not a single one of them can be regarded as a regular for the first team now says a lot about the England national team set-up and why it consistently fails.
Of the current England squad, 19 of the 23 who went to France had previously represented the U21s. But just eight of them had played more than 10 games before being given their chance at the very top, and it seems just James Milner had a proper ‘education’ at youth international level before becoming a first team regular – he made 46 appearances for the U21s.
Perhaps it’s time young English players should be made to earn their international education at youth level for a significant period of time before they can be considered as first team regulars? There will always be anomalies, such as the late bloomers and the incredibly talented, but that can only be said for two or three of the current England squad.
This squad was the youngest at Euro 2016, which many will point towards as being encouraging, but you could also say it was one of the least experienced. It’s all very well labelling the likes of Deli Alli, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford as the future of English football, but you can’t just throw them in to the deep end and expect them to handle the immense pressure of representing one of the most underperforming football nations in the sport’s history. It’s a flawed strategy and incredibly naive to think it’ll ever work.
Whoever replaces Hodgson will have a job on their hands, a monumental effort is needed to make English football proud again, but so much needs to change off the field before we begin to see progress on it.
It’s all very well going on to qualify with a 100% record for a major tournament, but if you can’t back that up by producing on the big stage then that all becomes irrelevant.
It’s this harsh reality that is beginning to become synonymous with the England national team every two years, and unless the FA appoints a manger who is capable of doing things his way and not theirs, and who is prepared to oversee the development of English players at all levels, then we will forever be left embarrassed, upset and disappointed after each major tournament.
If ever there was a time to be like Germany, this is it. Though something tells me we’ll be feeling like this again in 2018.