It is not inconceivable that England will spark into life now that we’re at the knock-out stages, but from the evidence so far any hope of Roy’s boys progressing past Iceland and pulling off a memorable quarter final in Paris is precisely that: hope. Ground in optimism over reason.
That’s because what we’ve witnessed against Russia, Wales and Slovakia has hardly pulsed the blood even when you factor in a dominant first half display in one and a last minute winner in another. Largely England’s Euro campaign to this point it has been insipid, predictable and not a little flat.
Which is sadly a nationwide deflation of the positivity that surged through every English supporter in the weeks leading up to Euro 2016 because despite many pundits claiming this was the most realistic we’d ever been as a country in the build up to a major tournament it was impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and razzmatazz as France loomed ever closer.
Instincts and logic were discarded as the final 23 were announced. Five strikers. The youngest squad over there. Then there was the gung-ho exuberance of England’s recent 3-2 win in Germany. We could maybe do something special here after all.
In the event England’s long-term affliction of tournamentitis set in from the off, a condition that has spiked every two years since our ‘Golden Generation’ came to prominence and results in a temporary bout of underwhelming bleugh.
For the past twelve months Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have been two of the most lethal and brilliant strikers across the continent. Suddenly one looks a shadow of his fiery ferreting self, the other absolutely knackered. In possession meanwhile a midfield that individually were creative, incisive and cocksure at their clubs have collectively settled for safe square passes that barely bruise the opposition’s shape.
It is a thoroughly depressing thing to write but England’s three performances at this summer’s Euros have been so typically England at a major championship you could swap any one of the players with a Gerrard or Ferdinand or Vassell and only the new Nike kit would suggest it is 2016.
So who or what is to blame? Indeed should any blame need to be apportioned? The displays may have been somewhat lacklustre but the Three Lions are still roaring and will be clear favourites for their last 16 commitment.
The answer to the second query is an absolute yes. By failing to top Group B Kane and co now find themselves having to navigate an extremely tricky route to glory. A half of death if you like.
To solve the first requires us to look the England coach, England fans and media, and English football in general square in the face.
The confusing contradictions of Roy
Hodgson is a schoolmasterly coach known for caution and self-preservation who presumably irons his socks each evening. How strange then that he selected a wildly unbalanced squad that contains just three centre-backs, one specialist holding midfielder, and an abundance of strikers.
If this is a manager’s mid-life crisis could he not have spared the country probable heartbreak and simply bought a supercar instead?
Yet it gets considerably worse as the 68-year-old’s instincts win out over his new-found abandon. So what we’re witnessing is a squad of players best utilised to attack at will neutralised by instruction.
It’s a halfway house that cancels out each opposing strategy and is leading to confusion and mediocrity on the pitch.
Destruction from within
England may have won the World Cup in 1966 without wingers but times have moved on and without genuine width it’s akin to taking on the best at Wimbledon but only playing forearm.
Raheem Sterling – England’s only recognised winger – came into this tournament deplete of confidence and recovering from injury. Both physically and mentally our potential ace in the pack was in desperate need of rebuilding and quickly.
So what did the English media and supporters do? Unite in scapegoating a lad who has just turned 21, even going as far as to create social media campaigns to have him sent back home.
Well done everyone. Well done.
In ’66 England won without wingers. We won’t this time.
An institution of wringing our talent dry
Last season Harry Kane played 4524 minutes of football and just shy of 3500 minutes the season before. By the time he made his international debut in March 2015 it was already quite clear that he was going to be a prominent figure for England at this summer’s Euros which makes the decision to include him as an overage player at last summer’s Under 21s championship one of the most stupidest in recent times.
Because that means – with no winter breaks like in Germany or Spain to boot – the young centre-forward who England are pinning so much hope on at the Euros has now played top level football non-stop for two whole years without a break. And there is surprise that he is looking mentally drained.
Still on topic but at the other end of the spectrum we have Jack Wilshere whose 141 minutes of Premier League action in 2015/16 inevitably means he is feeling his way through games and training in France. Meanwhile Danny Drinkwater – unquestionably England’s best box-to-box midfielder of the past year who just happens to play for an unglamorous club – twiddles his thumbs at home.
Our finest talent are only our finest talent if they are fit and able and if that is stating the bleeding obvious then maybe it still needs pointing out from time to time.