“It’s not about looking at how far we can go. You either win it or you lose it. There’s gonna be fifteen losers but there’s only one winner,” was the frank and honest analysis of the realities of international tournaments voiced by Teddy Sheringham. A motto that reminds us of the winning spirit that served him so well throughout his career. However, whilst Teddy may have enjoyed success with Manchester United on the European stage his fortunes with England were somewhat less enchanted. The disappointment of Euro ’96 is something that weighs heavily on this country’s collective conscience, yet none feel it quite so keenly as those who were directly involved.
“If you do get out of the group stage you have to make sure that you don’t come off the pitch thinking you could’ve won that game. I tell you, that is the worst feeling ever for a footballer. We’ve all done it in our careers, maybe even at a young age, we’ve all had that feeling and it’s awful. You don’t get many chances at international level so give it your best shot and lets see where it takes you boys.”
‘See where it takes you,’ a statement that implies that there is perhaps no direct expectation that England should bring home any sort of silverware, but that we’re still in with a chance. This is current paradox being touted in England – with the lack of expectation surrounding this side we might perform better, therefore raising expectations of how we might do – only in football, only in England.
Sheringham, however, is refusing to buy in to the idea that this is a poor England side: “No I wouldn’t [say that this is a weak England side]. We’ve still got some outstanding midfielders and some world-class players in this England team.”
Moreover, despite the claims of many that this is a ‘safe’ England squad by Hodgson, we should remind ourselves that there are a number of squad members who have never really been tested at international level. So, is there anyone in particular that Sheringham feels could really shine at Euro 2012?
“I do like the look of Oxlade-Chamberlain. I think he’s got a nice awareness about him as well as having great pace. I haven’t seen an awful lot of him this year because I know that he hasn’t been used that much but from what I have seen he’s been excellent when running at players. He looks like he can be used as centrally as well as out wide, I’m looking forward to watching him play.”
Furthermore, bringing in new, younger players inevitably means that Hodgson had to ignore certain former-stars. Something that Sheringham thinks he got wrong.
“Yeah, there’s a few [absentees who deserved a place] funnily enough: Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick, Adam Johnson and maybe even Micah Richards. I just think there’s not enough graft in there.”
“We’ve got a lot of pace and if that doesn’t work then we’ve only got more pace to bring on. I don’t mean to knock Roy [Hodgson], he’s got his own way of thinking and I hope he does very well but I just think that at the top of international level you need to have a bit more craft and guile rather than even more pace.”
“I do wish him [Hodgson] well, as long as he gets his point across to the whole squad about what he wants and they’re all pulling in the same direction then I feel we’ve got a chance.”
One issue that everyone is sure to agree on is that Wayne Rooney’s absence from the opening two games is somewhat disappointing. Over the course of the season there have been a number of candidates vying for his place – each blossoming and wilting over the time. Sheringham, however, feels as though we have to ignore the Premier League form-book.
“Well we’ve got a few that haven’t performed that well, a couple that have been out injured so I don’t think it’s really based on this season’s performances.”
“I think the fact that Ashley Young has got a very good record for England, especially in his last nine games where he’s scored six and got a few assists as well, and I think he could be a very important player for us while Rooney’s out.”
“When Rooney comes back as well I’d like to think that he’ll be playing in that sort of position because he has an eye for goal at the moment and he’s a clever player.”
Sheringham knows what it’s like playing as the host nation in a European Championships and with co-hosts Ukraine in England’s group the former Manchester United and Tottenham striker felt it was imperative that England wrapped up qualification before facing Ukraine.
“I don’t want us going in to that third group game having to beat Ukraine. I think it could be a very tough game. I’m looking forward to watching Spain and Germany and they’ll be very hard to beat but I’ve also got Ukraine down as a dark horse for the tournament. If we go in to that game against them having to win it then we could easily come unstuck so let’s make sure we get the points before then.”
England’s (almost) fifty year wait for an international trophy has lead most in this country to believe that a successful tournament would simply comprise of reaching the latter stages, Sheringham, though, says otherwise.
“Obviously if you get through to the quarter or semi-finals and then get knocked out then you’ve done alright but when you look back at that at the end of your career you’re in football to win things and that will just go down as another ‘almost’ team that got to the quarter finals. So yeah, make a name for yourselves boys and go and win it.”
Impossible a task it may seem, but the victories of Denmark and Greece in the past have shown that no tournament is a foregone conclusion, and, despite the protests of many fans, Roy Hodgson could yet be the man to surprise us all.
“I’m happy that Roy is in charge instead of Capello,” said Sheringham. “I felt like we played in the same way that he spoke his English – unsure. He wasn’t sure about his English, he wasn’t sure about getting his point across and the players weren’t sure about receiving it and what they were supposed to be doing.”
“The good thing about Roy is that he gets his point across nicely and I think even on Saturday [against Norway] there was a clear understanding of what he wanted from his players and if they understand the plan and believe in it then we have a chance of all moving forward together.”
The typical traits of a Hodgson team may well be organisation and defensive solidity, but they are not qualities to be sneered at. They worked for Greece in 2004 and they took Holland to the final of the World Cup on 2010. England might be on at 16-1 with Ladbrokes to win Euro 2012 (England’s longest ever odds for an international tournament) but Sheringham says that there are lessons to be learnt from Chelsea’s endeavours in the Champions League this season.
“England will go to Ukraine knowing that teams like Germany are not invincible. That’s the attitude we have to have, just like the Chelsea boys did when they went to Barcelona and Munich.”