So Euro 2016 is over for England. Before I deal with that, I’m going to marvel at the Italians performance yesterday. The passing and finishing was excellent but the movement off the ball was simply phenomenal. You could see the hours that Conte and his staff have spent working with the players, coaching them in the style and tactics he wants to employ. Dark horses? They ought to be installed as favourites.
Utterly brilliant in their disposal of a fading Spanish side; enthusiastic, inspired and organised. Everything you want from a football team.
As for England…
If you want to know what is fundamentally wrong with English football, look at the list of candidates for the vacant managers job:
This is the top ten managers with the bookies at the moment. 40% of it is disgraced former managers now earning a living as pundits. Of the remainder, only Guus Hiddink has any credibility on the international stage. Greg Dyke may have danced a celebratory jig at the prospect of Brexit helping English players but the coaching side? The FA has considerable work to do in championing the cause of homegrown coaches.
Eddie Howe, bless him, might have worked wonders at Bournemouth and is a talented coach but with the England team at as low an ebb as I can recall, the FA have their work cut out in finding an inspirational figure to drag the squad kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
And that’s what the players and nation needs. In the doldrums following Brexit, the national football set-up resembles the political mire we find ourselves sinking into. None of the leaders has a clue what they are doing and there wasn’t a plan in place for success or failure. Hodgson and his staff were making it up as they went along.
Gareth Southgate? Do me a favour.
Last night’s defeat to Plucky Little Iceland, was the most depressing I can recall in the near half-century of watching the national team stumble around the continent. Losing? Yes, that was poor against an average side – sorry, lads but France will put three or four past you.
It was the performance. Weak, lacklustre; damning both the players and manager. It condemned Roy Hodgson to fall onto his sword rather than suffer the ignominy of Greg Dyke don his Alan Sugar mask that he bought at the Chiswick Post Office, and tell him, “You’re fired!”.
England were shocking, there’s no two ways about it. Forget Norway – although we can’t thanks to the absolutely mental commentary – or any other harrowing loss: this is the one which will scar the national psyche. Impoverished in Brazil, the squad has suffered a deficiency of leadership and was utterly devoid of ideas and inspiration at this tournament.
Slovakia and Russia, both able to stifle England’s muted and insipid attack, were carved apart with ease in their subsequent matches. You can’t make a strong case that last night was an off-night; we’d seen them sinking into it during the three group games. Even the win over Wales wasn’t a brilliant performance; predictable and pedestrian – the Welsh coped with England’s dullard attacking instincts.
Joe Hart was, in my view, culpable on both goals. The first, defending a long throw, needed the ‘keeper to come off his line and defend the six yard box. More likely than conceding is that the bout of head tennis would have resulted in a free kick. The second? Abysmal goalkeeping yet again.
During the commentary they observed that no-one was used to defending against the likes of Stoke so Iceland’s tactics caught everyone out. Rubbish. It’s been the same throughout the group stage and even in qualifying. Did Hodgson not send scouts to watch all sixteen finalists? Didn’t they practice defending this week?
It’s not true in any case. Probably only Alli, Rose, Dier and Kane never faced Pulis’ Stoke. There’s a theme there…
The problem is similar to one faced at Arsenal. If you can’t deliver a set piece yourself, how can you practice defending them. Kane was absolutely abysmal all summer. That he was able to continually fail to deliver a credible threat from free kicks or corners yet still be allowed to take them shows: (a) how bad the rest of the team are with a dead ball, (b) how weak a character Hodgson is in not telling Kane he isn’t taking charge in those situations, (c) what a rampaging egotist he is. It’s all or any combination of those three.
The Poundland Ronaldo, indeed.
It’s harsh just to pick on one player. Rose, Walker, Alli and Dier all joined him in suffering a mental collapse at Tottenham. What did Hodgson think was going to happen when he based his XI around them? That they going to become imbued with the spirit of John Bull? The only spirit we’re imbued with now is last night’s Macallan.
Utter madness, particularly since Clyne during the previous match, had proved to possess superior distribution to Walker.
Wilshere and Rooney don’t escape damnation either. None of them do. Sturridge, Vardy; headless chickens both and on this form, Arsenal dodged a bullet.
There is a basic problem with the England squad. How can, the question was asked, they go from being brilliant in the Premier to shambolic on the international stage? Easy; they play with talented and technically gifted foreign players for their clubs. It’s obvious that the inspiration they receive from mercurial talents is far greater than they can dredge from each other in the England squad.
And that is a weakness that the next England coach will struggle to overcome. The only hope is that he can organise the defence better, motivate the midfield and inspire the forwards to shoot more accurately. At least get them to try.
We’re damned if he doesn’t do that.