With the Liverpool man unable to become England’s newest immediate hero due to injury who can fire us to a tournament we now accept we have no hope of winning?
It’s been an odd international break for England. With all the withdrawals, close up snaps of Wayne Rooney’s gash and the prospect of having to play Moldova the actual games have come across as an afterthought (or at least until results on Friday left tonight’s game against Ukraine billed as a kind of first place eliminator, ignoring the fact there’s still two games left and they could always say, draw). It’s also been strange thanks to Greg Dyke admitting that even if we get there we have no chance of winning anyway.
Of course he’s right. The fact this made news at all is more interesting than him deciding to say it. I don’t think I know a single England fan who would disagree. It was treated by even the most unhinged of the papers as a (relatively) sensible position to have taken. When Roy Hodgson came out a day later and said he still believed they could win it everyone chuckled and it felt like an opportunity being missed. Would we not all be happier crashing out if everyone had been on message telling us to expect defeat anyway? Now in the future Roy might be in the unhappy position of being sacked for not doing what his boss says is impossible.
Greg Dyke’s blast of sensible thinking saved us from a week of fretting over Daniel Sturridge’s fitness. He’s the latest in a very long list of players hyped before they’ve made any impact at international level, built up into exactly what England are missing before invariably not being able to make much of an impact at all. Jack Wiltshire would be the last one. If Ricky Lambert scores again tonight, thirty one or not he might be the next.
With all the noting of just thirty percent of the players in the first round of the Premier League being English it is easy to forget that the record of the national team has pretty much always been as it is now. Outside of two occasions helped by home advantage England have been to one other semi final. Previously our failings were explained by being too isolated from the rest of the world. Now apparently our players aren’t isolated enough. We’re good at getting there. In qualification terms since the seventies we’ve only missed out on one World Cup and one European Championship. In the last thirty competitive games we’ve only lost twice (penalty shoot outs aside). Roy Hodgson has lost one since taking over and that was a friendly defeat to a Zlatan inspired Sweden. We’re not doing that badly.
It’s moving up to that next level that seems further away than ever. Decades of hyping players having a good season as the answer, or in Sturridge’s case about ten games in a row, has led us to where we are, simply a good international team. The really successful teams tend to be built from the bottom up. They start with an idea and then have the means to grow their teams from there. It takes money, patience, desire and to be blunt a shit tonne of coaches to carry it out. It’s unclear how many of those the FA have. Spain started by making their coaches all live within forty miles of their facilities to better coordinate their ideas. They developed a style for their senior team then had all age groups trained and drilled in it. The German’s developed a new athletic attacking style for the senior team under Klinnsman then had their younger age groups playing it. When players come from the under 21s they step into systems they already know. If there is similar thinking with England there is little apparent evidence for it. If we look just at UEFA registered coaches England with about 3000 is lagging behind Spain at more than 25,000 and Germany with over 35,000. This isn’t news. It’s been apparent for some time what needs to be done.
Which is where we talk about how it’s the Premier League’s fault. Which of course it is but at the same time the FA have to realise that there is no practical way to make them pick young English players over young foreign ones (does anyone really think that any talk of quotas will fly against the most powerful sporting competition in the world?). Simply put the only way to get young English players onto the pitch is to get them good enough in the first place. That takes coaches and time. The only way to do it is to change the culture. Admitting how far away we are is a useful first step.
Anyway it remains to be seen what an on form Sturridge can bring to England. His transformation from a player at Chelsea who you could pretty much guarantee to do the wrong thing to one who has become successful while being even more selfish than ever has been impressive. Given that he will be standing furthest forward in a team known for not being able to keep the ball should temper any expectations. If England need a reminder of why Greg Dyke thinks they’ll come up short again they should get one in the surroundings of The Olympic Stadium tonight, a venue where the last time they played James Milner passed the ball successfully thirteen times in sixty one minutes. If we need a great English hope we might as well continue to expect far too much from Jack Wiltshire, at least he’s got a hope of keeping the ball better (and looked good in partnership with Lampard and Gerard on Friday, albeit only against Moldova). If the past is any judge we’ll get there somehow then come up against familiar problems again. If Greg Dyke is serious about changing it a look elsewhere should leave him in no doubt about what is required.