2 July 2012

Rwanda: England, It's Time to Swallow Your False Pride

And the sad story continues...

The performance of England in the 2012 European Championship displayed all the old problems but 'hype' continues to camouflage the true extent of the difference in playing quality between England and their foreign opponents. The recently failed so-called 'Golden Generation' of players is now followed by a newly 'hyped' group. But like previous generations, it should not be long before this group's incompetence is exposed under the bright lights of international competition.

What I'm itching to hear now is the English FA conceding that their players aren't skilful enough and are tactically inept. In recent years, there has been a demand for players to 'keep the ball' more at international level; how this is supposed to happen so easily when the ball is 'given away' with almost complete disregard in the English Premier League season after season simply defies logic.

But let's face it; England did not deserve to get past the quarter-finals of the 2012 Euros. For what it's worth, they got what they deserved. For me, they excelled at being one of the most boring sides in the tournament and I would have preferred to see Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden in the last eight rather than an England side who only know how to defend - sorry, who think they know how to defend.

How can a team of professionals fail to even string seven passes together? In all honesty, Roy Hodgson's team gave their all but in tournaments like these, it takes a lot more than effort and commitment. The ability to keep the ball and break up defenses matters even more.

Against Italy, they were passed into oblivion. It was clear for everyone to see that Italy were technically superior. Even when Italy lost the ball, England somehow managed to give it away cheaply.

I totally understand why England fans would be furious. Their team is made up of big-name players (Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Ashley Cole and so on) and yet the performance throughout the tournament was mediocre at best.

All in all, this was yet another dismal attempt to compete with top football nations and I think it's time to change the culture of the game right from the grassroots.

The 2014 Fifa World Cup is not very far away and I don't see England winning it. In fact they might not even qualify. But if they do, it's highly likely that the same old failings will emerge. An inability to pass the ball and keep possession will prove terminal against a top team - as exposed so mercilessly by the sublime Andrea Pirlo, who ran rings around England's midfielders as they huffed and puffed.

One thing that intrigues me with the English media is the ability to come up with an excuse every time their team fails in a major tournament.

In 1998, David Beckham got the blame for being sent off against Argentina. In 2002 it was the heat of Japan and South Korea that sapped the players against the eventual winners, Brazil. In 2004 Beckham was in the frame again: this time he blamed a mud-packed penalty spot for missing in the shoot-out against Portugal. In 2006 Rooney carried the can for leaving ten brave men on the field against Portugal. In fact, the footballers' wives and girlfriends were blamed for distracting the so-called 'golden generation'. In 2010 it was the manager Fabio Capello, mainly for being too strict - and foreign. And in case you were wondering, they didn't even qualify for the European Championships of 2008.

This time, the English media feel that Italy's dominance was because the new manager Hodgson didn't have enough time with the players.

Well, they can make up all sorts of excuses. The bitter truth is that until England teams learn to keep a lot more possession than they currently do, another failure will not be too far away.

If England is to compete with Brazil's often beautiful football, Spain's tiki-taka style or Germany's wonderfully controlled power game, there must be a fundamental change to the way young players in England are trained. It's probably too late for today's teenagers but the next generation could be taught to pass like so many European and South American players.

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