The 2014 World Cup has been the lowest point in the country’s footballing history for some time.
Perhaps on par with not qualifying for the 1994 edition and Euro 2008 – England are coming home after just 2 games for the first time in their 14 World Cup attempts.
A proud nation but one that needs to change its ways immediately if the future is to take an upward trend instead of continuing down the spiral it has been on since Sven-Göran Eriksson’s side failed in Germany 2006.
Amazingly, Roy Hodgson has agreed to stay on with no suggestions the current England boss is going to be relieved of his duties. And there’s no word from the FA about any plans to rebuild the foundations of English football. At least not yet anyway.
The recent past
The ‘golden generation’ as they were once labelled underperformed between 2002 and 2006, where quite frankly they should have lifted one of those trophies in tournaments they were arguable the best side.
World Cup 2002
Ronaldinho’s magical free kick eliminated England from the 2002 World Cup in South Korea/Japan. In that quarter-final tie England had actually taken the lead (a mistake from David Beckham inside the Brazil half led to their equaliser just before half-time).
The goalscorer had rightfully seen red on 57 minutes but a conservative England side under Eriksson did not bring on strikers Darius Vassell and Teddy Sheringham until the final 10 minutes. Too little, too late.
Should England have beaten Brazil – Turkey awaited in the semi-finals and then potentially a weak Germany side (admittedly had only conceded 1 goal en route to the final) were lined up in the final. Germany had faced Saudi Arabia (8-0), Republic of Ireland (1-1), Cameroon (2-0), Paraguay (1-0), USA (1-0) and co-hosts South Korea (1-0) to reach the final.
A dive from Didi Hamann and a mistake from Ronaldo led to Brazil’s opener and the rest was history.
An England squad that included David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Gary Neville, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Owen Hargreaves and a wonderkid that the rest of Europe didn’t know about, Wayne Rooney. 2004 really was the best squad England had had in the last 15 years or so.
A howler from Steven Gerrard cost England a point against France in their opening game before thrashing Switzerland 3-0 and then Croatia 4-2 to reach the quarter-finals. Taking a point from France would have meant winning the group with the superior goal difference and facing Greece instead of Portugal in the final eight.
England had led from the third minute through Michael Owen. The Liverpool striker had more opportunities in the match to double England’s advantage but failed to get them on target. Jorge Andrade had intentionally tried to injure and succeeded in breaking a metatarsal of the best player in that tournament at that point, Wayne Rooney as he looked down and stamped on his foot.
The Portuguese defender got away scot-free and England were forced to take their star off after 27 minutes. It was dreadful defending that led to Tottenham Hotspur reject Hélder Postiga heading home from close range with less than 8 minutes to go.
David Beckham had stood off Simão allowing the winger to get a cross in and John Terry just stood looking at the cross instead of making what could have been a simple headed clearance.
Luís Figo had also avoided suspension despite headbutting an opponent in the previous round.
Then one of the biggest screw jobs in football history saw Sol Campbell have a disallowed winner in the 90th minute. Sure, home nations always seem to get favourable decisions from the referees (think England in 96, South Korea in 2002 and even Brazil in 2014) but you couldn’t even pretend there was a foul by an English player on this one.
Campbell headed the ball home cleanly as goalkeeper Ricardo threw himself to the ground. Not even the world’s greatest liar could convince me there was a foul in the build-up. And no, no one was offside.
Swiss referee Urs Meier signalled a push. Perhaps his way of exacting retribution on England who had eliminated in his country days earlier. Or maybe Sepp Blatter had some involvement – I can only speculate, well guess, on that.
In extra time Phil Neville embarrassingly got shrugged off by Manuel Rui Costa before he fired home a fine 20-yard finish. Frank Lampard rescued England before another penalty shoot-out defeat.
There weren’t many strong nations in that tournament, none stronger than England, but somehow the Three Lions managed to find a way not to bring the trophy home, albeit with some obviously biased help for the opposition in one game. Greece went on to win Euro 2004.
World Cup 2006
What was considered the last shot for England’s golden generation in Germany 2006, although it must be said was very questionable with some of the players in the squad and even starting line-ups. Handed a favourable group, captained by David Beckham, England beat Paraguay and Trinidad & Tobago unconvincingly before drawing with Sweden to top their group.
David Beckham scored a fortunate free kick against Ecuador in the round of 16 to setup a rematch against Portugal in the quarter-finals.
A dire game, which summed up England’s performances in general. Frank Lampard and Joe Cole had fired over from close range and Wayne Rooney had scuffed an effort.
Rooney was sent off on 62 minutes for a stomp on Ricardo Carvalho, a less vicious stop than Andrade two years earlier but as an Englishman you will never, and have never got away with this behaviour. And rightfully, sent off.
England were then terrible in the shoot-out. Any country that makes Portugal look good at football probably deserves to go home and that 2006 squad with all the talent seemingly lacked any motivation or determination.
Qualifying for Brazil 2014
When the initial draw was made for qualification for the 2014 World Cup there were certainly a few tricky away days.
Ukraine, Poland and Montenegro didn’t sound like comfortable places to go. On top of that, Ukraine and Poland had just hosted Euro 2012 after being awarded it in 2007. There was potential for those countries to see a golden era of their own, or perhaps that is to come in a couple of years.
In actuality, the opposition didn’t seem that tough at all. Unfortunately, England made hard work of it.
Frank Lampard rescued a point from the penalty spot in the 87th minute at home to Ukraine. England were held to a 1-1 draw on a dodgy pitch in a delayed qualifier in Poland. They also blew a lead to draw in Montenegro before a bore draw in Ukraine.
Pressure was on Roy’s side heading into their final two qualifiers at Wembley, needing to win both to assure qualification and avoid what would have been France in the playoffs. They got the job done with a 4-1 thrashing of Montenegro and comfortably seeing off Poland 2-0.
England picked up the joint-least points per game amongst the 9 group winners. Netherlands and Belgium won their groups by 9 points, Germany by 8, Italy by 6 and England by just 1.
Sure, expectations had been low heading into this World Cup. The squad was pretty-much made up of the 22 English players who play in the Premier League and a goalkeeper from the Scottish Premier League. It included Ben Foster coming out of retirement to play, two unproven left-backs, an Everton defender who hasn’t even played in the UEFA Champions League, a right-back no one has been convinced by for nearly a decade now, a captain who hardly inspired in 2010, a journeyman in Rickie Lambert and an out-of-form Chris Smalling.
Is this the best we can really do?
Pre-tournament draws with Ecuador and Honduras were anything but inspiring.
But optimism did arise in defeat to Italy. The media and many fans alike had failed to spot how poor defending had been for both goals, that we hadn’t stopped Andrea Pirlo from dictating the game for a second time in three summers and that their inexperienced goalkeeper (at international level) Salvatore Sirigu wasn’t forced into one difficult save other than Daniel Sturridge’s goal.
That despite two defenders in front of him combining for three caps heading into the game.
Why I was optimistic against Uruguay I’m starting to feel stupid. For the first time since 2002 I actually believed England were going to win an important game at a World Cup. Uruguay looked woeful in their opener, I wasn’t convinced Luis Suárez would be fully fit and their head coach had admitted their preparation for the conditions in Brazil had been poor.
I didn’t think England wouldn’t fully recover from their trip to Manaus five days earlier. It was notable the following day with the Italian squad that they hadn’t recovered from the conditions.
Once again though it came down to the performance on the pitch and the defending. England managed to double the number of clear-cut opportunities they created from the opening game, to two. Wayne Rooney headed one onto the crossbar and the other he tucked home.
England however allowed Luis Suárez two great opportunities with two abysmal pieces of defending. First, Steven Gerrard had been weak in his challenge on the halfway line, carelessly allowing Uruguay to break. Then three defenders around Edinson Cavani failed to prevent him putting a cross into the box. And Phil Jagielka managed to let Suárez go to head home from close range.
The second was Sunday league defending from Phil Jagielka from a positional point of view. But perhaps it would be fitting that club teammate Steven Gerrard flicked the ball onto Luis Suárez to score one-on-one with Joe Hart.
The Costa Rica game on Tuesday is now meaningless. Play the kids for what it’s worth. I’ll be watching Uruguay-Italy at the same time myself as there is something on the line in that one.
Why is Roy Hodgson staying?
The England manager doesn’t have a great deal of tools to work with. The group appeared tough, even more so with how well Costa Rica have performed. But Italy and Uruguay themselves have not performed well at this tournament either. They were beatable. And I believe any of the other 12 European nations in this tournament would have avoided defeat against Uruguay with their performance on Thursday.
Roy Hodgson has got the tactics wrong. He is not getting the best out of Steven Gerrard as what he has performed for Liverpool. His partnership with Jordan Henderson isn’t even working as well as it does with Liverpool.
Neither of these are good players in the holding midfield role so the purpose of playing them there was surely to recreate Liverpool’s tactics from the past season and outscore the opposition. The game was not quick or free-flowing enough for this pair as they are at club level. Instead, every time England had possession in the opposition half for both of their games, everything slowed down and very little came of it.
That said, England currently do not have anyone spectacular in the holding midfield role – one of the most important positions on a football pitch.
Wayne Rooney was playing too deep against Uruguay – meaning Daniel Sturridge was the only player getting inside the penalty area. England were too predictable and easy to defend. That’s despite having an attack-minded left-back, a replacement centre-back who had barely played a game all season and the backup right back.
England are too conservative under Roy Hodgson – particularly when going forward with the likes of Daniel Sturridge, Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Adam Lallana is a lot more promising than a defence-first approach with the weakest individuals in the back four I have witnessed in my lifetime.
A fresh approach needs to be taken. A hungry young manager needs replacing and rebuilding over the next few tournaments, not a manger who has a 44% win record in the Premier League, failed miserably with Liverpool and has never won a trophy in English football.
Unfortunately there’s little or no one to replace him with. English managers simply aren’t getting any big jobs in England or across Europe at all.
- Steve McClaren would quite literally be the number 1 contender right now but for his past. And he was managing Derby County in the Championship last season.
- Harry Redknapp would be a reasonable candidate but has not impressed with Queens Park Rangers over the past 18 months and has never been a great tactician at all. I don’t think he’d cut it in the tight and crucial games.
- I couldn’t see Brendan Rodgers leaving Liverpool and Champions League football for this group of players although he would be my first choice.
- Would Gary Neville take the job? He sounds intelligent on TV, although he has been a part of this disaster at both Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014.
- Please do not even consider Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate or Tony Adams. How any of them have had jobs in the past, both at club level and involved with England at different levels, perhaps shows their lack of managerial ability and tactical knowledge.
Do we want to go foreign again? The future of the England national team in terms of both players and managers needs to drastically change immediately. And it starts with the FA and the Premier League.
The FA and England’s future
The English FA have been too greedy for too long but their greed is going to be taking a downturn in the coming years with the continued underperformance of the national team if they don’t get off their arse.
There is limited English talent in the top sides in the Premier League playing on a regular basis. And none play in the other traditional top 5 leagues; Spain, Germany, Italy or France. Here is a list of every single Englishman to start at least 50% of league games for a top 4 finishing side in any of those top 5 leagues:
Yes, just 12. In comparison, Spain had 39, Germany 26, Italy 20 and France 26. So Italy were the only ones who could not fill a full 23-man squad with players only from the top 4 clubs across Europe’s elite that started at least half of their clubs league matches in 2013-14.
Of course, this data doesn’t include the likes of Everton, Manchester United and Southampton who all contributed to the English national team. Neither does it include the likes of Sevilla, Real Sociedad, Villarreal, Valencia, Internazionale, Parma and AC Milan. Although if it did, the % of Englishmen in comparison gets worse – a full look at that in a blog further down the line.
Simply put, the talent pool in England is considerably smaller than the other major nations – that includes Brazil, Argentina and the Netherlands too who have players heavily involved these top five leagues and the Champions League.
The FA needs to take lead on this. Young English kids need to be developed from a young age. UEFA qualified coaches need to be all over the country to start teaching them from a young age.
Somewhere I feel the likes of David Beckham, a rehabilitated Paul Gascoigne, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Stan Collymore and other former Premier League and England international players need to be getting involved. Both to inspire and lend their valuable experience to the youngsters to help produce a next generation.
I’m not a believer in putting a cap in place to guarantee a number of English players start each Premier League match. I think that will lower the quality of the league, diminish some of the foreign interest and put off a lot of foreign talent coming over here. Thus weakening English sides in the Champions League and the excitement the Premier League offers which is quite frankly, second to none and has been for more than a decade.
Instead, we need to be producing kids that are good enough to hold down a first-team spot at the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and even Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid etc. Where is the English Lionel Messi? Where is the English Cristiano Ronaldo? Where is the English Gareth Bale? And why haven’t we got another Alan Shearer, Michael Owen or David Beckham coming through?
These questions need answering by the English FA and they need answering quickly…