Right now, England are mediocre. They are nothing special. A mixture of long-serving under-performing veterans and green, not quite ready for primetime youngsters - a realist couldn’t expect fireworks. A realist couldn’t expect this group to be easy, and it was quickly labelled the group of death to clarify as such. It contained two teams ranked higher than us, and England have no-one to match the ability of Luis Suarez or Andrea Pirlo. Funny thing, though: neither do Costa Rica. Their best players are Joel Campbell, deemed not quite good enough for Arsenal last season whilst Nicklas Bendtner was made to stay against his will, and Bryan Ruiz, a Fulham cast-off who was deemed surplus to requirements in January by a Fulham side that eventually got relegated.
Costa Rica would kill for any of the 20 players we left at home. Michael Carrick, Andy Carroll and Micah Richards would walk into their team, and James Milner would be a living god. Yet there they are, top of the group, having beaten the two teams a realist had no real right to expect England to beat. Good thing we lost to both, then. Herein lies the rub. Costa Rica had no time for realism, had no time for what they were supposed to be capable of, and had no time to be afraid. The more I watch England, the more I’m convinced the problem has actually very little to do with tactics or players. England have quite a lot of good players, as they always have done. It’s about what’s going on their heads. Putting on an England shirt seems to lower one's game, lower one's abilities. The weight of the world is just too much, and it makes mugs out of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and any other world class player we serve up. The England national set up is a succubus to confidence, a cancer of anxiety that can’t be stopped.
Wayne Rooney, emotional after crashing out of the World Cup. Telegraph.co.uk
England even had a legitimate golden generation in the early 2000’s, arguably the best team in a couple of tournaments on paper, and it made no difference. Quarter-finals was the best we could muster. England have only beaten top class opposition in a knockout round once since they won the World Cup in 1966. Spain in 1996, a team arguably at the lowest ebb in all of its history, and even then, it required penalties and home advantage. This stat is appalling. It’s sickening. Think about it for a moment, really let it sink in. Think of the players we’ve had over the years, so many greats and geniuses, yet the same rule applies. This all leads to me believe that the England job, and by that actually being successful with the England team, is one of the hardest jobs there is in football. Bad, good, or great players, they will all be afraid.
It’s not like, say, the Germany job, where even with an average team, they can reach a 2002 World Cup final, and even with a team and manager wet around the ears, they can make the quarter finals in 2006. Was Klinsmann heralded for that achievement? Was he head hunted, labelled as a miracle worker? Not really. He’s currently manager of Team USA. Because Germans don’t need to be handled when playing for their country, as their game is automatically raised. They can have players like Miroslav Klose and Lukas Podolski, both misfits in club football, go on to be record breaking international legends. For England, this is unimaginable. Nobody plays above their abilities; nobody finds another level in an international shirt. A top class manager is not required in the same way for the Germans, because their players don’t need to be convinced not to be shit.
So, in my opinion, England can’t afford to keep hiring mid-table or moderately successful managers just because they’re English. This job is too hard. It’s out of their paygrade. Kevin Keegan is a good manager, he lead Newcastle to a title challenge, he resurrected the fates of Fulham and Manchester City, but the England job consumed him. Steve McClaren is a good manager; he won the Eredivisie and has worked miracles with a Derby team on a small budget this season. He was also consumed by the England job. Roy Hodgson is a good manager. He took Fulham to a Europa League final, he’s managed all around the world and took the Swiss to a 3rd placed finish in 1994. But yet again, the England job has consumed him. Fabio Capello, on the other hand, even as all the players hated him and as he couldn’t speak English, and with the mood at an all time low and with Wayne Rooney horribly misfiring, he still took England further than Hodgson. Sven did better than anyone since the era of top quality English managers Terry Venables and Bobby Robson. England can’t worry about the nationality of the manager; they have to accept the demands of this job, and if we don’t have an actual champion of the game in charge, then there really is no point even turning up. Getting top quality performances out of England players at the World Cup really is the painting of the Sistine Chapel of football management, and as nice as Hodgson is, he is not good enough to do it. He is not a titan of the game and that’s what it will take.
England manager Roy Hodgson has a lot to think about. Telegraph.co.uk
A while back, Jose Mourinho admitted he almost took the England job. At the time I thought he was crazy, but now it makes sense. Someone else could have won the league with Chelsea, someone else did win the Decima for Real Madrid; however ambitious, these were achievable goals. But NO-ONE else but him and the few at his level can win the World Cup with England in their current state. It’s a job where the media hounds you, the player’s natural state is to under-perform, and yet the expectation level is higher than anyone else in the world. Win in those circumstances...like I said, the Sistine Chapel of management. And for me, we can’t hire and support the workmanlike and expect them to be geniuses, much less accept their mediocrity as the best we can do. The most important attribute is a winner, someone who - pardon my French - is fearless and doesn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks. Until that person is hired, expect more disappointment. Expect more nights like the defeat to Uruguay. For that is the England national team’s true face, and until we hire a miracle worker, it will remain that ugly.