England’s Euro 2016 campaign can only be described as shambolic, from start to finish.
There are no positives to be taken from that, other than the knowledge that is patently how a team should not go about participating in a tournament.
As the Icelandic players fell to the ground in celebration last night, there could be no anger from the England players, no sense of injustice, no referee to blame – they were outfought, outthought, and ultimately outplayed by a nation whose catchment area of men of footballing age would almost all have fit into the stands last night.
When the time came for this side to show character, the well was dry. For all the talk of passion that this side loves to bleat about, it’s in worryingly short supply.
The immediate reaction to a defeat like this is to label the players as overrated. While there is perhaps an element of truth to that – among all the showbiz lights and Sky Sports-fuelled drama we sometimes forget that the English club sides are generally rancid in Europe – that is no excuse.
The idea that there was no way of coaching this group of young players to be able to beat Iceland is absurd. Roy Hodgson does not deserve such absolution for the pathetic way in which he has managed this team.
How any manager could get four games into a tournament and still not have the first clue as to what his best team is beggars belief. Many will have their opinions on what that team should be, of course, but this was not the time to trying every tactic available to him.
If England have learned nothing else from last night’s opponents, from Italy, from Ireland, from Wales – is that organisation is key. Tactical acumen is vital. We are seeing, more at these European Championships than perhaps any other international competition since Greece won this tournament over a decade ago, that the presence of a commanding manager who knows what he is doing is crucial.
Hodgson patently was not that man, and in truth he should have fallen on his sword two years ago after the shambles of Brazil. For the second successive tournament, expectations were not particularly high – and even then he has somehow managed to fall short of them.
These players are not as bad as they are being made out to be, and while they deserve a significant portion of the blame for last night (given that they were the ones who were actually on the pitch), they were receiving no inspiration from the sidelines to motivate them.
They expect to be coddled today and told it wasn’t their fault, because the financial bubble that they have created for themselves have become something of a safe space from outside criticism.
Take Joe Hart, for instance. If Joe Hart cared as much about playing for England as he pretended to, he might be useful. Instead, what we see is a constant stream of arrogant bluster from the man. He claimed last week that he had faced little threat at the tournament so far – casually forgetting that the goal conceded against Wales was his fault.
After last night’s gaffe which allowed him to be beaten by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s winner, he emerged from the dressing room with the “mea culpa” routine as if it was then the English fans’ job to hug him and reassure him that he wasn’t to blame. Hodgson certainly wasn’t going to tell him otherwise.
Had Italy lost to Spain in a similar earlier, would Antonio Conte have tolerated a similar show of self-pity from Gianluigi Buffon? Absolutely not – he’d have told him it was his fault and angrily told him to go out there next time and make up for it. And once the Juventus goalkeeper would have emerged from the headlock Conte placed him in, he would have felt a greater sense of motivation for it.
That’s what England need, someone like Conte. Revolutionary ideas are fine but fanciful in this era of Premier League financial dominance – they now need a coach who accepts the side’s shortcomings while making the most of their strengths. Above all, they now need a manager who is capable of being a bastard of a taskmaster, who will work those players into the ground.
As Hodgson goes, a change of captain is also necessary. Hodgson indulged Wayne Rooney far too much, and look where it got both of them. As the 30 year old forward-who-thinks-he’s-a-midfielder-now made another mess of a simple pass or lost out to yet another Icelandic player in a tackle, one was reduced to sympathy by the end.
He had no place in this starting lineup, yet both he and his manager demanded it – to the detriment of the team. Meanwhile Dele Alli could only look on, in full knowledge that his position was being taken by a past-it player clinging to his own self-importance.
So with Hodgson gone, yet another tournament post-mortem will commence. However, we all know how this will play out. The FA will issue statements and press releases insisting that fundamental reform is on the way, that there will be a plan in place to have a strong showing in Russia in two years.
And they’ll go and appoint Gareth Southgate.