And so after just ten days, the England World Cup journey is over and the fallout begins in earnest. Nobody is off limits as the ravenous English media look for individual(s) to blame in the national team’s latest failure at an international tournament. The knives had been sharpened for Wayne Rooney but his goal against Uruguay saved him the ignominy of being tarred up and covered in feathers. Now the search for a scapegoat expands….
From The Sun mocking his speech impediment on being appointed with the headline “Woy gets England job. Bwing on the Euwos!”, Roy Hodgson is entirely the type of fodder that lends himself nicely to being lampooned as opposed to acknowledging his track record managing abroad and his relative success in rebuilding an English team from a very low ebb in 2012.
Hodgson cannot be blamed for the lack of young English talent in the Premier League and the lack of underage coaches/facilities to develop these players but that sort of reasoned analysis doesn’t sell tabloids.
However, all that being said the press pack has slowly had to come to the realisation – as the rest of us have realised for a long time – that England aren’t simply all that good.
What isn’t said by the media is their role in England’s relative underachievement down the years. This writer calls it ‘the holy trinity’ of the media, the fans and the players and how the poisonous relationship between all three has created a never-ending trend of hype, perceived failure and subsequent recriminations. How does this work?
The press pack are useful pawns in building up the myth that the Premier League is the best league in the world and that the players within it (including the English players) must be the best players in the world.
As opposed to being seen as professional footballers, top English footballers such as Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney are almost celebrity in status and built up as Gods for their achievements in the domestic league. But what is hyped up must be knocked down and never has a team been an easier target for this type of vitriol than that of the English national team.
Fans have the false assumption that these guys should be a match for their technically superior continental counterparts even if all English players play with club teams filled predominantly with foreigners and in many cases English players only exist in top teams to meet quotas laid down by the Premier League/UEFA as opposed to footballing reasons. Ask the likes of Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, Joleon Lescott and Micah Richards at Man City for their opinion on this.
That’s before one mentions the fact that virtually no English player (nevermind internationals) expose themselves to plying their trade abroad so have a complete insular mindset versus many of their continental counterparts who play in multiple countries. One marvels at Russia having an entire squad coming from the Russian domestic league yet strangely nobody remarks on this with England.
As a consequence, ‘inferior’ teams come to Wembley outplaying England and leave fans asking why their Premier League stars cannot do it on the international stage.
- Their performances aren’t good enough
- They have no commitment to the English shirt
- These are the stars of the Premier League who are hyped on Sky Sports and read about in the front and back pages of newspapers and yet they underachieve time after time
Therefore it’s a given to see an England team booed at halftime and individual players subjected to tirades of abuse. For example, Frank Lampard has been booed by the English fans down the years for no other reason than the fact that he is Frank Lampard.
In one instance, Ashley Cole was famously subjected to shameful abuse in a home World Cup qualifier versus Kazakhstan for the crime of a poor pass that led to a goal. Worse, this type of behaviour is validated by the sports pages who do the same thing in writing.
And people then wonder then why Wayne Rooney remarked “Nice to see your home fans boo you, such loyal supporters” after the Algeria game at World Cup 2010.
As a player you caught between being terrified of making a mistake and simply not caring about playing your country – nothing is worth the abuse you get. Players aren’t angels and no doubt the financial rewards of playing in the Premier League have watered down the prestige of playing for your country but that still doesn’t justify what one is subjected to by these external stakeholders.
A goalkeeping error, a misplaced pass, a missed penalty, a sending off etc could be the difference between you and your family being subjected to vilification for weeks, months or years by the press and fans in stadiums across the country.
Ask David Beckham how he felt when The Sun constructed a dartboard with Beckham’s face in the Bullseye position after kicking out at Diego Simeone and getting sent off in the 1998 World Cup. He spent years having to ‘rebuild his reputation’ receiving sickening abuse from the terraces with a nonsense narrative of his ‘redemption’ then touted when he scored that penalty against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup.
How about The Sun devoting EIGHT PAGES to lambasting Rob Green after his mistake versus the United States in the last World Cup in South Africa. This involved press hoards camping themselves outside his family home and asking the likes of ex-girlfriend for tantalizing scandal that naturally would offer a greater insight into why a goalkeeper made a mistake in a football match.
That’s before you mention the managers and Graham Taylor’s head being photo-shopped to that of a turnip, Steve McClaren being christened “The Wolly with the Brolley” (and who incidentally had to get soaked wet at the recent Championship play-off final to prove he had learnt from his ‘mistake’!) and the amount of undercover exposés conducted on the admittedly colourful private life of Sven Goran Eriksson that had little or nothing to do with his ability as a football manager.
Hodgson didn’t do an awful lot wrong in this tournament. He gave youth its fling and encouraged England to express themselves in a manner that hasn’t been seen in over a decade at a major tournament. Progress is clearly visible since Euro 2012 and since when did you hear the English media commending a defeat against Italy?
However, it was telling in the Uruguay game that the South Americans’ character was a key factor in winning the game. By contrast, the English players looked stricken with nerves before kick-off and played that way for the majority of the game. When presented with an opportunity to win the game after Wayne Rooney’s lifeline, they seized up with fear. They may now lack strong characters like a John Terry but this fear comes from somewhere else.
The Uruguayan’s were at one in their desire to win the little battles on the field whereas a technically better England simply didn’t believe in themselves to grasp the nettle and put inferior opposition to the sword. Psychologically the cycle of endless pressure and unrealistic expectation from the press and fans over many years has left a scar on the psyche of the national team that is as big a concern as the failures at development level in English football.
The hope for Hodgson going forward into the Euro 2016 campaign must be that the gap between expectation and reality is now closing. England should no longer expect but instead hope that a new group of young players can be allowed to blossom and not be subjected to endless scrutiny where it isn’t warranted. Only then will England fulfil their potential on the big stage with the holy trinity of the media, fans and players all working as one towards a common goal.
Stephen Twomey, Pundit Arena.