The refrain of Leonard Cohen’s ‘The Future’ goes ‘When they said ‘repent’, ‘repent’/ I wonder what they meant’. And as the fall-out develops from England’s elimination from another international tournament, sorry genuinely seems to be the hardest word.
We had been told this was different, of course. Force-fed the buzz words, those sound-bytes that always whip the gullible into a frenzy. There were the bland references to team-spirit, belief and how every side always has a chance.And then, all it took was a 3-2 victory over Sweden to send everyone over the edge. ‘At times’, said captain Steven Gerrard, ‘it feels like we’re unbreakable’. It didn’t take long, did it?
You see, the past always creeps up on England. They have a disturbing obsession with what’s been and gone. Nothing is ever forgotten about. Everything is filed, easily recalled at even the most vaguely-related opportunity. Pragmatism is not allowed. And this English squad is no different.
What had been learned from the 2010 debacle?
Was there a better mood in the dressing-room now?
Is Hodgson better than Capello?
There was even the obligatory ‘national pride’ story. Jamie Redknapp, writing in his column for The Daily Mail following England’s win over Ukraine opened with this beauty, ‘Every England player sang the National Anthem beforehand. All the way along the line, every one of them. Can you remember the last time that happened?’ I can’t Jamie, but one thing is for certain – it wasn’t that way under the foreign lads. Because the players didn’t really feel English under Capello or Eriksson.
What with them being foreigners and all that.
Yet no one made reference to the straw-clutching and how pathetic it was.
How England’s performance against France was insipid, devoid of any life, dull, embarrassing.
The excuses were already in place. A great platform. A strong foundation.
Always important not to suffer defeat in the first game. No mention of how scared they were. How frightened of France this collection of millionaires had been. Instead, the reflections called for some history lessons. Comparisons were needed. This draw was much better than that 2-1 loss to the French back in 2004. And remember, the team didn’t even qualify for the tournament four years ago. So…progress! Rule Brittania!
Hodgson is a functional coach – always has been and always will. That’s why he does so well with having limited players at his disposal. You do the simple things right, you send clear, concise messages and nothing ever becomes too complicated. The problem though is that modern-day management is constantly evolving.
The runts of the litter are eager to swallow-up new research methods, borrow from other sports in different countries, travel to watch and learn from the best sides currently playing the game. These young students are to football what the digital revolution was to the 90s. A game-changer. They acknowledge possession is both a defensive and offensive strategy.
They acknowledge a goalkeeper is an eleventh player, not just a shot-stopper. They acknowledge ‘long’ as being a dirty term and that it shouldn’t preface any word featured in their coaching manuals. It’s about sharpness, precision, execution. It’s cold-blooded, it’s revolutionary, it’s perfect.
Any real success story includes development as a fundamental aspect. A step in the right direction. At last, perhaps, just a faint hint of moving forward. But, as is the norm, England went the other way.
After an hour of their quarter-final against Italy, we saw the big-man introduced to replace an energetic, busy player who likes the ball at his feet. The big-man was brought in so he could become the target for the goalkeeper’s booming clearances. Meanwhile, the Italians owned the game because of the calmness and masterful possession-based dominance exerted by Andrea Pirlo in central midfield.
A ‘veteran’ who was never rushed, never panicked. Everything revolved around this man’s innate gift for using the ball intelligently though his first thought is always to keep it, then to move it. The infrequency of the champagne passes only served to extol their brilliance.
The Premier League’s most accurate passer last term was Swansea’s Leon Britton, followed by Paul Scholes who played half a season. But their absences from the England squad aren’t exactly surprising given that Hodgson clearly doesn’t want this team to keep the ball.
The facts are in the stats. 81% pass success, which isn’t bad but an average of only 40% possession per game. From the eight quarter-finalists, only Greece racked up a lower number – a side perceived by many as the epitome of ‘anti-football’.
England currently top some Euro 2012 stat lists. They racked up the most tackles and most blocks. Nothing like some valiant hard-work. Blood, sweat and tears. Something to be proud of, as always. The day after the night before is usually a time for sombre and sober reflection though Hodgson had to deal with the pang of a rather piercing and persistent headache.
Those pesky passing numbers. We’ve all been there. Tender-bodied, still bruised physically and emotionally from a depressing night previous that had promised so much when it all began. Now, away from the flashing lights and still cranky and tired, you avoid reality for just a little while longer.
Said Hodgson on Monday, “I don’t regard statistics, particularly possession statistics, as important in determining which is a good or a bad team”.
After England’s win over Sweden, Sir Dave Richards, the FA’s vice-chairman said Hodgson had brought a Midas touch to the team. Though perhaps the Football Association needs to brush up on their Greek mythology. When Midas realized his greed had led him down the path of stupidity, he returned to Dionysus, the God who had bestowed his gift upon him and begged for help. For Midas, being able to turn everything he touched to gold was a short-term thrill but ultimately, nothing more than a short-sighted wish for which he paid the consequences.
Hodgson’s novelty is already beginning to wear off.
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