Problems for the next England manager to address
Tuesday, 28 June 2016
Simon Hart picks through the bones of England's most shocking major finals defeat in 66 years and wonders what kind of legacy Roy Hodgson leaves his successor.
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Plus ça change. It may be a French expression but it could have been invented for the England football team given their long-established tradition of fluffing their lines on the big stage.
Hence, when Wayne Rooney stood in the mixed zone at Stade de Nice last night, he could have been forgiven for suggesting that the disappointments he has endured in an England shirt all seem to meld into one. "It's been six tournaments we have gone out of," he said. "I'm gutted, but I can't separate [this] from the other times."
Those were Rooney's words but England fans – not least the ones who booed the team off last night – and reporters alike will tell you that this was different. This was the national side's biggest embarrassment at a major tournament since 1950, and the FIFA World Cup loss to the part-timers of the United States in Belo Horizonte.
This was a defeat by a team from a nation of 330,000, a defeat that left several England players floored – literally – when the final whistle blew, and a defeat that led to manager Roy Hodgson's resignation.
The question now is what Hodgson's successor can possibly do to change things. The list could be endless for a country whose total of number of knockout wins in the history of EURO final tournaments reads one – the same number, incidentally, as achieved by Iceland after last night. Here are a few early thoughts, though:
Build on the positive (yes, there was one)
In his resignation speech at Stade de Nice, Hodgson spoke of his replacement enjoying the opportunity to "oversee the progress of this young, hungry and extremely talented group of players". Hodgson's squad in France was England's youngest at a major finals since 1958 (average age: 25.39) and Eric Dier, in particular, caught the eye in the defensive midfield role.
It was no coincidence (albeit, as Chris Waddle pointed out, a sorry reflection on the lack of leadership elsewhere) that England's football lacked control on a night the Tottenham tyro seemed to be suffering from illness prior to his half-time withdrawal. Dier is not the only young talent and it is worth noting that England did win one piece of silverware on French soil this summer – recording their first Toulon Tournament triumph since 1994.
Address the mental hurdle
Talk of a bright tomorrow will fall, understandably, on deaf ears until a senior England side at a big tournament discover a sense of freedom in their football. The national shirt appears to be a burden, bringing the weight of a history of disappointments.
The contrast with Iceland was striking. Kári Árnason – once of Plymouth Argyle, Aberdeen and Rotherham United – said this week that he wished he could play his club football with his international colleagues, owing to the close-knit composition of this group of players.
Last night an England squad with far greater club CVs froze like rabbits in the headlights. Perhaps it would help if a few ventured abroad, to leave the Premier League bubble and broaden their horizons.
Don't forget the basics
England had 63% possession against Iceland. They had 57% against Slovakia, 64% against Wales, 52% against Russia. Their ambition has been to become a possession team and they kept the ball better than in previous championships, yet in both penalty areas they were found wanting.
Much has been made of their disappointing ratio of goal attempts/actual goals but one abiding image from Nice was Harry Kane's wasteful late free-kick that flew wide amid an outbreak of boos from the England fans. The sight of Kane, a centre-forward, taking corners was a notable talking point during this campaign, though after last night the focus returned to their failure to deal with set pieces at the other end.
England's shortage of commanding centre-backs was a concern before a ball was kicked in France and the way they conceded from a bread-and-butter long throw into the box suggested a need to remind this generation about the need to get the old basics right as well. And this would include playing players in their natural positions – another criticism directed at this latest failed English expedition.