There is an English team that has really under-performed at the World Cup. In advance of the tournament they showed promise – it looked like there was a change underway. They showed signs of maturity and occasional flashes of brilliance but under the pressure of the competition they returned to type and have ended in disorganised disgrace.
Within the space of a fortnight we have gone from sports journalists patting themselves on the back for “giving Roy an easy ride” to demanding his removal for an embarrassing World Cup campaign.
It’s the usual cowardice from people who are actually football writers rather than journalists. Can you think of any other job where people could fabricate or report rumour as fact every day and not face some kind of reprimand?
Worst of all is the habit they have of creating a story. Up until the tournament began they were talking down England’s chances. Even after the first game they were praising the performance against Italy and confident that with some minor tweaks they would get the points needed. And then, immediately after the game against Uruguay, the same team have become an embarrassment that needs a complete overhaul. In the final unimportant game Roy Hodgson brought in all the other players and was criticised yet again for only getting a draw against the team which had beaten the other two teams.
As journalists you would have thought they would apply their vast knowledge and experience before putting pen to paper. Immediately before the World Cup England’s FIFA ranking was a respectable 10th. This means that if everyone performs to type, without knowing the group draw, England should make it out of their group but lose in the first knockout round of 16. Once the draw is made things look somewhat different. Italy are ranked 9th and therefore, at best, England should get a draw or lose in a close game. Oh! and Uruguay are 7th and so they would be expected to beat England. And the journalists would know surely that in the World Cup the continent you play in gives a distinct advantage so South American sides will have an even bigger advantage over the Europeans. Costa Rica won the group and were full of confidence when England played them with a second string and nothing to play for. No reasonable person would hold it against them.
In summary, so far England have done exactly what you would expect them to have done. Our writers seem to be stuck in some 1970s bubble when there were a small number of big teams and then lots of Johnny Foreigner minnows. Apparently, according them and a string of former players we have made no progress, will never win the World Cup and the performance was embarrassing. The price for the manager managing the team performing to the standard expected is apparently to be dismissed.
Perhaps we need to look beneath the statistics and see the performance. The game against Italy was greeted with approval – the best England competition performance since the Dutch game in Euro 96. A nice blend of youth and experience with decent performances from everyone. Their words not mine. The team were undone by a couple of pieces of quality from the opposition. Against Uruguay they were on the attack for most of the game. They should have been playing against ten men if the referee had been awake and they lost to one piece of brilliance and a defensive mistake. They had plenty of chances to beat the better team on paper – good performance, poor result. Against Costa Rica, again the team were the better side but failed to convert the advantage.
Despite all of this the hack’s solution is to throw it all away and start again. Maybe, just maybe, they’ve had enough of praise and facts and are in desperate need of a story to fill the rest of the World Cup. Their Editors will blame it on us. We have lost interest in the World Cup and so the stories are written to entertain us. Surely, if we have lost interest it is the journalist’s job to report the news and let us decide. “If we love football we ought to be watching the World Cup because the best teams in the world are still in it and here are some examples…”
England are underdogs in any World Cup. How many English players are good enough to attract the teams with the top money? How many English managers are good enough to attract interest from foreign teams? Unlike club football you can’t spend your way to a successful team and maybe this is English football’s salvation rather than out downfall. Maybe it reveals the truth about our game. English success in Europe is based on world players rather than Englishmen. Now that football is a world game we are playing to type based on population and number of active players and crucially, due to money and our quality of life, we don’t have the hunger which so many other players show.
Roy Hodgson, with his honesty, common touch and international experience is our future. The players like and respect him and he knows more about the game than any of the silly snake oil salesmen in the press room. Of course, as budgets are cut and readerships fall, the national newspapers and TV are filling the same amount of space with fewer resources. Its not just the sport coverage which is affected. I just find it really sad that the consequence is that we have an unregulated world where second-rate diploma-wielding scribes are given column inches to write lazy propaganda each week without any caveats and no consideration for the feelings and careers of those they write about. This isn’t Watergate Pulitzer-prize winning stuff – think more of an over-refreshed sweaty Brit staring blankly and rather desperately at a blank laptop screen in a hotel room as deadline approaches – and his grateful relief when a player or manager’s agent sends him a text to try and manipulate the next deal.
Football is no different than any other walk of life – there are no miracle cures, no transformations of experienced staff to idiots, or individuals that succeed over teams. Despite what the hacks will say!