A Very English Summer
It’s been another turbulent summer for English football. With qualification secured, we are heading back to the European Championship finals next year. The outlook however, isn’t promising. Strong, high-pressure systems are moving in from Spain, Germany and Holland and storms are expected. It would appear that qualification in Podgorica may be the high-water mark; the day that the tide broke and rolled back on England’s Euro 2012 campaign.
The dark clouds have already begun to gather, casting a shadow on our chances for success next year. There is no ray of hope this time; no ‘but’ to seek solace in. After all, the ability of the English national football team is not dissimilar to one of David Cameron’s famed ‘Staycations’: It’s fine on paper, but in reality you spend most of the time wishing it was Spain.
It is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the worst, as we know only too well from recent summers, just how bad it could get. A tidal wave of outrage crashed down upon the team following the failure to reach Euro 2008. With an Italian inspired World Cup qualification success however, the sins of England’s Golden Generation were seemingly washed away. The tempest though, had not dispersed.
Bubbling a few leagues off the South African coast in 2010, the maelstrom from two years previous began to rage anew. Against Algeria and the USA, English football was left floundering after two overly hard-fought draws. A stuttering one goal victory against Slovenia temporarily opened up a gap in the clouds, but as England progressed to a second round match-up against an old foe, it became apparent this was merely the calm before the storm.
In Bloemfontein, furious German flood waters overran ill-prepared English defences. Contrary to the delusion that Frank Lampard’s goal-which-should-have-stood-and-which-would-have-changed-the-game, the team were cast asunder. Make no mistake about it the Nationalmannschaft went easy on us, no doubt with one eye on tougher opponents in the Quarter Finals. It could – and probably should – have been a cricket score. No golden reputation was left untarnished as we finally realised; we’re not very good.
As we head into next summer, the amnesiac nature of English fans is certain to see them forget the torrential downpours of summers past. They will be prodded and poked back to hopeful delusion by the very journalists they rely upon for their opinions, which they will readily regurgitate in bars up and down the country. They will once again start to convince themselves that this time it could be different.
“If we play like we did against Bulgaria in September, we will be a match for any team in the world”. No we won’t. Bulgaria’s two best players are the Petrovs, Stilian and Martin. Both are good Premier League players, but hardly in the ilk of the best in Europe. Let’s not forget, Bulgaria currently sit one point adrift of Wales at the bottom of Group G.
“Wayne Rooney’s back to his best” they say, “with him on form we will be a match for any team in the world”. No we won’t. Undoubtedly Rooney is England’s best player by some distance, but he is an oaf. He proved that against Montenegro with his petulant act of attrition. He is now certain to miss at least one match at the beginning of next summer’s tournament, but at least the enforced rest should allow more time for his inevitable metatarsal injury to heal.
“Ashley Young’s taken to playing for United like a duck to water and now he’s bringing this form with him to England. With his ability we will be a match for any team in the world”. No we won’t. Why is Young – albeit having started very brightly at Old Trafford – any different from Lampard, Gerrard, Beckham, Owen or Rooney at past championship finals? Why are Young, Theo Walcott, Darren Bent or any of the other members of our two-bit first-team, any better placed to provide the spark that those players couldn’t?
Hope should not be allowed to spring eternal. As we drift along towards next year’s tournament, we should resist the urge to reach out and grab its branch. After all, there is no hope. We are doomed. This is the only way we can dampen the expectation that England are heading to the finals primed to do anything of note. With players unburdened by the usual “Bring the Trophy back” hyperbole and with fans accepting that they are attending in solidarity rather than expectation, both will be free to enjoy themselves.
Accept it, we’re awful. We’ve been awful since winning our solitary World Cup way back in 1966*. A few days when the rain doesn’t pour, does not equate to a tropical climate. Sure, under Sven we became known as perennial quarter-finalists, but this was a peak, not the beginning we were all so certain of.
So we clamoured for an English coach, someone who would bleed white and red. Instead we got Steve McClaren, who would soon discover that an umbrella is of no use in a typhoon. So we clamoured again, as we had before, but this time for a return to the halcyon days of our first foreign mercenary.
Again the FA duly delivered: Enter Signor Capello. Surely a man who had weathered tumultuous conditions in Milan, Madrid, Rome and Turin could lead us to warmer climes? With the wind in our sails, we blew past opponent after opponent and qualified with the ease of a nation destined to reside at the vanguard of international football. This manager was a born winner after all.
Sixteen months on, in the struggle to rebuild the shipwreck which was cast upon African rocks, all confidence in this manager, in these players, in this team, has been lost. We should not hope for blue skies. Instead we must accept our circumstance: We are English. It rains. It rains a lot.
Well I shall not stand for it. I’m certainly not getting caught out in that storm again without my coat. There is no way we can possibly win next summer, not with this manager, not with these players, not with this team…