With England recently crashing out of the Euro 2016 tournament against Iceland in one of the biggest upsets in football history, Dave Wright attempts to take an objective look at just where it went wrong and how now is a time for reflection, not revolution.
Iceland 2 – England 1: It was a result that sent Twitter into meltdown. Social media memes emerged within minutes mocking the English football team. The nation, (already in turmoil after a weekend of political conflict) needed the national team to step up and deliver some much-needed joy more than ever. They failed. All of a sudden social media decided Joe Hart was not good enough despite being a regular high performer. The nation left politics to one side and reverted to type, cynically savaging their three lions. The Welsh Dragon looked on amused as it stormed into the quarterfinals and once more everyone who had something negative to say about English football chimed in.
Yet this all occurred within two weeks of England’s first half performance against Russia being lauded by pundits as one of the most positive in recent memory. Despite the disappointing result of the pool, finishing second to the Welsh and failing to best utilise the attacking luxuries at their disposal, there seemed (at least on the surface) to be optimism about how far the England team could progress.
When the final whistle blew on England’s campaign in Nice, however, the headlines emerged. “England in disarray after bizarre and stifling campaign”, “French farce shows England’s failure to move with the times” and “England 1 – Iceland 2 Euro2016 humiliation as Joe Hart clanger sees Roy Hodgson’s men crash out in Nice” all outlined the frustration of the nation at such a showing.
Without doubt the performance we all witnessed on June 27 was unacceptable by England’s standards and they have quite rightly been criticised for it. But it’s important to step back and reflect on the bigger picture and ask some key questions:
- Why did the players freeze?
- Why did Hodgson get his tactics and selections wrong?
- What was the reason for the lethargy in several players’ performances?
- Was the team harmonious?
- Is England trying to be something they are not?
- What part do The FA and the wider system in England have to play in this outcome?
- Were the English arrogant?
- Are we giving Iceland enough credit for the biggest result in their country’s football history?
Before I continue and try to address some of these issues I feel it’s important to put some context into my perspective. I am a New Zealander by birth, a proud Kiwi but my parents and entire extended family is English. I grew up watching video tapes of English football before pay TV arrived in New Zealand and would often get up in the middle of the night to watch FA Cup games with my Dad (a man born and raised in Portsmouth), taking any chance I could to watch what I deemed to be the best in the world. As the Premier League grew and became accessible I would stay up all night watching games live or watch replays in any spare moments I had. I recall watching The FA Cup Final in 1995 when Everton toppled the great Manchester United. I remember watching Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss in 1996 and being devastated – I always supported England in tournaments and took any opportunity to watch them.
I also had the privilege of growing up watching perhaps the planet’s greatest sports team – the All Blacks – every year, witnessing first hand the mystique and aura that surrounds this legendary team. When it comes to expectation, the English football team without doubt faces huge pressure which is almost always unrealistic. But when the All Blacks lose, the Kiwi dollar drops, the nation goes into mourning and Kiwis critique and analyse for weeks. They are the masters of dealing with a nation on their shoulders, not only are they expected to win every single game, but they have to win with style.
From a coaching perspective, my views are shaped through experience like the rest of us. I came to London to pursue coaching after ten years in football down-under. I came to learn, gain my qualifications and chase a dream that I had wanted to pursue for years. I have coached in New Zealand, Australia and England, doing qualifications in all three countries (the bulk of them now through The FA) and been exposed to the world of professional academy football over the last three years with two different clubs, a journey I have found enormously challenging but massively beneficial from both a coaching and personal development perspective.
So going back to the plight of England and the big picture…
As the nation picks over the rotting carcass of another failed campaign, anger usually leads the way, followed by criticism and so many experts giving their two cents’ worth whilst wearing those crystal clear lenses in the form of hindsight. Had England won against Iceland and pushed the French in a quarter-final, perhaps the nation would react differently, but the new reality was not pretty.
If we remove some of the emotion from the equation and look objectively at the loss to Iceland beyond one bad performance, we can perhaps analyse some of the issues that affect English football and in a broader sense, English sport.
Tournament after tournament we have seen English teams capitulate, it cannot be denied – but why? This is a team that in the qualification for Euro 2016 went undefeated, winning 10 from 10, and at the same time managed to introduce some exciting and creative young talent and even beat the Germans on their own soil along the way. Roy Hodgson experimented with combinations and formations, debate raged about Wayne Rooney, the diamond versus the 1-4-3-3 and should Rashford go ahead of the likes of Townsend and Drinkwater? Despite criticism I felt that Roy Hodgson’s selection of five strikers (I’m including Rooney in this) was brave and showed that he valued form. Jack Wilshire and Raheem Sterling aside, the team he selected were generally a group of players who had been strong all season. Without doubt, everyone has an opinion of who should or shouldn’t have been there and what shape was best, but for the purposes of this article I want to look beyond that. I also feel it is arrogant of young coaches to question Roy Hodgson’s qualifications or expertise. We’re talking about a well-travelled, experienced top-flight manager who has coached for 40 years. What is possible is that there is a real disconnect between his approach and the modern game or player. As a result, what I feel can be discussed is the decision-making, tactics and selections that went on in France.
Looking only at body language, Roy often looked like a man who wasn’t assured. He was up and down from the bench, pensive at times and looking confused. His move to inject three strikers to save the day against Wales looked like his only decisive moment in the tournament. It worked, but only just. Decisions like removing Rooney (who after the first game had gone from England’s punching bag and apparently not worthy of selection to the man who should have never been substituted in that match) was a decision that was bizarre at best. Yes, Rooney has had a long season, so maybe Roy thought he should manage his number one player’s workload, but in that match he completely dominated the midfield against a poor opponent, his performance was strong and his country needed his experience to close out the game. Removing his captain was a big decision by Hodgson.
During the game against Wales, Hodgson persisted with starting Harry Kane – a player who looked exhausted when arriving in France (we’ll touch on this more shortly) and was completely ineffective against Russia. To Roy’s credit he went after a result and through the injection of Vardy, Sturridge and Rashford, England nicked a win but it looked a lucky result.
The final group match against Slovakia was dominated by the decision to rest and rotate six key players. Dele Alli, Wayne Rooney and Eric Dier all returned to the bench and Roy changed things. A risky move given the group was far from won and that continuity has to help combinations and understanding. However, Hodgson showed faith in his wider squad and it was justified as managing workload, but perhaps this halted momentum.
Then came Iceland, a match England was expected to win with ease. Stories even emerged that management celebrated Iceland’s winner, viewing it as an easy ride through to the final eight. Had arrogance infiltrated their thinking?
The upstarts from Iceland had been the story of the tournament, a country with a population of 330,000 shaking the foundations of European football with their defiance. In the face of Cristiano Ronaldo’s hasty criticism and like a featherweight fighting up two divisions, the Icelandic team dodged, ducked, stepped and weaved their way to the final 16 and onto the quarter-finals by staying true to what they know and what they do well. England’s time was up, they were inept, out of ideas and froze on the big stage – again.
Kane is a 22 year-old man, still exceptionally young and as I mentioned earlier looked exhausted and lethargic at the Euros. Perhaps this is why:
- Tottenham games between July 2014 – June 2016: 101 (59 goals)
- England games between June 2015 – June 2016: 16 (5 goals)
When Kane turned up at tournament he had the weight of the nation on his shoulders and had played 117 games in less than 24 months. As the number one striker the mantle was his, but perhaps a man with Wayne Rooney’s experience was better placed to handle this pressure. We often underestimate the difference of tournament football and league football. Rooney has been there and done it (albeit with little team success for England) but his experiences as world-class number 9 who has won on the biggest stage with his club may have helped Kane if they were played as a pair. Kane was also given the responsibility of set pieces, something he rarely does for his club. Why? Clearly Eric Dier has talent in this area as does Rooney. Why add to the pressure on a young man’s shoulders?
Square Pegs, Round Holes
Now, wearing my own crystal clear hindsight glasses, we can reflect on some strange positional ploys. Rooney was playing out of position. Despite him being a veteran of 13 years in the Premier League and modern legend, asking a player to learn his position in the cauldron of the world’s second biggest tournament is a stretch. With only a couple of warm up games before the decision was taken, Rooney had to play a role that took the likes of Scholes, Xavi and Pirlo a lifetime to master. Perhaps the form of Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane forced Roy’s hand, but this ploy undermined Rooney’s ability to have an effect on a game. I cannot help but think playing him in the 10 role behind a combination of Kane & Sturridge or Vardy & Rashford in a genuine pair (not the split strikers we saw in the warm up games) may have been a better option.
Raheem Sterling, the exciting former Liverpool star appeared to be down on confidence. I found the criticism of Sterling disappointing. We’re talking about a player who is barely past his 21st birthday and has lit up the Premier League at times. It cannot be expected that he will demonstrate consistency yet, but he does have flair and talent, perhaps the end product will come under the guidance of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. Sterling looks like a player who needs a lot of love. However, Sterling also needs better advice, or perhaps some stronger mentors around him – he is perceived as arrogant by many. After he had previously handled himself terribly when trying to make his transfer from Liverpool to Manchester City and having been caught up in a range of social media slip ups, only days after returning he was accused of bragging about his wealth by posting a Snapchat story featuring a jewel encrusted sink and cars in the driveway – not exactly what the public needed to see after his disappointing showing. Perhaps Sterling is the example Jamie Carragher has angrily tried to outline in his recent rant (which we’ll discuss later in this article) and the fact that football culture in a general sense tries to solve almost everything by simply throwing money at it and players are being brought through with a silver spoon.
Despite his off the field struggles, taking Sterling alone was a risky move and another genuine winger with 1 v 1 attributes and speed like Andros Townsend could have given the English team real width and threats on both flanks when required.
Hodgson decided after experimenting with the diamond that he would revert to a 1-4-3-3. This shape requires width, but with only one genuine winger in the squad he had to play the likes of Vardy and Sturridge in positions that didn’t capitalise on their ability through the middle. Not only this, but Sterling was the only out-and-out winger picked in a squad of 25. It came down to Danny Rose and Kyle Walker to provide attacking width and threats, and though both tried admirably the requirements on them to recover and defend were perhaps taxing and, perhaps more consequently, predictable for opposition to defend against.
Dele Alli definitely looks best when in central areas but he also often ended up playing as a winger, perhaps a waste of his undoubted ability? Think of traditional English football where wingers would take players on down the outside or if they didn’t have the speed they would have skill or unerring accuracy like David Beckham. It seems Roy missed an opportunity to utilise wide talent, and even someone like Theo Walcott who despite a lack of match time in tournaments historically would at least bring some experience to the group and pace in wide areas.
A Cultural Divide
Tactics aside, perhaps this performance is a reflection of a flawed, broken or troubled culture within England. As we have seen with the recent Brexit vote, England is without doubt a country divided. Whichever side of the debate you sit on, this kind of division is hugely concerning. In a football context does a similar divide exist?
You only have to go on a coaching course in England to hear men and women talk with passion about what the national game needs, what The FA is doing wrong or how the game should be played. Whether an advocate of ‘parking the bus’ or popping it like Pep’s men, the challenge in my experience appears to be a massive disconnect between the old and the new. The desire to take on modern principles in pedagogy, the search for an identity and national playing style and the ideas of the elder statesmen in player development around the country can cause ructions. I feel there is a need for coaches to better understand learning and teaching, player development is not just about tactics and technique, it’s about developing learners, creating environments, leading and inspiring, recognising age appropriate requirements, coaching methodology and engaging young people. A good player does not necessarily make a good coach and that archaic presumption needs to change.
From my experience and observation there appears to be a gradual changing of the guard appearing at St George’s Park and within The FA. There are some top coach educators working within the organisation, some innovative thinkers and top player developers working through the ages and The FA have taken the approach of employing a number of new staff in recent times in specialist roles. It remains to be seen whether this will work, but whilst this experimental approach may not be viewed as a step in the right direction by some, it is driven by a desire to innovate and have experts in the building who are studying modern football trends and taking them back to national teams. This has to be positive. Not only this, but having watched the England U16s play and seen some of the talent at various age groups as well as the recent success of England’s U21s in Toulon, I don’t think now is the time to start questioning the level of talent in England. At the time of publishing this article the England U19 group were preparing for a semi-final against Italy in Germany.
What we should question is how we ensure talent is exposed, gets experience at the highest level and is afforded the opportunity to play. I also buy into the argument that players should stay within their age groups as long as possible. Of course we will always see exceptions like Owen, Rooney and to a degree Rashford but we shouldn’t rush players through when what they need is tournament experience and matches in their appropriate age groups. We need to respect a long-term process.
At club level, there is a huge issue in England with the U17-21 age group or the professional development phase. This is a black hole at times with talent dropping out, being released or ending up in the football wilderness. Another issue is that the professional development leagues are not as strong as they could be and more fixtures are required. A competitive and well-funded youth league would be one solution to allowing players to get game time. Why can’t we introduce better organised U18 or U21 competitions for all professional clubs.
If we reflect on English culture and how that translates to the sporting arena there are a few observations I have made as an outsider that I believe affect English football on the biggest stage.
Expectation is a difficult subject in an English context – it exists, but the reasons why are as varied as their impacts. Nick Levett, Talent ID Manager at The FA has written a fantastic piece in this issue of the magazine which goes into the culture of expectation in depth, so make sure you check out his article.
As an outsider and observer of English sport for decades, I have always looked at English teams as mentally vulnerable or lacking self-belief. Sir Clive Woodward is now a legend for his ability to turn this on its head in Rugby and more recently, Eddie Jones is achieving similar success. Using the All Blacks example, they have redefined game management and taken it to another stratosphere. The All Blacks’ absolute composure, clarity and belief that they have the capacity to win a game regardless of the scenario and the clock is staggering. You only have to look at the 2011 World Cup win against France (an 8–7 victory where they defended for the last 20 minutes), the last gasp, injury-time win in Ireland in late 2014 and the way they managed the 2015 World Cup semi-final against South Africa going on to weather an Australian storm in the final, emerging winners yet again. This is not something that comes about overnight; it is embedded in the culture. The best-selling James Kerr book, ‘Legacy’ (which I have previously reviewed for the Player Development Project blog) discusses the idea of ‘red head & blue head’. This essentially acts as an exercise in focus and composure. The idea was created by All Blacks psychologist, Gilbert Enoka and is a tool to enable players to either stay connected and aware, ensuring tunnel vision is avoided due to pressure or reconnect if they feel they are about to enter the ‘red head’ zone.
Red Head is defined as: Tight, inhibited, results-oriented, anxious, aggressive, over-compensating & desperate.
Blue Head is defined as: Loose, expressive, in the moment, calm, clear, accurate, on task.
Enoka elaborates in the book, “Pressure is expectation, scrutiny and consequence. Under pressure, your attention is either diverted or on track. If you’re diverted, you have a negative emotional response and unhelpful behaviour. That means you’re stuck. That means you’re overwhelmed.” He continues, “On the other hand, if your attention is on track you have situational awareness and you execute accurately. You are clear, you adapt and you overcome.”
Brad Thorn used to splash water on his face, Richie McCaw would stomp his foot on the ground, take a breath and come back into the moment, and Kieran Read would look to the furthest corner of the stadium to bring his mind back into the moment. These ideas and the emphasis on sports psychology and self-belief must be promoted and improved upon in player development environments in England. Without doubt, the English team froze, showed a lack of composure and the search for an equalizer became a panic as Iceland froze the waves of attack out with walls of defence and composure.
Martin Glenn himself conceded after the tournament that “The FA can be perceived as arrogant from the outside.” This is an open, honest and candid reflection that he should at least be commended for acknowledging – after all self-awareness is crucial in leadership. So, is The FA a reflection of the cultural divide, isolating itself from the general football community? Is The FA a replica of the general public’s view of the wealthy elite in a political context? Indeed, it goes well beyond The FA, it’s too easy to hammer one organisation. The culture that football has created for itself is entirely driven by finance.
In a recent Guardian article which examined the DFB’s overhaul of the system in Germany after the year 2000, Frank Arnesen, former Sporting Director at Hamburg, Tottenham and Chelsea said, “The money is a big part of the problem in England because clubs go out and buy finished players instead of waiting. Young players need to make mistakes to get better, but managers think they can’t afford [for] that to happen. You see the squads, even in the smaller clubs, they get players from all over instead of bringing young players through.”
Clubs aim to develop players for their first team or to sell on. Players get paid exorbitant amounts far too young when they really haven’t achieved anything and far too many of them fail to capitalise on this. The extrinsic rewards dangled by clubs and associations are proven to stifle creativity, encourage tunnel vision and fail to motivate. Whilst the England players can be commended for donating all of their match fees to charity whilst playing for England, this is a drop in the ocean for them in the greater scheme of things, so as great a gesture as it is, none of them will be struggling to pay the mortgage next week. The broader issue in all of this is for the future England players. Many of the top players in the country are on huge pay packets from the age of 16, often more money earned in a few weeks than most people earn in a year. There has to be a duty of care from clubs that says players who show potential can have a contract but surely throwing cash at young players is ethically wrong when they are simply not mature enough to know how to manage finance. I believe a governing body whether it’s The FA or the EPPP must step in and reign in this financial madness. One idea I am hugely in favour of is to ensure in every scholars contract that they only receive a portion of their wages. For instance a £5000 per week contract (which is still far too much) contains a 50% trust clause. 50% of this money goes into a trust which players cannot access until they are 25 or even 30 years old. This means they still have plenty of cash but long-term they are looked after should they fail to make it professionally or injury ruins their career. For this to work, every club would have to do it.
At national team level, these huge amounts of money only serve to add even more pressure and expectation on these young men. After all, the general public believes that if you earn £200,000 per week to kick a ball, you should be pretty damn good at it when that kind of salary would take the average income earner in London around 8 years to bring home. Having the wolves hounding your every move, every touch or attempt on goal just because you’re well paid in the modern age of TV riches cannot be easy. Despite CEOs and Directors of top companies in the finance or other corporate industries earning big money (rarely as much as footballers), they are really only accountable to a board and their shareholders and their salaries are not public, so whilst there is pressure, it is not necessarily on the back pages.
Much has been made in the days after England’s exit about the number of UEFA A licensed coaches in England. Most statistics point to around 1,200 but these seem to vary. As someone who has just completed part two of my UEFA A license with The FA and am awaiting assessment, I have to say I have enjoyed the course, learnt a lot, met some great coaches and it makes you think about the game in a level of detail that perhaps I hadn’t previously. However, there are some issues, the main one being cost. Whilst I know many coaches who have been lucky enough to have their clubs fund or subsidise their A License journey, I have had to pay £5,000 over the course of a year to take part – it is simply too much. I do believe the new course which has just commenced is cheaper, but The FA should be investigating some kind of subsidy for English coaches, after all, the more knowledge they can impart to young, developing coaches, the better off the game will be.
The comparisons with Spain and Germany are in my mind, irrelevant. In Spain, they have three levels of coach education and they start at UEFA B and finish with the UEFA Pro license. In England we start at level 1 and have the youth modules as well. The UEFA B is a level 3 course and the youth modules are all excellent. Many of these will become hybrid courses going forward which is a positive progression. However, in Spain the big difference is cost. Each course takes 1 year and costs €1000 (£830). In Iceland, all coach education is subsidised and run on a not-for-profit basis and all coaches working with children must have at least a UEFA B. These kinds of initiatives should be looked at. Cost aside, I believe the content of the courses run by The FA is excellent, the youth modules are forward thinking and innovative, the UEFA B and UEFA A are very much designed with the tactical elements of the game in mind. If the issue of cost and access to the courses for more coaches can be addressed, standards will continue to rise.
When speaking recently to Dan Micciche (England U16 Coach) for previous issues of this publication he spoke of how the Germans expose their players to a great deal more tournament football year in, year out. This provides learning opportunities in the from of playing in front of parochial crowds, playing on different sized pitches, in stadiums, against different playing styles, opposing players with different languages, experiencing adversity in the form of travel, fatigue and multiple games in a short-time frame, concentration due to long waits and learning how to manage games.
I was recently fortunate enough to travel to a tournament in Germany with a group of U13/14 players. The tournament consisted of teams from England, Germany, France, and Canada. Given Germany’s overhaul of their own system in the last 15 years I expected to go and see positive playing styles, positional expertise and the model of how player development should look. I was quite surprised to see almost the polar opposite. I witness some disgraceful coach behaviours, abuse of officials, screaming and shouting at players, players diving and all in the name of that one key factor – winning.
For our players this kind of challenge was very different from what they experience in the fast paced, physical, technical and often possession-based world of academy football in England. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of academy matches despite not counting towards a league are played in a fiercely competitive manner, but this was different. This was a test of their ability to beat low blocks, defend counter attacks, deal with some at times horrific officiating and try to find a way not just to play with style, but eek out a result. To our players’ credit, our side along with Liverpool, Ajax, Stuttgart and Hertha Berlin all tried to play the game in a pure and positive way. Some beautiful football resulted at times but overall the quality of football played was poor by our normal expectations. However, from a developmental point of view, this will benefit the players. It may not have been their most enjoyable football experience, but the lessons learned and their ability to play with style most of the time was pleasing. Our aim and our players’ goal was always to try and win the tournament, but we wanted to do this by sticking to our philosophy and achieving some collective technical challenges whilst staying clear in our minds. We focused on ensuring they worried about ‘controlling the controllables’, sticking to their style and playing attractively. However, the tournament top eight was entirely German teams bar one from France – could the German approach of doing whatever it took to win could be the difference between why they have had so much recent success and why England hasn’t?
It has to be asked if the word ‘winning’ has at times become a swear word in youth development, possibly a reflection of the nanny state culture that Britain now finds itself in where kids are banned from running in the playground, have to wear yellow vests to walk down the street and are stuck in front of screens so they don’t wander off. I’m not implying winning is the desired outcome in development, (far from it) but what I am saying is it’s a factor that should be addressed.
Jamie Carragher has recently come out with stinging criticism of the English football team, calling them soft and the ‘Academy Generation’. Whilst he may be right about the weaknesses in some players or the group amongst the English national team, branding them the ‘Academy Generation’ helps no one and tarnishes every club, coach and player working at development level with one brush. Perhaps we need to reflect on how the academy world works, but due to one result at national level, does this mean we have to overhaul the entire system? Surely we can’t blame the players for emerging from a system created by adults? If football culture is promoting young players through who lack life skills or are molly-coddled their entire lives, surely we have to criticise the system for allowing this, not blame the products of it? My three years in the academy system makes me believe there is plenty we are doing right. Ideas such as the following are all becoming ingrained as best practice and I feel do aid player development:
- Individual targets and learning plans
- Self reflection
- Access to qualified coaches
- Contact time – most players in the foundation phase receive 10-12 hours per week as a minimum and this increases in the YDP.
- Adversity – the pressure in environments like academies and playing best against best helps stretch players.
- Experiences of touring and playing tournaments.
However there are also some issues we should consider at times like these:
- Players getting too much too soon. Seeing kids dripping with kit, acting like they’ve made it or only playing on perfect surfaces a lot of the time doesn’t help. Adversity can help players develop, Jamie Vardy will tell you that.
- How can players trust coaches and fully immerse themselves with the fear of release hanging over them every 12-24 months?
- Extrinsic reward. The carrot of a contract being dangled from age 9 is something I feel is fundamentally flawed.
- Specialisation – are they getting a balance of physical development or are we pushing them too soon through pre-academy programs?
- The fact that most clubs are working within a system that makes players commodities means there has to be questions as to whether we are genuinely working to make better people or is it just a case of better products?
So whilst Carragher may be right that players getting agents young, looking like pros in all their kit and playing on perfect surfaces may not toughen them up, there is still plenty to be endorsed within academy football, but we need to reflect on the system within which it operates and how we can investigate creating environments that allow kids to be kids, not mini professionals wearing the egos that come with it.
After the Iceland match, some shocking reports of Joe Hart ranting in the tunnel and during the match where he berated the Icelandic side, saying they “were rubbish” (I’m paraphrasing) and showed no respect to his opponents.
I also witnessed this myself earlier in the tournament, when whilst standing in the tunnel with a young child holding his hand, Hart was heard swearing and screaming trying to pump himself and his team mates up. Now I don’t care how big a tournament it is, how big a name you are, when you have a nine-year-old child next to you in a situation like that, you have an obligation to be a role model. Is this a demonstration of arrogance in the English psyche? Perhaps Joe Hart was the definition of Gilbert Enoka’s ‘red head’. Was he that pumped up, that so fixated on the outcome that he lost his head and neglected to actually manage his own performance? Hart rarely looked composed or at his best and his behaviour in the tunnels did not indicate any level of cool, calm and focus towards the job at hand. This tournament will be remembered from his perspective from two saves he should have made – the Bale free-kick, and Iceland’s second goal.
Removing ego from the coaching equation is one of the biggest issues I see in football, in all countries. So many coaches seem more motivated by the tracksuit than the job. I have seen his at all levels in many different countries. I have encountered many people working in player development who talk a huge game or are quick to criticise or fail to put the players first. Whether this is exclusively English I am not sure, but it is something that needs to stop. You don’t see school teachers swaggering into the car park on a Monday morning, so why does a tracksuit give someone a reason to be cocky? Our job is to help the players and create a learning environment for them. It is not about us.
DNA & Identity
The result in Nice has meant a lot of pundits, experts or members of the Twitter community have challenged the work behind the English DNA with many people suggesting that England is trying to be something it’s not. Personally, I think creating a consistent pathway and playing style is important, but it has to be adaptable. At the highest level, players are (or should be) good enough to adapt to different tactics and systems. If they’re not, then questions should be asked about their football education. However, it appeared that throughout the campaign there was no clarity as to what the style was and that Hodgson was trying to turn his team into something they weren’t. Simple and old school may have worked better for England.
The DNA will no doubt be reviewed or reflected on, but it is not time to throw it all away just because of one loss by the men’s team. The success of this idea will take years to assess.
Credit to Iceland
During the hysterical few days after the match, many people forgot about the opponents and set about slaying the English. Iceland’s success story is similar to that of Leicester, the rank outsider, rising up against the odds to defy the tournament and all expectation. They have gone about their business, investing in coach education, facilities and providing access and opportunity for young people to play, they have finally seen their reward. Their achievement is monumental and not an accident or an overnight success. Whilst we must recognise England failed to deliver on the level of talent in their team, Iceland were the better team on the night.
The Final Defence
England are always the easiest of all the footballing nations to criticise. Pack mentality often takes over when it comes to finding ways to ridicule English football and its track record since 1966. Whilst I agree that it was a very disappointing tournament for a very young England men’s team I genuinely believe that there is far more good than bad happening within The FA and its strategy. What does need addressing is the culture, the climate and the attitudes that go with player development. Knowing the game does not make you a good coach. There is so much more to it than that. England will see success in the future; it may take time, but the talented coaches and players currently working away from the media’s perverse view will undoubtedly emerge to excite the fans of the future. The priority now has to be to afford them the time and opportunity to do it.
“Legacy – What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life” by James Kerr, 2013.