Wednesday, 29 June 2016

How do you solve a problem like the England National Team?

Around 48 hours ago I was sat in my local pub filled with anticipation. This could be our year, we have the ability to really do something in this tournament, and show our class to the rest of Europe. Today, I sit here sun burnt (cheers Wimbledon), but more importantly bemused and frustrated. England had embarrassed themselves again. England had crashed out of the Euros losing 2-1 to Iceland, in what could arguably be described as the most demoralising defeat in recent Three Lions history.

Iceland celebration as their Euro fairy-tale continues
Unfortunately, as an Englishman this result wasn't completely unexpected, the sense of deja vu loomed large, and the dismal atmosphere of blame and loathing following the traditional fallout of an international tournament had well and truly returned.

Previously, I've eluded to this being the 'golden generation' of English football, and despite the major upset in France I stand by my comment. Without a doubt, on paper the quality of player is there, the likes of Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford all have great potential and are slowly fulfilling it. The squad is also complimented by experienced veterans such as Wayne Rooney (albeit against most fans' wishes), alongside a consistently free scoring strike force and a relatively strong back line which in itself has attacking qualities too, England looked a force to be reckoned with. However, as it conspired over the past couple of weeks, after witnessing four relatively woeful performances, what has become apparent is that the team lacks the correct mental attitude to become a force on the international scene. It's all well and good battering minnows in qualification, if this isn't reflected in competitive matches it means nothing. Therefore, although the manager alone shouldn't be to blame, I believe that the decision chosen by Roy Hodgson to resign was the correct one, and realistically his only option after such an awful tournament.

Pundits and fans alike can argue until they're blue in the face; 'the players aren't good enough', 'the system is flawed', 'blame the Premier League' - some arguments more valid than others. But as it stands, we are currently without a manager, and this issue needs to solved before a real post-mortem as to what went wrong in France can really take place, and if Greg Dyke's projection of Qatar 2022 victory has any hope.

The question is, who is the right man for this arguably impossible job?

The answer? One who can erase the negative mentalities players have coming into tournaments caused by the culture of fear created by England fans. It's nonsense that if you believe we didn't have the ability to beat Iceland, because clearly we did. After all, we beat the Germans only weeks prior. However, what was clear wass that Hodgson hadn't learnt from and reformed the team based on mistakes made in the past - progress hadn't be made, and the negative mentality of the past prevailed, rather than players pushing on for the required equalising goal.

Whilst the job is a massive coup for any potential manager, recruitment is one hell of a minefield, some shortlisted names (a pretty long list at the moment) such as Harry Redknapp have already ruled themselves out - identifying the job as somewhat untenable. Personally, I believe the manager should be British, have Premier League or international experience and prior understanding of how the FA works (and preferably not be Gary Neville after his self destruct at Valencia).

A man who ticks all those boxes, and is marked up as a strong favourite by bookmakers is Gareth Southgate. Southgate could potentially be seen as the obvious replacement for the England management role. He has experience in the England set-up as both a player (57 caps) and has also been in charge of the next generation of England players at Under 21 level. Southgate has mentored several players and brought out their potential, and are now frequent fixtures in the senior squad - Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane to name a few. He has also guided the Under 21 team to the Toulon tournament crown in 2016, however, a year prior his team flopped at the European championships, finishing bottom of the group - however, what he does advocate is giving youth a chance, a possible opportunity to find fresh, exciting talent.

Gareth Southgate. Bookies favourite. But is he the right man for the job?
As a player he more than anyone will understand the emotional slumber the current cohort of players are in - as he missed the decisive penalty against Germany at Euro '96, and therefore could be a great replacement for Hodgson - a man who could rid England of this losing mentality. On the contrary, despite knowing the England 'formula', from recent events it is clear that this 'formula' is clearly a losing one. These doubts are also reinforced by the fact the last club job that Southgate had was at Middlesbrough - one that led to a relegation and a sacking.

A second suggestion would be Sam Allardyce. Personally, I don't understand why the FA have a fixation with keeping the traditional FA formula alive, because it clearly isn't working. Or for that matter, why foreign coaches such have been a common appointment in past times e.g. Capello and Ericsson (both failed). Sam Allardyce has been in the business for a long time. He is a manager that has a reputation for knowing what he needs to do in order to create a winning team, and has a formula that sees failing teams (England?), punch above their weight, much like at Sunderland this season. His managerial record is also untarnished with no relegations to his name. Although the style of football that he drills into his teams may be portrayed as unfashionable and boring (just ask West Ham fans), it does the job, and he gets results - at the end of the day players want to play for him, and they must have a good mentality to do so. Personally, as an England fan, I would just like a manager who gives the squad a prolonged period of stability, followed by progress and results at major tournaments, and the way in which we play is a secondary thought. However, as a character, I'm not sure how suited he would be in the role - as some of his comments may rub certain people in the FA up the wrong way.

My third and final pick, is up and coming coach Eddie Howe. Yes, he is young. Yes, his Bournemouth team isn't exactly teeming with big international characters. And yes, one solid if unspectacular year in the Premier League doesn't exactly set the world alight. However, the man would bring something different to the England set up, a different footballing system from what we are used to, and one who has an understanding of how to salvage a bad situation into a winning team - guiding Bournemouth on minus point in League 2 to the Premier League, making him a hot prospect in the managerial game.

However, it is unlikely the FA will take a risk and throw the dice. And this could be the root cause of all English footballs' problems. The FA are too fixed in their ways to make a significant change, and I have absolutely no doubt that until a major revamping does occur England will continue to be a failing footballing nation. The talent is there. Rational thinking seems to be elsewhere.

Follow me on Twitter @DLster

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