In this world nothing can be said to be certain except for death and taxes and England fizzling in a major soccer tournament. Will this year’s exit be a mundane, ignoble one as in 2014, or something spectacular like the Wayne Rooney red card in 2006? Or Beckham’s in 1998?
We’ll find out soon enough.
It is early. England has played only one game so far, but the signs are auspicious, the stars seem aligned. This promises to be one of the more enjoyable flameouts.
To be fair, a number of national teams have worse records in tournaments, and quite a few have underachieved, or had more amusing pratfalls. What makes an English exodus so fun to watch, though, is the pre-tournament hype and the post-tournament surprise—nay, shock—when the team lays a stinker.
Allow me to use the Russia game as an example.
The Russian team is not very good. Even with a full healthy contingent, they still wouldn’t have been very good. Not that long ago, they had to replace Fabio Capello, the coach who wasn’t good enough for England. With a number of major injuries in their ranks, everyone understood they were going to park a pseudo-Mourinho bus and hope for a successful counterattack or a lucky break.
Surprise, they did just that.
So whom did Roy Hodgson assign to unlock this packed defense from the midfield? Why Rooney, of course, since he hasn’t much played that role before.
Sometimes an adventurous coach will do something like this and it turns out to be brilliant, but Hodgson, who reminds me of a ditzy uncle, one overfond of morning naps, is a conservative coach if anything. This was nothing more than finding a place for Rooney because, you know, he’s Rooney.
I like Rooney quite a bit. He’s an earnest footballer, hardworking and smart for an English player. It seems to me that in this latest incarnation of modern tactics, Rooney is a quality player without a position. Yet he is good enough to be shoehorned somewhere. However, a creative midfielder he ain’t.
I’ve written before on the creativity, or lack thereof, of English teams (wherefore art thou, Tank?), so I won’t get into it here. Let’s just say Xavi and Iniesta aren’t walking through that door.
This isn’t to blame the draw against Russia on Rooney. I mention him to emphasize the hype. Throughout the game, the English commentators on ESPN lauded him every time he completed a pass, made a tackle, or adjusted his junk.
He’s having a great game, what a perfect pass, he’s controlling the midfield.
Well, yes, he is, because the Russian team really sucks. When a team has 10 so-so outfield players packed into an area that does not extend more than a few inches from the penalty box, even my 98-year-old grandmother would control the midfield, and she has been dead for a year. That’s the whole idea of parking the bus. You allow the other team most of the possession and wait till they make a mistake.
The English national team does underachieve at times, but I want to posit the theory that this isn’t always the case, because they’re not that good to begin with. Rooney is not in the same league as the world’s best players, Wilshere is never going to be as good as Xavi, Eric Dier is not the reincarnation of Makélélé. Hype, hype, hype. Bayern Munich wants to sign Harry Kane for $200 million, Barcelona wants Dele Alli, Manchester City wants to buy Raheem Sterling for $76 million.
If you are an Englishman playing for one of the premiere clubs, the hype is suffocating. Think on this. Calum Chambers once played on the national team, so did Carl Jenkinson. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain would be on the team now were he not injured; he’s a mainstay even though he has accomplished little. Let’s not talk about Theo Walcott.
These are all Arsenal players, and I’m a big Arsenal fan (I have a fondness for underachieving teams). But not even my rose-colored glasses can make them good enough to play for a team that’s supposed to challenge in a major international tournament.
A player shows potential and the hype machine goes into full gear. Have you noticed that so many English players never come close to fulfilling their potential? I suggest that Rooney’s best games were when he was 18. We’re still anxiously waiting for Walcott, but he has pace, as if no other player does. Sterling has actually regressed.
This English team has potential. I don’t know if it will fulfill it, but let’s not be so shocked when it doesn’t play up to par. England controlled the game against Russia. They were not able to do much, but they did create some chances without scoring. Kane did not play well, and the midfield may have controlled possession but the players didn’t dominate like they should have. The Dier goal was beautiful, but the goalkeeper screwed up. The 1–0 score would have been deserved, but not by that much.
Russia then scored in the 92nd minute on one of the few chances they created.
Así es el fútbol, as Daniel would say.
But the imperiously pompous English commentators on ESPN screamed about how England had been robbed, or something like that.
The surprise! The shock!
The horror! The horror!
The team was robbed because it could never collapse. No way. This team is different than previous ones. It has cohesion and understanding. I mean, the team’s core is made up of Tottenham players. That should work, right?
Tottenham, a team that at the end of the season collapsed faster than you could say, “Where’s Arsenal again?”
Yes, that one.
I must apologize to England fans for enjoying every collapse so much. Something must be wrong with me.
I’m writing this early in the tournament even though the team might yet gel better than Harry Kane’s hair. It could happen. A miracle might occur, and England might do well and maybe even beat a good team. There is a possibility that they will not implode with fanfare. I have swallowed many a crow, and I might do so again, but still, a frisson of joy warms my heart as I write this. I’m a bad person.
I can’t help it.
Hey, England: Delete your account!