Hours after FA chief Martin Glenn spoke of needing players with grit, Gareth Southgate’s men showed they lack quality too
Do not perform overseas, in need of a good shrink, not overly-keen on leaving home, do not know what to do with themselves in a hotel, brittle.
The foibles and failures of England footballers, according to the wisdom of none other than the FA’s chief executive.
Foibles and failures underlined by Martin Glenn just hours before Gareth Southgate’s squad scruffily confirmed its participation in next summer’s World Cup finals.
The secret of comedy?
The questions that will be asked of this English generation between now and June 14 2018 have actually been kicked off in grand style by Southgate’s boss.
On the day England were about to qualify, with a game to spare, for another major tournament, Glenn decided to accentuate what he considers the underlying causes of previous finals disasters.
after 90 minutes that left players and spectators feeling equally frustrated
At some sort of London talking shop called Leaders, Glenn damned the under-achievers of so many summers past.
“We know that we have not been leading edge in terms of psychological support for that senior team,” he said.
“England players do not travel well. They do not tend to play abroad, their familiarity with
international camps is not that great. And so we know there is a brittleness in unfamiliar circumstances which we have to deal with.”
The context for Glenn’s remarks, of course, were the miserable campaigns of World Cup 2014 and Euro 2016, in particular.
But 10 of last night’s starting 11 were in France for the European Championship last year and when Glenn carried on to suggest Southgate was aware of the psychological issue, the mental approach clearly remains a concern for management.
That is why Southgate had them sheep-dipped by Royal Marines, presumably.
Yet all that character-building malarkey cannot mask a technical malaise, cannot camouflage the sort of coaching catastrophe that struck in France.
In that fateful game against Iceland, there was no discernible, adaptable game-plan, nor did the players show individual ingenuity allied to technique.
And going into next summer, no one is going to fall for the importance of psychological strength when Raheem Sterling is so wildly unpredictable as this, when Ryan Bertrand cannot pass to a colleague six yards away, when Southgate plays two holding midfielders in a game which guarantees a glut of possession and allows Kyle Walker to take a free-kick from 25 yards.
Not just any free-kick, but a reasonably central and very dangerous one.
At least it would have been if it wasn’t Walker taking it (and yes, I know he has scored a couple from a couple of set-pieces in his club past).
If that happens in a tournament, it would define Southgate like having Harry Kane take corners came to define Hodgson.
Southgate allowing full-back Walker to take England’s free-kicks…
….was as baffling as striker Kane being on corners under Hodgson at Euro 2016
This is elite level and, contrary to what Glenn and Southgate might trumpet, elite-level success normally demands elite-level talent with more urgency than it demands elite-level mindsets.
The brutal truth is that, despite a THIRTY-EIGHTH consecutive World Cup and Euro qualifying game without defeat, there remains very little evidence of elite-level talent in this squad.
There was certainly precious little evidence in a dire performance saved only by Kane’s finish from a rare, decent Walker cross.
You can certainly have genuine hope that Marcus Rashford will become a world-class game-changer between now and June, you can hope Kane carries club and qualifier scoring form on to the biggest stage, you can hope John Stones eliminates the rashness, you can hope the absent Dele Alli proves an inspiration.
But how can you hope Southgate finds a central midfielder with a scintilla of creativity?
How can you hope he finds full-backs who can think as swiftly as they can sprint?
How can you hope he is able to fill his squad with a majority rather than a minority of technically-blessed members?
Realistically, and never mind Glenn’s nonsense about addressing those foibles and failures, you cannot.
But hope is all you have.
It is faint, but it is hope.