England Faces an Identity Crisis at Home and Abroad During Euro 2012


Everybody hates us, but we don’t care should be the new motto for the England national team. It’s an apt one given the ridicule England has received from soccer snobs worldwide, particularly in England and the United States. Their lens of how soccer ought to be played is framed by how Barcelona plays soccer. But as Chelsea proved against Barcelona recently, there are more ways to skin a cat when it comes to winning a football match.

Now that we have a moment to take a collective deep breath, it’s important to realize where England is at this stage, as well as what they’ve achieved. Before the tournament began, it’s safe to say that few England supporters would have predicted that England would be where they’re at, right now, facing a quarter-final, and being just three wins away from lifting a European Championship trophy for the first time in their history. No matter what happens after this point in Euro 2012, Roy Hodgson has guaranteed his job for World Cup 2014.

Despite England’s place in the final eight of Euro 2012, there is an identity crisis among England supporters and pundits. Even though England did everything that was necessary to progress out of Group D, is this the type of football that England supporters can stand behind? The jury is split. Personally, I’d like England to play a more attacking style of football, willing to take risks and show more of their versatility and creativity. We know that they have it inside them. It’s almost as if they’re waiting for Hodgson to give them the go-ahead to show it.

In England’s match against Ukraine, the only person who seemed willing to grab the bull by its horns was Wayne Rooney. While his first few touches were quite rusty, Rooney was the only one who ran back into his own half, demanded the ball and moved forward to create chances. The other England footballers, while playing a decent game, were too focused on not making mistakes and staying within their zone. With Rooney in the number 10 role, I saw flashes of brilliance, which helped spur on Ashley Young and Danny Welbeck. Rooney is the glue that holds this team together. And with him in the side, it’s a completely different England. Even a rusty Wayne Rooney is a much-needed improvement over the tentative England side without him.

Going back to the identity crisis, do we as readers or fans know what style of football we want England to play? Can we all agree on it? Do we have a sense for what that looks like? Germany does. Spain does. France does. But England doesn’t. Is England’s style Hodgson’s style, even after another manager takes over from him in the future?

Some have argued that England’s style is what it is under Hodgson because English footballers aren’t technically gifted players. I would concur with that, to a degree. I don’t think English footballers are as bad as some critics would argue. They can play as well as most international footballers, but I agree that they aren’t in the same category as a Spain, Brazil or Germany. But what they lack in technical skill, they make up for it with their tenacity, desire to win and defensive skills. Hodgson is certainly playing to England’s strengths, but the attack-minded option hasn’t been fully developed yet. There are traces of it there, with Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s speed and innocence, but it’s still being nurtured. It’s definitely not the finished article.

Short term, England can keep on playing the football system that has worked so well for them. It’s effective, but it isn’t pretty on the eye, nor does it have to be. Long term, I believe England face an identity crisis. There’s no consensus on what it should be. There’s no clear vision. If, and it’s a big if, England can go on and get into the semi-finals or the final of Euro 2012, perhaps more people will agree that England’s method of playing football is their new identity. If so, Hodgson then has an opportunity to get the most of a new system by making the entire England set-up, from the youth players to the first team, play a certain brand of football that is English.

The US national team faces a similar dilemma. Ask 10 different experts about the team, and you’ll get 10 different opinions about how the United States should play its football. Association football has changed a great deal with globalization, and we’re only just beginning to feel the effects of it on the football pitch. England is making its own path. Not everyone likes it, but as long as it results in wins, then its the way forward – at least for the time being.

Finally, a word about luck. In the past 24 hours, I’ve heard the word mentioned several times when talking about England. I think it’s hogwash. England did not get a lucky break, or have luck on their side. They played to the best of their abilities and earned what they got. That the ball crossed the line but wasn’t called a goal was not luck. That was a poor decision by the officials (equally as poor as the missed offside just a few seconds before it). England deserved exactly what they got. John Terry running back to his line to clear the ball away from the goal was not luck. Either a team is good enough to win or it isn’t. Either a team takes their chances in front of goal, or they don’t. There is no place for luck in football. Luck, whether good or bad, is the stuff of fairytales.

15 thoughts on “England Faces an Identity Crisis at Home and Abroad During Euro 2012”

  1. i could not agree with you more.with the lack of success in the EUROS you would think all the fans would be over the moon but all we hear is how slow no goals and ugly football.give me a break enjoy your teams success and deal with it.some of these fans would bitch if they were hung with a new rope.

  2. Good article. To a certain extent it really doesnt matter what identity the fans or media decide on for this England team, Hodgson will be the one who will have to craft a team for 2014. I think that at the moment we look like a bunch of talented players (some more than others) who know what to do when they dont have the ball, but seem to struggle with what to do when they get it. Its like Hodgson said to himself – I have 4 weeks to prepare – lets make us hard to beat, then at least we have a chance.

    I have been really impressed with his substitutions and willingness to use the younger untried players. I think the low expectations, injury list and short preparation time have allowed Hodgson to be more adventurous with his selections without the potential backlash, and its worked so far.

    I might be wrong but I dont think the tactics so far have been as “park the bus” as they seem. We just revert to that as a default because it seems like we are unable to put more than 5 passes together. The few times we have put some good passes together we have created chances and looked dangerous, not just on the counter but also on the slow build up play. If we could manage to show some composure on the ball and a bit of movement off it, we might not have to defend for such long periods of time.

    I was scared coming into the tournament, not that we would go out in the group stages, because I was expecting that anyway. I was scared we would go out the same way we went out 2 years ago, with walcott or the ox not touching the ball, showing no passion or even looking like a team. Whatever happens against Italy at least we gave it a go.

  3. “Everybody hates us, but we don’t care should be the new motto for the England national team.”

    Sorry, you can’t have it. Stoke already own it. :-)

      1. scrumper,

        Thanks. I didn’t realize it was an actual line that had been previously used or attached to a club. Although, having done some research, it seems it was about the fans and not the team. Anyway, it reminded me of, “We’re Stoke and we play the way we want,” which I saw somewhere.


        Good article. They are what they are at this point. I would certainly like to see them be a bit more adventurous, but if they get too crazy, with the team they have, I feel they would get blown off the pitch. Hodgson is nothing if not pragmatic. This will work for now. Then we can see if he has any other vision for the team as he builds it for the WC.

  4. A win is a win and there’s no such thing as an ugly win. But Ukraine were the more threatening side in the match, England’s defense was under assault the whole match, better tighten up

    1. They had a nothing to lose mentality, it was win or bust. Plus when you’re playing in front of your home crowd it’s not easy for the other team. Ukraine gave it everything they had but when England scored the life seemed to drain out of them, game over from that point

  5. I get the overall message of the commentary but your emotionalism and hyperbole (not to mention self contradiction) are over the top. I’ve listened and read many Euro commentaries and yet to hear “everyone hates us” I’ve heard serious breakdowns of their tactics- and how it may hinder England down the road and the matches were not compelling from an excitement standpoint- as for luck I believe any rfeferences were to the goal that was disallowed. It certainly wasn’t bad luck that goal didn’t count. Me thinks you doth protest too much

  6. Nice article, I do disagree with the assertion that England are not capable of, or do not have the same technical ability as Brazilian, Spanish or German players. I think that the players selected in the current squad aren’t the best example of English players that are technically capable/gifted.

    An example of technical proficiency that comes to mind in the Premier league is Swansea, as you know Gaffer, they play a possession based game that requires high level of technical ability (great first touch, great vision, great passing skills, footwork/dribbling too name a few). With I think, 6 of Swansea’s starting 11 being English players and to be fair are still not exactly household names. (players at Man utd, Spurs, Man City, and Arsenal are also more technically inclined, but I’ll stay away from that for now 😉 )

    Players that are technically proficient in the england squad are Rooney, Welbeck, Young, Cole, Ox, Phil Jones, Defoe. So only 7 of a potential 11 picked by Roy I feel are technically proficient enough. Others I feel should be in the squad and some in the starting 11 would be Kyle Walker if fit, Andy johnson if picked, given the do-over I have to believe Roy would have taken him now, Frazier Campbell and Tom Cleverly round it out.

    So 9 outfield players that play today are capable of playing the fast paced, decisive, passionate, technical / beautiful football, we all want England to play.

    The real issue is, as you asserted the lack of “vision” from England managers have had since Glen Hoddle was in charge. I don’t see Roy employing their technical abilities in the same way at all.

    However, a few more coaching Badge’s under my belt and I will quite happily work my way up to give England or the US national team, (whoever comes first) that vision 😉

      1. No I think he means France. Almost the same team anyway. Besides, watching Spain only reminds us of what we are not and desperately want to be.

  7. This story is now very old and really does anyone care? The media run breathlessly from one silly story to another. If there’s no lurid tales of the WAG’s at the local disco its when will the first left hook be thrown in the French dressing room (getting close from what I understand) or the shock and horror of how the most unattractive side (this time England) is still in it. Personally I’m amazed the mish mash side England has is still there and in with a real chance of beating Italy.

    Piling on this tired story is like diving into a pool just as the water has drained out.

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