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It's Time To Realize (Once Again) That England Is Rubbish

Wembley England v Montenegro (0-0) Euro 2012 Qualifying Group G 12/10/2010 Peter Crouch (England) complains to linesman Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Another England game and for many it leaves another feeling of slight depression.

Our response to the outcomes of football matches largely depends on what our expectations are. Hence, Scotland concede three at home and lose but come away feeling good about themselves because, in scoring twice and coming back from two nil down, they exceeded what they considered was likely or possible.

England, on the other hand, go into a game against Montenegro expecting an easy win and come away with a draw after a pedestrian performance. The press are tearing them to shreds again and no-one feels good about it at all.

It seems people never learn from the past. How many times does this have to happen before we will reset our England expectations? After every loss or every lack lustre performance, it is still said that England SHOULD be doing better than this. But why? It happens so often that it is obvious England’s mediocrity it is not a blip, it’s been this way for years and years. England occasionally play well, but mostly don’t. That is the long and bitter truth. Who can think otherwise?

So why is there a pre-game anticipation of anything else and why the post-match depression? Haven’t you been paying attention? Why did you think it would any different?

It matters not one jot that some England players play better for their clubs; that isn’t an excuse for thinking they will do as well for England. We have enough evidence garnered over many years to surely convince us all that for whatever reason, they probably will not play as well for England as for their clubs. We know that’s the truth, so why is it still a shock to some people?

And yet, like some weird kind of groundhog day, after every dull performance the English public and press is up in arms at the disgrace of being unable to beat a team that in truth most people knew nothing about and had formed a view of their quality based on almost nothing except that unfamiliarity. Time and again this happens; it’s like a mental illness, a form of madness.

I wouldn’t claim any special powers but even I, after four decades of watching the English do this to themselves, have stopped thinking we’ll be any good before the game and I have stopped the wailing and gnashing of teeth when we prove otherwise. This doesn’t take any wit or intelligence, it’s just recognition of what I’ve seen year in year out.

It doesn’t show lack of belief or ambition to think England won’t be that good, I want them to be and I know, now and again they will be, but I don’t expect it anymore. I expect games like the one we saw on Tuesday.

It’s disappointing that England are unexceptional but perhaps a more sane reaction would be to accept the fact, perhaps then the pressure of the players wouldn’t be so great and then perhaps, just perhaps, they could play with a degree more liberation.

We should all know that England’s problems are endemic and go right to the grass roots of the game, so please, let’s recognise that in our expectations of how the current squad will perform. Not to do so is simply perverse.

Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Football Swallowed Britain Whole” has received the massive honour of being listed as one of William Hill’s Sports Book Of The Year 2010 – the biggest, most prestigious sports books prize in UK.

Buy it here via Amazon US or Amazon UK.

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  1. farlieonfootie

    October 13, 2010 at 8:07 pm

    England was much too slow last night, completely off the pace required to open up the opposition, and gave Montenegro ample time to marshal their defense. It seemed as if England’s play took forever to develop, as they were unable to play the ballthrough mid-field quickly enough to open up attacking space. Semi-bright cameos from Ashley Young and Adam Johnson, but other than that a total disappointment — yet again.

  2. Shakira

    October 13, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    When England start playing like a team, realize they won’t win every tournament they are in, the English Media backs off the over hyping of average players THEN the English National Team will be a bit better. Very few of them look as if they care they are playing for their nation. England also needs to develop it’s youth technically and catch up. Until England realize the game has passed them by and change how they do things it will be the same song and dance for England every tournament or qualifying campaign.

  3. CA_backpacker

    October 13, 2010 at 2:15 pm

    People rightly expect better because England is able to draw on some of the best players in the world, who play in the best leagues in the world. But just because you can put on the pitch 11 top-notch players doesn’t mean you will have success. Look at the USA’s “Dream Team” basketball team who have had some pretty embarrasing performances and been beaten by “no names”.

    England needs some younger players with more pace who are going to buy into a system, sprinkled with the older leaders. When they put out their “experienced” line up they play together poorly and have no pace.

    • Sir Guy

      October 13, 2010 at 3:45 pm

      Well, you beat me to it, backpacker. I never understand why folks think that just because you put 11 all-stars together you are therefore guaranteed a great team….let alone a good one.

      Nor do I think it useful to point the finger at star players who seemingly don’t “show up” for the national side. The reason they are stars is because, on their club team, they are surrounded by players who facilitate their particular skills. Take them out of that environment and there are no guarantees whatsoever. Their performances may indeed be plebeian.

      I suppose that is why I am always a little disappointed in the selection of England’s team. It seems to be done on the basis of choosing a list of star players rather than a list of those players who might work together best, given the system of the coach. Is there really that much to be lost by thinking outside the box?

      Oh, well. Nobody asked me. I really never get over that one. 😉

  4. Phil Sandifer

    October 13, 2010 at 1:25 pm

    Much of this is the fact that the England team plays, in most years, a dozen or so games, and so every lackluster and pathetic draw’s a crisis. Meanwhile a team like Arsenal can enjoy a nice defeat at home to West Brom, while Man U chokes 2-2 against Bolton, and nobody gets too worked up about it.

    Let’s look at the last few England games as a whole.

    Wins against Mexico and Japan, each of whom advanced as far as England did in the World Cup.
    Draw against the USA, who again, advanced as far as England did.
    Draw against Algeria – OK, a crap result.
    Win against Slovenia, a pretty expected result given the above.
    Loss to Semi-finalists Germany. But if the World Cup showed one thing, it’s that nobody on the planet are favorites against Germany.
    Win against Hungary – to be expected.
    Win against Bulgaria – to be expected.
    Win against Switzerland – a pretty nice result. Of course, if we’d lost to Switzerland, the logical conclusion is that we’d win the World Cup.
    Draw against Montenegro – A meh result, but better than the loss to Algeria.

    These are not the results of a champion team, true. Then again, England clearly isn’t a champion team. But rubbish? That’s harsh. The sample size on international games is just too small to draw a conclusion like that.

    England are likely to make it to Euro 2012, and will, as usual, be considered serous contenders. Along with, as usual, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands. And as usual, at least five of those six favorites will lose.

    When you have two major tournaments in four years, and six contenders for one of them, plus another two at least for the other, unsurprisingly, a lot of good teams win zip.

    • Gaz Hunt

      October 13, 2010 at 2:04 pm

      Absolutely agree with you, Phil. Especially the point about even the top Premier League teams having a draw or even loss to a bottom of the table team.

      England aren’t crap – nor are they great. They are England.

      The quarter-finals is par and the semi-finals is a good performance. I expect squeaking by the qualifiers and group stage and hope for a win in the quarter-finals (but expect us to get kicked out by Germany at that point).

  5. Kris

    October 13, 2010 at 1:12 pm

    If you read and maybe believe the theories of Soccernomics, England should easily beat Montenegro. These expectations are not undeserved or unrealistsic. According to Soccernomics, cold hard stats show 3 things can be used to project the winner of an international match….population, GDP, and experience. England is vastly larger, richer and more experienced. They should beat Montenegro.

    What is ridiculous is the expectation of England to win the World Cup and other major international competitions. Bigger, richer, and equally experienced countries will, on average, beat England.

    Trust the numbers.

    • snavehtrebor

      October 13, 2010 at 2:38 pm

      I haven’t read Soccernomics but it would appear the Chinese would be favorites in every international match, as they dominate (nearly) every other country in the first two criteria. England is vastly larger and richer than the Netherlands too, with arguably more experience, but would you favor the Three Lions in a matchup? Same goes for Portugal, Denmark, Belgium, Czech Republic, Sweden, Uruguay, etc. Conversely, the US has the right GDP and population but I wouldn’t favor them (us) against any of those I’ve just mentioned.

      • Sir Guy

        October 13, 2010 at 3:25 pm

        Agreed. Soccernomics may be an interesting book, but in terms of its Nostradamus factor, it is rubbish.

        World soccer powers:
        1. China
        2. USA

        Ummm….never mind. Not this century. Not next.

        • Mark

          October 13, 2010 at 11:34 pm

          You missed/conveniently chose to ignore the third factor of experience, as in how many games of significance have the teams played over the years. China and the US are not traditionally footballing countries, hence what they have in population and GDP they lack in experience. Its also this factor that gives the Netherlands the edge over England etc..

          • snavehtrebor

            October 14, 2010 at 7:48 am

            And how, exactly, did the Dutch come to play more “games of significance” over the years?

  6. warren

    October 13, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    England is rubbish? No – just ask Welsh fans.

    There’s nothing wrong in having high expectations; they’re close cousins to hope after all. In fact, you might say they’re a necessary part of being a fan/supporter. The sentiments expressed in this article are as typical after a disappointing England performance as the high expectations are prior to the game. All or nothing – a kind of journalistic yin yang.

    • The Gaffer

      October 13, 2010 at 12:21 pm

      Thanks Warren for rubbing it in. As a Welsh fan, it’s been a depressing week to say the least. That said, I still have faith in Brian Flynn but he can only do as well as he can with the cards that he has been dealt. Lots of injuries to key players.

      The Gaffer

      • warren

        October 13, 2010 at 12:31 pm

        Sorry Gaffer, nothing personal! Just trying to get a bit of perspective 😉

        I suppose I could have said just ask Andorra, San Marino, Faroe Islands ….

        • The Gaffer

          October 13, 2010 at 12:37 pm

          No offence taken. And your point is a good one.

          The Gaffer

  7. Tom Hingley

    October 13, 2010 at 11:44 am

    I’m unsure of the point the author is trying to make?

    Is he trying to say England can’t/shouldn’t expect to beat Montenegro?

    I agree that English national football is mediocre at the moment, but even at its absolute worst, I can’t really see the problem in a country of 51 million expecting to beat a country of 650,000.

    Hardly incisive journalism is it?

    • tony

      October 13, 2010 at 2:24 pm

      I’m completely lost on what the size of the country has to do with it ? Montenegro is a solid team, has not lost a game, rarely concedes goals and set themselves up completely defensively. Any team would struggle. Every international calendar is filled with small, defensive minded, countries drawing, winning or losing 1-0 to the “powers”

  8. Charles

    October 13, 2010 at 11:40 am

    I agree with Rob. As an American I am seeing players from all over the world come into the Premiership to gain the experience. Now they return to their national teams to apply what they’ve learned. Here in the states we have watched several of our players who have “studied aboard” bring tangible assets back to the national team. Compare it to a copyright that has expired and now the world can create their own using the EPL as a template. In my opinion of course.

  9. Jon Sharp

    October 13, 2010 at 11:32 am

    Hope springs eternal – that’s why the inevitable gnashing of teeth. England is an unpredictable side – beating Switzerland one day (who beat Spain in the World Cup) and drawing with Montenegro the next. But really how poor was England’s performance? I too felt very disappointed at half time at the pedestrian pace and lack of goals, but then watched the first half highlights and was surprised to be reminded of a few good England chances that they simply failed to convert. Montenegro did nothing but defend (which they did well). Contrasting this with the vastly more entertaining Spain/Scotland game I was struck by the fact that Spain squandered even more chances than England (credit to McGreggor and the Scottish defense tho’). The differnce was that Spain manufactured twice as many – and (imho) got lucky with a penalty.
    Spain’s (and Scotland’s) sense of urgency in getting the ball into dangerous parts of the pitch seemed only to occur to England in the last 10 mins after Davies came on.

  10. Tony

    October 13, 2010 at 10:34 am

    Anyone who thought of Montenegro as an easy game was not watching properly. They have won 3/3 and are perfectly set to frustrate a team. The only real question was whether England could break them down, they got close in the second half and looked decent to me but just didn’t get the breaks.

    I think it’s all too easy to have inflated expectations then blame the team when they are not met. There is no reason at this point to expect England to be a top team in the world + if you check other results in the qualifiers all the major teams stumble here and there.

  11. rob

    October 13, 2010 at 10:00 am

    Good article, great topic. However in fairness England will always have high expectations. They are one of the leaders of europe and are expected to do well in all aspects of life and on the pitch.

    The EPL is one of the fiercest most competitive league of the world. The players are very talented and although they don’t all come from England we still expect the national team to do very well.

  12. japaneseink

    October 13, 2010 at 9:09 am

    Very well stated. This can be applied to any sports team though. Honestly expectations for England are always high like you pointed out. In this case I agree they are way too high for this team. Take the strikers for example. I am a Spurs fan and Crouch has many attempts in games that he more often than not misses. This is not to say he is not a good player but their are better finishers in the world. Rooney has been struggling since before the world cup. It isn’t a far stretch to understand whey England had a hard time scoring yesterday. And finally give the keeper for the other team some credit. Good piece.

  13. lefthog

    October 13, 2010 at 8:48 am

    The funny thing about this is the feeling of superiority of the public (particularly the so called pundits) and the immense inferiority complex of the team.

    spot on article

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