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Roy Hodgson, inevitably, carries the can. There was no way he could continue as England manager after the results and performances at Euro 2016 and he cannot escape the spotlight, but don’t for one moment think the players should escape liability.
t never is the players’ fault when England crash out of a competition, is it? It’s always the manager not listening or the facilities not being good enough or the climate was too hot or the officials made mistakes. But never the players. Absolutely not.
Well, it’s time to explode that myth. I was in South Africa in 2010. I heard all the complaints about Fabio Capello and his strict methods and all the grumblings about the base where we stayed in Sun City being too isolated. Do you know the truth? The complaints were bulls**t. We came home early because we were not good enough.
England deserved to go out then, just as we deserved to go out here. That weakness that runs through England squads is only getting worse and I was enraged by the way that team disintegrated when the stakes were rising.
Are Iceland’s players technically better than England? No.
I wouldn’t even say Italy, who have powered through to the quarter-finals, are technically superior to us. Emanuele Giaccherini, remember, had a spell at Sunderland but could not get a game. Graziano Pelle is leading Italy’s line but he wouldn’t have got in England’s 23.
So why are they dreaming of a potential date in the final while we are conducting a post-mortem? They are streetwise, they know how to deal with situations. Their defenders mark you so tight at set-pieces that it feels as if they are in your boots. They give cute fouls away. They know how to win.
Each man knows his job and what he is there to do, so the system never breaks down. Crucially, they don’t panic even when the pressure is intensifying. What do England do? Visibly shrink. I’ve never seen a starker example than against Iceland.
Plenty of critics have rounded on Hodgson for the first goal Iceland scored, the long throw from the right that caused chaos. The theory is England couldn’t have worked too hard on defending that tactic as Iceland struck gold with their first attempt.
Nonsense. Of course England had worked on it. Watch the replays again and you will see Harry Kane, our centre forward, running back from the halfway line to take a designated position to deal with what was coming.
But, inexplicably, Kyle Walker completely switches off and lets his man go. Could you imagine an Italian defender doing the same?
So why England? There was an absence of the TCUP, as Sir Clive Woodward calls it. Thinking Clearly Under Pressure. All sportsmen who play internationally are good but what sets the elite apart is to make the correct decision in the decisive moments.
England were confronted by three pressure situations in Euro 2016 and each time they cracked. The first was in the final 10 minutes against Russia, when they conceded an equaliser, the second was Iceland’s throw-in and the third was when they chased an equaliser against Iceland. They had 72 minutes to get one goal but failed because of stupid decisions, stupid shots and stupid passes.
To see it unfold was unbelievable. I include Hodgson in this because of his substitutions. Why didn’t he send Marcus Rashford on earlier? He put Jamie Vardy, his second change, on with 30 minutes to go but waited until the 86th minute to introduce Rashford.
Again, though, let’s not forget the role of the players. Why can’t the elite of English football cope with these moments? Is this what the academies are breeding? Players no longer think for themselves — ‘You didn’t ask me,’ is one of the most used sayings a coach or manager will hear.
In those moments, you can’t keep looking over to the bench for guidance or instructions. You make your own decisions. You shouldn’t need to be told ‘do it’ — it should just come naturally that you ‘do it’.
But this is where I lose patience and why I call some of the squad — I don’t believe it applies to the full group — too soft. They have been sheltered and the agents who have come into their lives have now almost assumed the roles of their mothers.
Do you remember what it was like when you played football as a kid? Your dad would tell you straight after a bad game how you played but your mum would always be there to say: ‘Don’t worry, don’t listen to it.’
The problem now is they have been hearing it for too long. It’s always someone else’s fault when they don’t produce — the coach picked the wrong team, someone played the wrong pass — so when I heard suggestions the senior players were unhappy with Hodgson’s training, I was incensed.
Why won’t they take responsibility? They live lives now with personal assistants, player liaison officers, nannies and agents organising every little detail for them. Some wouldn’t even know how to book a holiday or an appointment at the dentist for themselves.
It strips character. You can see that in the interviews they give. They are bland and sanitised and come across as if the answers have been rehearsed. There really is no point in watching them, as they are afraid of saying anything.
Will this situation change? I have my doubts. I went to a tournament in Barcelona with my son, who is 13, last year and watched his team play against some others from around Europe. Our kids wanted to pass the ball around, which was the same as their foreign counterparts.
The difference was the mind-set of doing things to win, knowing what to do, whether it was wasting time, sending balls long or making tactical fouls.
Mentality and character is perhaps the biggest thing in football. Does this generation love the game? I’m not sure. I’ve been to three tournaments with England. I heard players say they were bored when they were holed up at camp and had nothing to do.
Bored? There could be as many as three games on TV a day to watch. I wouldn’t miss one. I’d want to study future opponents or look at emerging talents but, more often than not, there would only be another two or three people watching with me. I can imagine that scene remains the same.
They lock themselves up in their own bubbles and then, when things go wrong, they retreat back into them to be told it wasn’t their fault. That is the Academy Generation. The generation that became too soft.
Who should be the next England manager? The three-man committee of Martin Glenn, Dan Ashworth and David Gill will answer that question in the coming weeks.
My own view is that international football should be about the best in your country against the best of someone else’s, so I had always favoured an Englishman but there can be no complaints if the FA look to a foreign coach.
With that in mind, I wouldn’t knock the idea of appointing Jurgen Klinsmann, who has been to a World Cup semi-final with Germany, a Copa America semi-final with the United States and knows our game.
I wrote a column in January 2014, revolving around Roy Hodgson, David Moyes and Brendan Rodgers. They occupied three of the biggest jobs in football — England, Manchester United and Liverpool — and I said they needed to be a success to help the prospects of future British coaches getting top positions.
That has not been the case, so if the FA look to cast their net further, there can’t be complaints, even from Alan Shearer, who wasted no time throwing his hat into the ring after claiming Hodgson was ‘tactically inept’.
Shearer’s patriotism is admirable but there is more to being a successful manager than just patriotism and emotion. Shearer, after all, will remember how, after acting on emotion when Newcastle called him in 2009, he failed to stop the club he has supported all his life being relegated.