Jamie Carragher has praised England’s displays at Euro 2016 – but feels they lack the world-class ‘game changer’ required to push them on to glory.
Roy Hodgson has come in for a barrage of criticism in the media after England’s 0-0 draw with Slovakia – in which he made six changes – left the Three Lions second in Group B behind Wales.
England will learn their last-16 opponents later on Wednesday, but Carragher – writing in his Daily Mail column – feels England might just come up a little short, despite finding room to praise their “honest, hardworking” performances.
‘If I asked you to think of the game changers at Euro 2016, the men who will make something happen to transform a contest, who would you pick?
‘Dimitri Payet would not be too far from many lips, given his heroics for France against Romania and Albania. Andres Iniesta, Spain’s conductor-in-chief, would have his backers, as would Gareth Bale, the tournament’s joint-leading scorer. Those three players would be quickly and easily named.
‘Now if I asked the same question just about Roy Hodgson’s squad, who would you pick? In those tight games, when you are looking for someone with experience of the biggest stage to step forward, which one of the 20 outfield players could transform England’s fate?
‘It’s not so easy, is it? This, it should be pointed out, is not a criticism of any of England’s squad. There was not too much wrong with any of the performances in Group B: they were honest, hardworking and between the penalty areas, in the main, they were excellent at keeping possession.’
Carragher feels a lack of goals is also a concern for England – and he also feels a lack of experience of Champions League football in the squad could be crucial.
‘True, they haven’t scored enough goals for the amount of shots they have had — I raised my concerns about this topic on these pages two weeks ago — but I can’t think of too many misses in the games against Russia, Wales and Slovakia that could be described as being ‘sitters’.
Daniel Sturridge’s failure to connect with a brilliant ball from Eric Dier on Monday night was perhaps the most glaring but the chances that Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli failed to convert after being played in by Jordan Henderson were not straightforward.
What is becoming more and more obvious, though, is the lack of Champions League pedigree our players have. The top performers polish their reputations in that competition and international tournaments such as these and know what is required to win the tight games.
England game changers?
‘England are missing someone to make a difference in the way Iniesta provided a wonderful ball for Gerard Pique in Spain’s opening game against the Czech Republic or Kevin De Bruyne came to life for Belgium and tore the Republic of Ireland to shreds last Saturday.
‘Payet has sparkled for France but, against Albania, they even had the luxury of being able to turn to Antoine Griezmann — a top-class forward who changed the game with a crucial goal and secured the hosts their place in the knockout stages.
‘Then there is Bale. I wrote a column in October saying he could end up being remembered as one of Great Britain’s greatest ever players, in the realms of George Best, Kenny Dalglish and Sir Bobby Charlton. At the end of this tournament, his place in that group will be secure.
‘Bale has won another Champions League since then — he was Real Madrid’s best player in the San Siro against Atletico Madrid — and he has three goals in his first three games at a major tournament.
‘People were saying he hadn’t played well in the first two matches but that’s what sets the best apart — making an impact when they are below their standard. Look around the tournament and you will see players who you know have a big moment waiting to happen. Germany have got Mesut Ozil, who you know will deliver. Luka Modric has done it for Croatia already. These are the A-game players.
‘Who is going to do that for England?’