What can the Football Association learn from another shambolic tournament performance from England? Derek Bilton explains.
“Dream. Don’t be afraid to dream. Four years ago we were so far from this. If you work hard enough and are not afraid to fail. We deserve this.” So said Chris Coleman live on TV just minutes after Wales’ astonishing 3-1 win over Belgium to see them into the semi-finals of Euro 2016. It was an impassioned speech delivered from the heart by one of football’s genuine good guys. The ‘not afraid to fail’ quote got me thinking. Thinking about England and how their campaign had ended ignominiously once again. 50 years of hurt. And counting.
Former skipper Steven Gerrard last week spoke of a “culture of fear” within the England set up and I would go along with that. I can barely remember a worse England showing than the collective second-half shift they put in against Iceland. Nobody wanted the ball – and we are talking about experienced international footballers here – or dared to take the game by the scruff of the neck. And the reason for that might be because with every passing minute those players knew they were edging closer and closer towards a tumultuous media backlash should they lose. The sun tans picked up during a glorious summer spent training and playing in France began to fade as lavishly paid professional footballers became pale, nervous and skittish. An essential aspect of creativity is surely after all not being afraid to fail?
Would Michelangelo have painted the Sistine Chapel if he was scared of getting paint on the Vatican floor? But the burden of expectation and a “culture of fear” are not the only reasons why England bombed again. It runs much deeper. For a start I feel the Three Lions are over-complicating their preparation. Was it really necessary to take a staff of well over 60 – not including the 23-man squad and Roy Hodgson himself – to their base in Chantilly? Preparations were said to be meticulous with psychiatrists, nutritionists and various other ‘ists’ on board to help England get it right.
The FA took a 72-strong entourage out to Brazil two years ago and look what happened there. England were out of the World Cup before most of the party had time to check in, find their rooms and have a shower. By having so many staff, and as a consequence so many different opinions, you run the risk of confusing things. Rather than galvanising it can detract from the main aim, which in England’s case was to win football matches. Hodgson certainly had the air of a confused soul throughout the tournament, abandoning a system that saw his team win 10 straight qualifiers going into the Championships in favour of, well I’m still not quite sure what. And with disastrous consequences.
Hodgson looked weary, irritated and old throughout England’s stay at the Championships. There was a prickly arrogance attached to most of his press conferences and his decision to go for a boat ride on the River Seine instead of taking in Iceland’s final group clash with Austria in the flesh just about sums things up.
Wales’ smaller support team has unquestionably helped them bond. Coleman has been convivial with the press with a smile that would make him a net contributor to the national grid never far from his lips. As a consequence the Welsh players have noticeably grown in confidence as this tournament has progressed. Where this team is concerned it is clear the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Their collective display against Belgium after falling behind was truly, truly remarkable.
Now don’t get me wrong they’ve hardly turned up in France in just their kits, shin pads and a packed lunch apiece. There is a professionalism surrounding this Wales squad but without the bloated staff or elitist attitude that England find necessary to take to major tournaments. If the FA learn anything from this latest international debacle it should be that sometimes a meal is as good as a feast.