England, out of the European Cup

We’ve been asking for it for years, and there was certain inevitability about the disaster on Wednesday night that is almost comforting. It’s almost as we’ve finally been put out of our misery after years of suffering and abuse, safe in the knowledge that it’s going be at least a year before we have to put ourselves at risk of such humiliation again.

I think Wednesdays defeat to Croatia was a culmination of events – Injuries, a bad playing surface, some naive goalkeeping and a general lack of confidence all contributed. These aren’t excuses, England were beaten on the night by a better team, playing better football with a superior mindset. Croatia came for a game of football and took it to England, outplaying them both technically and mentally with guile and spirit.

Good luck to them too, they deserve everything they get.

And what of Steve Mclaren? For some reason I feel a little sorry for the bloke, although for the life of me I don’t know why for he doesn’t deserve my pity, and he certainly hasn’t earnt it either.

He was out of his depth from the start, even with my merge knowledge of the game I could see the ineptitude lurking behind the stupid grin and blow dried hair. A good domestic coach maybe, but a manager at international level is a different game altogether, we know what it takes and we knew from the outset that Mclaren didn’t have what was required. But the Football Association employed him anyway, an appointment made in haste, under pressure to employ an Englishmen.

It was a gamble that didn’t pay off.

Talking of which, it looks like he’ll be getting a nice big one too, no doubt running into millions so maybe I don’t feel sorry for him. If he was any kind of man he would have walked away from the job last night, proving that it‘s not about the money and in doing so saving the game, and himself, a little face. But no, he’s greedy, and the country’s lasting memory of him will be of a man hopelessly outclassed, stood on the touchline sheltering his blow dried under an umbrella.

The buck stops with the manager but there are other factors to consider here also, not least the players themselves. I’ve always defended football players in terms of what they earn and how they behave, most criticism being easily answerable as intellectual or class snobbery. And Wednesday night didn’t change my mind, I still saw eleven blokes trying as hard as they could to win a football match against all odds. The charge that anyone representing their country at its national sport wouldn’t have the desire to win is absurd, the sort of comment that screams regularly from the Daily Mail, lapped up its badly dressed readership. As stupid as the idea those results will improve if they earn less.

The skill is there, we see it week in week out and we saw glimpses of it on Wednesday night, the Beckham and Crouch link up being a good example. But maybe England can’t function without the flair and technical skill of foreign players, or maybe they’re not being led and motivated properly at managerial level. A player can only do so much, the shaping of the team is up to the boss, as it is in any organisation.

So what next? We need a European manager with strategic intellect and skill, that much is clear. It would be good also to see someone inject some passion into the team from the touchline, in the pouring rain if need be.

For me, it has to be Jose Mourinho

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