Lions to the Slaughter?

So the draw’s a tough one then. England face a huge task in the group stages at next summer’s World Cup finals in Brazil. Beforehand manager Roy Hodgson was keen to point out that who they were drawn to play wasn’t as important as the location the games would take place in. Depressingly for England, they seem to have struck out on both counts, but no matter, you have to meet and beat the best if you have winning aspirations.

And so to the question; do England have a chance of winning the World Cup? No, they don’t, not really. They have a swinger’s chance of course, but only a tiny one, the sort of chance someone who urges you to buy a lottery ticket would give you (you have to be in it to win it). But still, let’s not be sour. There are 180+ countries in the world who really do have zero chance, and England aren’t one of them.

The truth is, our national team is still plagued by ordinariness. God knows how many years since ‘you know when’, we look as far away as ever from returning to the fold of the world’s elite football nations. One can’t help but think a huge part of the problem is a lack of purpose, an absence of any real national identity of what we’re supposed to be as a footballing nation. The history thing cuts no ice any more. It’s the 21st century and we’re still clod hopping around like Victorians.

A lack of forward thinking manifests itself beautifully in the way we select our national manager. Far too often it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction, an antidote appointment against the previous incumbent. Thus back in the 1970s in Ron Greenwood (and not Brian Clough) we had the anti-Don Revie manager, the man of integrity replacing the outgoing bounder. Later, Glenn Hoddle’s arrogant aloofness was replaced by Kevin Keegan’s heart-on-the-sleeve passion long enough only for us to re-interpret this passion as acute tactical naivety. Time to call in Sven Goran Eriksson then, a savvy, sophisticated Eurocrat, and a counter to the homespun nonsense. Then it was Steve McLaren, because what we really needed was an Englishman after all. Next, Fabio Capello, another erm, sophisticated, foreign coach. No hang on, we should’ve stayed English, so enter Roy Hodgson.

The suspicion of Hodgson’s appointment is that he got the gig by default. In short, he wasn’t Harry Redknapp, previously thought to be a shoe in for the job but who dramatically became too iffy, what with his alleged tax-dodging and general all round shiftiness. It’s the Revie-Clough-Greenwood scenario all over again. Meanwhile nothing that actually matters changes.

No amount of ‘root and branch’ reviews, committees or initiatives ever achieves anything because the Premier League and its money men still hold sway. The people who can actually affect change don’t want it so the things that need to alter stay the same, or actually get worse.

And yet, perhaps in their bungling ineptitude the FA blazers have got it right this time in Hodgson. After all, even a broken clock is right twice a day. It’s possible we could fail to win the World Cup without embarrassing ourselves. Perhaps we’ll look like an honest team that’s just not all that good as opposed to a team full of hateful half-wits with ridiculously bloated attention seeking egos.

A strange thing happened during last summer’s Euros in Poland and Ukraine. I found myself not hating the England team. I even began to quite like some of the players. We weren’t good enough sure, but there was at least a sense that the players realised their limitations and had decided that instead of pissing around they’d have a bit of a go. There was the semblance of genuine team spirit, and evidence of some kind of system or plan being worked to. It could all go to mush next summer (I’m not holding my breath) but Roy Hodgson’s brand of dull, anti-charismatic, ‘we’re not very good are we‘, patter may be just what we’ve needed all these years.

As the man correctly stated, who we have to play isn’t really the point. Even less is it about location, location, location. Many of us disaffected fans would settle for not feeling humiliated by those wearing the three lions. To leave the field after the first game against Italy without having the rest of the world pointing and laughing would be a good first step in winning us over. Who knows what can spring from that? One thing’s for sure, ultimately there really is no chance of long term change if nobody gives a damn.


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