England exited the Euro 2016 tournament at the first knockout round stage last night. While that in itself is not the most necessarily dishonorable, it is the manner of their departure that has made the nation the laughing stock of the footballing world.
A 2-1 loss to minnows Iceland despite leading just three minutes into the game is the kind of story that goes down in sporting folklore, with the Three Lions set to be the butt of many jokes for years to come. Not since the 1-0 loss to the USA in the 1950 World Cup has England so spectacularly crashed and burned.
Roy Hodgson’s hasty exit stage left seemed pre-rehearsed and convenient. There are plenty of fingers to be pointed and questions to be asked of his management, and the man not accountable any more. His questionable squad selection, obstinate tactical decisions and overall defensive demeanor all culminated in making a mockery of the Premier League, where all 23 players in his squad ply their trade, and a League that tries to sell itself as the best in the world.
From an Everton perspective, four players have been involved in the national setup leading up to this season. Leighton Baines had an underwhelming 2015-16 season, blighted by injury and loss of form led to his being dropped from the England setup, and understandably so. Club captain Phil Jagielka not being selected to the team made much less sense. Despite the Blues’ abysmal defensive record during the last two seasons, Jags for the most part kept his reputation intact, trying to stem a tidal wave on his own like an English Moses.
Hodgson’s persistence with Chris Smalling and Gary Cahill smacked of the stubbornness that has characterized his tenure, despite the utter inability of either to play a pass longer than ten feet ahead of them. Quite how the English management watched Leonardo Bonucci play without spontaneously bursting into flames we will never know. If only England had someone like that they could turn to.
But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks? John Stones, you don’t say! The youngster has made striding forward with composure and distributing the ball efficiently his calling card, and would have been the perfect choice to link the defence and a midfield that had no identity of its own.
Which is where the fourth Blue would have made a difference. Ross Barkley and Stones were the only two outfield players in the Three Lions squad to not get a single minute of play in the competition.
The fanciful fantasy of Hodgson using Wayne Rooney as a deep-lying playmaker aside, the squad badly needed a player that would run at the defence, creating gaps that would allow players to run into. Instead we were treated to scenes of Roberto Martinez-esque football where the ball got pingponged around the middle of the park until out of sheer boredom someone finally lunked it forward for someone else to chase. Might as well as gone Route A and hoofed it forward from the backline, bypassing a mostly ineffective midfield.
There is no doubting that there are plenty of talented English players. But it’s been decades since the sum of the parts have been greater than a whole for England. The key missing element has been a lack of teamwork, or a manager that could coax the best out of the players selected to wear the national team’s colours.
One of Hodgson’s favourite excuses has been that as a national team coach he doesn’t have enough time to train with this players. Then you watch managers like Antonio Conte mercilessly drill his severely limited squad to perform intricate actions repeatedly until they make the right turns in their sleep, and you realize that Hodgson’s biggest weakness has been his lack of spine to hold his prima donnas accountable.
We should all be grateful that none of the Everton players in the England setup will be daubed with the shameful paintbrush that Hodgson wielded so clumsily at the Euro 2016.