The main purpose of this column is to let you know that England are on television this weekend. So with that in mind, England will be on ITV on Sunday, as they play away in Slovakia. With coverage starting at 16:30 and the game kicking off at 17:00. Job done. But this lackadaisical approach to writing a column, mirrors the way that most people feel after the disastrous reigns of Roy Hodgson, Fabio Capello, and Steve McLaren. For a country that is obsessed about its own domestic league, and lauds it as the best in the world, England have fallen far down the list of priorities.
This is not for a lack of trying on the part of the nation. Going into Euro 2016, it seemed that England were finally of an age where they could compete. Undefeated throughout qualifying, having won all 10 games, a squad full of young English players who’d had stellar seasons for their domestic clubs. The England Euro 2016 squad had the Premier Leagues 2 top scorers (Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy) and the young player of the year (Dele Alli). But as always England let themselves, and the country, down again.
Quite clearly, England’s best performance of Euro 2016 was against Russia. The 4-3-3 system seemed to allow the players the freedom that their clubs afforded them to succeed, and they dominated. 15 shots towards the Russian goal, the lion’s share of possession, and a wonder strike from Eric Dier. However a 92nd minute Russian equaliser, soon brought about the feeling of same old England. A 2-1 victory over the Welsh was a fleeting moment of nationalistic pride. The Welsh, seemingly learnt from the result, and made sure they qualified top of the group with a convincing 3-1 victory over Russia. In the other fixture in Group B, Roy Hodgson decided qualifying top of the group wasn’t necessary and made 6 changes from the team that won against the Welsh. England ended up drawing 0-0, with the opponents they face on Sunday, Slovakia. Ensuring England would face Iceland in the next round. Then this happened…..
England were humbled and humiliated by Iceland, a country with roughly a tenth of the population of London. This writer has watched some truly abysmal performances from England over the years, but this one topped the lot. Devoid of any tactical nuance, and looking to a manager who was clearly in well over his head, England limped out of Euro 2016. With this being the straw that broke the camel’s back for this writer. This same writer, who delayed his English Literature A-level exam by 10 minutes so he could see the conclusion of the Brazil England game during the World Cup of 2002, checked out on that day. Along with the entire nation.
Following Roy Hodgson’s quick exit at the conclusion of the Iceland game, with some speculating that Hodgson had complied the resignation speech before kick-off, England have turned to “Big” Sam Allardyce to restore some pride to the England team.
Allardyce has long been offending football’s style council for the way he organises his teams. In the past mangers such as Arsene Wenger, and Jose Mourinho have lamented the way Allardyce has organised his teams to get a result. “Big Sam” has long been touting his own abilities to have a top job in English football. His record of keeping every club he has manged in the Premiership in said competition, is one he should be proud of. Especially when you consider where some of these clubs ended up after Allardyce left. With both Newcastle and Blackburn Rovers being relegated within 2 years of his departure. Allardyce once famously stated he should be managing the likes of Inter Milan and Real Madrid, saying back in 2010
“It wouldn’t be a problem to me to go and manage those clubs because I would win the Double or the league every time.
“Give me Manchester United or Chelsea and I would do the same, it wouldn’t be a problem. It’s not where I’m suited to, it’s just where I’ve been for most of the time. It’s not a problem to take me into the higher reaches of the Champions League or Premier League and would make my job a lot easier in winning it.”
Allardyce now has his chance to prove he belongs amongst the upper echelon with the job he described as “The best job in English football” But what do we know of what Allardyce is going to bring to the table? His squad, bar one session, have been training behind closed doors all week, and he declined the option to have a friendly on Thursday night at Wembley. Preferring to spend more time with his players working on a plan for victory in Slovakia.
Allardyce has stated that he will not include players, in his squad, who are not playing regularly for their clubs. This policy has seen Jack Wilshire, and one of the few bright points from Euro 2016, Marcus Rashford dropped. Yet Chris Smalling, and Joe Hart have been retained. Fears that Allardyce would give starts to his old boys club, were quickly dashed. With only the induction of West Ham midfielder Michail Antonio, the only new addition to England’s squad in Allardyce original squad (Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCartney has since replaced the injured Fraser Forster) Allardyce has also stated that he will look to go the route of the English cricket team, by trying to get players who qualify to play for England due to living in the country for 5 years or more. With Allardyce appealing for Steve N’Zonzi to turn out for the 3 lions (N’Zonzi has a French under-21 cap and cannot do so)
During media appearances this week Allardyce spoke of the importance to entertain:
“It’s about winning and entertaining – particularly at Wembley, entertaining the fans is very, very important,” he said.
“Maybe sometimes we have to dig one out here and there – let’s be resilient and tough. And let’s do what we need to do to get the result, something like Manchester United against Hull City. It all feels so good when you win it like that.
“Hopefully we don’t have to do too many like that but it feels nice when that happens.”
However these quotes lend credence to the fact that Allardyce will be looking to win whatever the style he instructs his players to employ. Backed up by Adam Lallana in his press conference with the media when he stated that Allardyce has said “He spoke to us about wanting to win, which is quite simple really,” Before getting the fans back on side, the biggest challenge facing Allardyce will be in galvanising a group of players so burnt by their experience at the Euros. None of those who spoke to the media at St George’s Park this week were able to offer an explanation for the collective malfunction against Iceland.
In theory England should qualify from this group, their toughest test will most likely be this Sunday, with a fairly straight forward qualifying group that includes an auld enemy derby with Scotland. England, to their credit, have made qualifying their expertise. It is when they get to the final of a major tournament that the “same old England” routine sets in. The question is can Allardyce get this columnist and the rest of the nation to care again? Time will only tell.
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By Rich Lee @RichLee2202