England football team relegated to the wilderness

November 29, 2007

The consequences of England’s defeat to Croatia last week go far beyond mere failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships. That particular unedifying result has consigned our national football team to the sporting wilderness. We will be frozen out for years. Hasta la vista, England.

Maybe you’re thinking this is just a blip. After all, we’ve missed out on qualification for major tournaments before and bounced back. You might be forgiven for imagining we need only pick a manager a bit better than the last one and we’ll storm back for the 2010 World Cup.

steve mcclaren

Maybe not so easy this time. We saw the impact of the loss to Croatia almost immediately. That result affected our position in the world rankings so the following Sunday, when the draw for the World Cup qualification rounds was made in Durban, we were not one of the top 9 seeded countries allocated to the 9 European qualifying groups. Our top seed status had gone to Greece. To qualify for the World Cup finals we now have to come top in a group including Croatia (again), as the top seeded country, or finish second and win a play-off against another team finishing in second place in their group.

How good are our chances? We were well behind Croatia’s standard in the European qualification group and have a lot of catching up to do. If the best we can manage is second (which is not itself a given), we are still likely to be facing a tough play-off. Would we come through that? We bottled it against Croatia last week, despite having been given an unlikely and undeserved second chance courtesy of Israel.

On balance, I am not at all confident we will make the 2010 World Cup. If we fail again, our world ranking will tumble further and qualifying for Euro 2012 will become harder still. Is it my imagination or are we staring into the abyss?

To stave that off we have to pull off a miracle, beat the odds and qualify for the 2010 World Cup. That means finding a new England coach who truly has what it takes to turn the ship around. What hope of that?

Brian Barwick is still there at the helm for the FA. The man who botched the job last time around. Admittedly, last time the FA found themselves (through their own mishandling of Sven Goran Eriksson’s departure) having to make an appointment in a hurry. This time they have all the time in the world so it should be easier.

Except that, as a legacy of the previous England manager appointment process, some of the best candidates are already out of the frame. How likely that Felipe Scolari might reconsider, or Martin O’Neill, after the way they were treated by Barwick in the past?

There is another factor that will put many of the best candidates off. Taking on the England job is looking a less and less attractive proposition. Particularly in the aftermath of the McClaren sacking, the job is looking ever more like a recipe for having to live with intolerable pressure of expectation, incessant intrusion from the media and the real risk of it all ending in career-limiting reputational damage.

The best job in football? Ask Graham Taylor, or Steve McClaren. Terry Venables did not benefit from being put under the spotlight, nor Glen Hoddle. The same is true of Sven. He has landed up in a reasonable position with Manchester City, after a while out of football, but still his stock has fallen considerably.

And all this despite being blessed with the “golden generation” of players. More like the iron pyrites generation. What about the next generation, the one we need to be platinum to get us out of this rut? All we hear is that English talent is being squeezed out of the Premiership by the influx of foreign stars. We get the best league in the world, but at the expense of our national team. Add to that the fact we have totally failed to grasp the nettle when it comes to sorting out football at the grass roots, creating the academies to teach our best young prospects the footballing techniques to complement their natural skills and turn them into future world-beaters. Our next generation of England footballers will probably be the plastic generation.

One possible opportunity to claw our way back into the bigtime might be to land the privilege of hosting the 2018 World Cup. Our chances looked quite decent until recently, but now…

It’s a horrible snowball effect, set in train by that awful “sliding doors” moment when we thought Crouch’s equaliser had saved the day, took our foot off the gas and invited Croatia on to us, setting the scene for their deserved winner.

And all this doom and gloom is just the impact of the Croatia defeat on our footballing prospects. Add the social and economic impact of England’s exclusion from forthcoming major football tournaments and the picture is even worse.

This time we do have to get the right manager. This time the FA must be professional, take their time, ignore the media, get the right man. This time, the FA must secure the investment to reorganise football at the grass roots and upwards.

This time. Because we might be in the wilderness for 40 years before the next time.

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  1. Thanks ‘gunnerp.

    Interesting comments by Sven here.

    “But to be the England manager you must win every game, not do anything in your private life and hopefully not earn too much money.

    They are the only qualities you need and if you have those, you are perfect.”

    Glad to know he’s not feeling sore or anything.

    • Sven was wrong. Capello was the right choice (for once). He has won every game that matters and hasn’t attracted attention with his behaviour outside football with the result that no-one cares what he earns.

  2. Some great points well made.

    Having clumsily appointed McClaren under hasty conditions, It’ll be interesting to see how Barwick handles this one.

    More time, less urgency. A clearer, calmer approach? I very much doubt it.

    Check out my new blog, there’s a certain amount of congruence between them.

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