Just remount (picture of lass getting back on horse)...
Take her back to the beginning (picture of lass on horse about to approach the same jump again)...
And make her do it again’ (picture of lass standing waist deep in the same water with the same horse peering blankly at her from the other side of the fence)
|[It's not quite this one but you get the idea!]|
And so it is with England and penalty kicks. This is eight out of nine spot-kick defeats in major tournaments. The idea that the latest one is ameliorated by Italy’s utter domination of the match itself means bugger-all. We’re owed one by now. Italy have a dreadful record in shoot-outs and even they turned us over.
Hodgson was quick to praise his players for effort, and who could disagree? If there’s one thing Englishmen could teach the rest of the football world it’s how to throw yourself bodily in front of piledriving 25-yarders and still stagger back to their feet to take some more. Scott Parker has been less a footballer and more a walking game of Pong.
But that sort of reckless derring-do doesn’t win football matches. Simple things do. Like passing to a team-mate. Who passes it to another one. Who passes it to another one. Now, it’s not necessary to be so good at this that, like Spain, you become a FUCKING BORE, but it would be nice to keep it long enough to get into the opposition half.
It does seem faintly ridiculous, some twenty years after Graham Taylor’s woeful and inept England team, so devoid of technique that Carlton Palmer made it into the starting eleven, that we are still producing football teams that treat a football like it’s a live explosive.
It’s not Hodgson’s fault. Indeed, he recognised that our boys would spend most of the match trying bloody hard to get the ball back off better footballers and set up his teams accordingly. Supposedly our most gifted player, Wayne Rooney couldn’t have had a less certain first touch if he’d have been wearing flippers. Roy’s diligent faith in Ashley Young was nonplussing by the end. Young should not have been on the pitch to miss a penalty. He’s a lad with, apparently, a lot of ability, but like Wazza, he tends to hide his light under the largest bushel in the universe.
Now, on the bright side, the team were well-organised and did as well as could be expected. There are some players who truly cemented their places: Glen Johnson was very good; Hart will be there until he wants to leave; Welbeck looked the part; and the likes of Gerrard, Terry and Cole played reliably and in the skipper’s case, very well. However them last three aren’t the answer any more.
I have a blue print for the future of England foot ball and it is this:
1. Practise penalties. I don’t buy this frigging argument that it’s a ‘lottery’. If it was England would win the odd one. If that’s what constitutes a lottery we’d all be fucking millionaires by now and Camelot would be out with the begging bowl like a bunch of buggering bankers.
2. When children learn how to play football, let them have a football to learn with. Don’t spend half-an-hour making the poor sods do sprints and stretches and all that shit. If they want that they can do athletics, right? The football is their friend, not the big bloody sphere that gets in the way.
3. When children reach ten years of age, don’t make them play on a full-size pitch. If you do that, the most important player on the park becomes the big dozy lunk who can hoof it down their end. And yes, believe it or not boys and girls, that’s where English centre-halves are born. Keep them on dinkier pitches where control and retention of the ball is a GOOD THING.
4. Do a Germany. Handpick some very good young players and blood them now. As a unit. I’m talking about Rodwell, Wilshere, Sturridge, Walker, Jones, Smalling, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Carroll... there are probably others. Tell em, you’re the team that will be playing for England in 2014, 2016, 2018. (Stevie, it’s been lovely but you’ve never quite lived up to the billing. JT, when you’re released maybe you take an advisory role.) Lamps, good luck on the sofas of punditry. And we stick by this pool of players, and we let ‘em be a bit shit for a while.
5. The media is never again to be permitted to display any optimism whatsoever. Who the hell built this team up just cos they scraped, admirably, past three ordinary teams deserves shooting. There were pigeons, domestic pets, hell even my wife, who knew this team wasn’t going to win this tournament in a million years. So perhaps footy journos might have been able to see that too. It’s a fact that only the England National Party fail to understand that there’s a marked difference between honest patriotism and crass stupidity.
So we’re left licking wounds that are entirely self-inflicted. A short-sighted plan to redevelop Wembley Stadium rather than invest in our footballers and coaches hasn’t helped. It’s like building a National Theatre and then putting school plays on it for years on end.
In the meantime, let us relish the fact that the semi-finalists are the best four teams in the tournament. Let us hope that Portugal (or more specifically Cristiano Ronaldo) can shake Spain out of the metronomic tedium of their football and that Germany win the whole shebang and prove that a bit of long-term planning combined with some brilliant and intelligent footballers can win you a trophy.