England: Onward & Mostly Sideways

England are not going to be winning a major tournament anytime soon.

This is not a commentary on the impending appointment of “Big Sam” Allardyce to the role of England Manager.  As I opined in my breakdown of the prospective England candidates, if the preference was to bring in an Englishman or homegrown candidate, he was a front-runner.

I expand on my thoughts on Big Sam here.  While not my first choice, we can and have appointed far worse.

More worrying are some of the disturbing sounds emanating from Wembley.  Chief Executive Martin Glenn, making the comment that he was “no football expert” was chief among them.  Not that it’s exactly surprising.  Not one of the FA Board of Directors has ever played the game professionally.  In fact the FA spent most of its first century of existence, ignoring advancements occurring outside their hallowed halls, almost on perversely stubborn principle.

If Glenn’s easy submission of his lack of expertise in the sport he presides over sent tongues clucking and eyes rolling, it was his comments on the British press that had this observer’s palm involuntarily colliding with his forehead.

“The British press, like it or not, are probably the most intensely passionate about the game in the world.  That has a spill-over effect, the consequence of which is that people probably play not to make a mistake, as opposed to playing to win.”

There is so much wrong with that statement, that it would be quicker and easier to find positive things to say about John McCririck’s look and personality.

If manufactured jingoism and exploitive manipulation of public reaction is the definition of passion, then Glenn may have a point.

If truly caring about the England team and those who support it is a measure, then the British press – and in particular, the red-top tabloids – fall woefully short.  As long as there is a strong reaction to stoke or a juicy narrative to build on, I sincerely doubt that the press are unduly concerned whether we succeed or fail.

If we fail miserably, they’ll foster the resentment in the form of rants and diatribe.  If we do well, expect heavy-handed applications of terms like “hero” and “bravery”.

If there’s a scapegoat to be had, they’ll latch on like tipped-off paperazzi to an intimate Hiddleswift “date”.

This latter point is where Glenn’s backhanded compliment carries a grain of truth.  Nobody wants to be the equivalent of 1998’s David Beckham (well apart perhaps from the looks, talent, youth, wealth and fame). Then again, it’s not as if the frenzied hatred leveled at “Goldenballs” phased him.  Less than a year later, he was a major component in Man United’s unprecedented treble.

Likewise, when Portugal and Man United’s Cristiano Ronaldo was blamed for Rooney’s red card and England’s elimination from the 2006 World Cup, the press rode the rage. They eagerly reported that not only was Ronny’s position at Man United untenable, but also that an enraged and violent Rooney would be waiting, should he dare turn up at The Cliff.

In 2008, Ronaldo took Manchester United and Rooney to the Champions League title, cementing himself as the best player in the world in the process.

Sir Alex Ferguson was able to leverage both scenarios into motivating the respective subjects into finding redemption against the vitriol, on the field of play.

What really matters is not what the press says but how we as a nation, handle it.  For the public, we need to be less easily whipped up.  We need to resolve ourselves to truly become supporters again, rather than the being coerced into an angry mob mentality.

For the player’s part, if they’re truly effected to this extent by scrutiny and criticism, they need to get over it.  Contrary to Glenn’s claim, there’s nothing special about the level of attention our national team gets from our media.  Italy, Spain, Brazil, Germany, France, the Netherlands… name any elite national team – they all face pressure from their press and fans.  The difference is that they deal with it.

While I don’t subscribe to much that Jurgen Klinsmann says, it is quite telling that as a former player and coach for the German national team, his stated position is that the lack of media pressure and criticism for the US Men’s National Team is actually detrimental.  His thought is that such scrutiny drives success.

The final concern I have is that the FA are still talking about developing the approach to youth development, Glenn implying that Big Sam would be expected to help guide the scheme.

“Why is that worrying”, you (probably didn’t) ask?

Well, we’re just four years into the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan.  Typically, any revamp of youth development won’t show true impact until six-to-ten years have gone by.

Things may be going fine and it does make sense to include input from the England Manager.  However, some of the language expressed, doesn’t carry the feel of an organization in the process of confidently enacting a well-realised plan.  Perhaps I’m reading a little too much into this (hopefully).  However, that’s not my gut feeling.

All-in-all, Sam Allardyce is an appointment I’m satisfied with, if not terribly excited by.  Then again, I’m well versed in managing my own expectations for the England team and with that in mind, I’m not sure there’s anything that could be done in the immediate future to get me to “excited”.  I think “cautiously optimistic” is my optimum level at the moment.

My actual reaction? We’ll probably be okay but don’t expect too much.


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