Although little was expected of England at the Brazil World Cup, there is still a view that the nation expects results at big tournaments. Now after a tepid and meaningless friendly against Norway – a game England won, incidentally – Roy Hodgson’s men have come under fire for the manner of the victory and small number of shots on goal. There appears to be a lot of unfair pressure placed on the England side regardless of the result, but why?
What does not make sense are the reasons why English fans and the media think England underachieves. Ask a die-hard fan or member of the journalistic fraternity just why, in their opinion, England should get beyond the quarter-finals of a major tournament and they will say, “because we have the best league in the world” or “because we have so many so-called top players.” Whether the Premier League still is the best league in the world is a moot point, particularly due to the poor performances by English sides in the Champions League over the past couple of seasons. Nevertheless, for argument’s sake, assume the Premier League is superior to the other big leagues.
If one was to name a Premier League XI, just how many English players would be in it? Two or three at best. Even then it would be difficult to name an English player who is consistently good season after season. John Terry and Steven Gerrard in their prime, perhaps. Yet putting such pressure on the current crop of players is unfair. Why? Contrast England with Spain, a country that has fallen from grace with some speed. Name the best La Liga XI and with the exception of the biggest names in world soccer, such as Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, over half would be Spanish. The same is true of the Bundesliga and Serie A. There would be more players from those countries in the best XI of those leagues than foreigners.
England currently sits in 20th in the FIFA World Ranking and that reflects where the country has been for some time in world terms. While many were surprised to see England gradually drop out of the top 10, in reality the so-called smaller nations above them are there on merit. There is no shame in it. England should never have been expected to get out of their group. Even the weakest Italian side in years demonstrated more craft and guile. Which England players would get on the Italy side in place of Andrea Pirlo and Mario Balotelli? Did England have a strike force to be mentioned in the same breath as Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani and Luis Suárez? England does not have players of that level so it is unfair to expect similar performances. As for Costa Rica, it might be a minnow on the world stage, but the passion the national team showed the gap is closing between the powerhouses and weaker soccer nations.
Just because England is the home of football and the world’s most exciting league does not mean the national team has a divine right, nor should it be expected to win major tournaments. Introducing the game to the rest of the world is one thing and having some of the wealthiest clubs another, but it is unfair to put such a pressure on a team that is actually as good as it should be.
Commentary by Robert Shepherd
Image courtesy of Jimmy Baikovicius – license