So Euro 2012 starts with further injustice heaped upon the poor beleaguered Greeks, as a Spanish ref wafts absurdly punitive cards unthinkingly at a minor transgressor. Like the Greek economy then, he’s gone, before half-time, with his comrades and compatriots tearing out their sense of furious injustice from their own flesh, or begging for some consideration from stoically dense authority. Thank god, methinks, it wasn’t a German official.
But then they equalise!! Creating an ecstatically righteous medium-distant nation-lifting backdrop to a blog which intends regretfully now to banish them to the furthest but most maybe atmospherically coloured corner of this particular metaphorical writing shed. Where the dingle-dangle view has already shifted mercilessly from the Home Nation’s (Poland) tetchy encounter to er… home, to the Home Counties representatives – to Engerland.
England play in this tournament; they do; quite soon, honest. Despite the media foreplay (when judged against the rabid standards of previous noisily ‘golden’ years) putting the insipid bulk of mute into muted. England are there. In their white stuff, with their unfeasibly impractical yet predictable International Player Hairdo’s and their hip-switching warm-up routines. And the white noise that is the molesting of gum and parping out of reluctant mucous (deliberately and offensively surely?) right down the very lens of your Nana’s telly; just as she returns with the hobnobs; pre family dunk.
How, exactly, are these disparate but almost uniformly ordinary young men going to fare, I wonder? How will they carry the Olympic flame that is our low-burning expectation, this time?
Probably no worse than of late might be one, reasonable answer. Meaning they will #fail as a group in a way that falls somewhere between national disgrace and embarrassment and legally culpable cluelessness on the key Salford van Hire-Fan-Richter-Fahrenheit-Guttinghood Scale. Indeed students of bloodydiabolicality – to give the science its correct appendage – have been primed judicially in this matter both by the late withdrawals from the squad and from the seeping appreciation that We’re Shit And We Know We Are (this time, finally.) Hence the relatively low-decibel slither into the tournament proper.
But of course that perennial danger of egg-upon-fizzog insists I – as an occasionally responsible blatherer – have at least a token imagining of a rampant Ashley Young and Oxlade-Chamberlain, in some previously unsuspected flush of exuberance destroying opposition defences and making a general mockery of (to be fair) our general pessimism. And Glen Johnson might do a Brazilian – converting with a glorious left-footed curler after a sinuous gambol down the right flank – he might. But such freedoms are unlikely; partly because the Hodgson body politic mitigates against much of that expressive nonsense but also because I suspect even the players, when dissected cleanly by an axe at the waist exhibit the letters WSAWKWA rather than those that spell out ENGLAND.
At previous tournaments – most notably the last Capello-led World Cup – a dispiriting lack of guts/fire/personality have accompanied the universally identified national technical deficiencies. To the point that it seems almost as though the alleged ‘grittiness and determination’ of our True Brit heroes has been mysteriously decanted; leaving us (actually?) with poncy English Show Ponies. (Discuss?)
So for example that same Johnson who on occasion has looked liked a threat going forward from his right back berth melted away in an uber-mare which must surely haunt him and his family still. As did Rooney, more extraordinarily – though it is accepted injury played some part in this. The players truly were an embarrassment to themselves, utterly lacking the leadership, the mental strength and the talent or style to rescue the campaign. That Capello remained in charge having presided over a championship which jabbed the accusative finger more pointedly at him than anybody else was mind-boggling. That fat contract clearly and nauseatingly being his get-out-of-jail stay in post thing.
This time it is different in several respects. One – which may be hugely helpful – is that expectation is astonishingly but also reasonably low. Given the capacity of previous England squads for what has felt to the proverbial man-in-the-street like frankly pretty pathetic capitulation – being ‘overwhelmed’ by either the ‘occasion’ or the opposition or both – the absence of this pressure may liberate those few spirits capable of courting the higher aspiration to excite.
There is optimism around Oxlade-Chamberlain but I personally was disappointed with his performance against the Belgians. He tried unconvincingly to appear the dashing young thing but like Walcott so often before him ultimately lacked the control, the dribbling skills that presumably had gotten him picked in the first place. In short he was nervy and he looked therefore like a school-kid trying to break into a grown-man’s set-up. I hope that unlike Walcott his confidence and his skills genuinely blossom with age and experience and that he does get the opportunity to develop. But – again, like the other boyish flyer – he is not worth a starting place in an England championship side, for me.
Young is an interesting one. Clearly a talent, clearly a danger in the sense that he may be the one to draw Limey ignominy around the globe through worryingly instinctive diving for a key spot-kick. (Imagine if he does that against one of the host nations… to get our lot an undeserved win!! The latent or explicit racism around the place might be lit up rather unpleasantly – even dangerously – by such an incident.) And who knows if it matters… but I personally would feel deeply ashamed and regretful if one of our lot brazenly cheated to get the team through; particularly if – as may well be the case – our general play is negative and ungenerous to the spirit of the tournament; assuming there is one.
I expect the general standard of play to be unremarkable, which again may allow our thin pool of talent to proceed beyond current expectation; but cannot see how England may find that necessary gear-change or splash of sweet, heart-stopping beauty to transform dull draw to foamy win. If Milner starts, I can’t help but see this as a marker for how pallid we currently are – poor Jimmy being more fit-for-purpose in the column role as ‘half the player he was 18 months ago’ than livewire wide-man. There is almost no possibility that he will actually beat an opposition defender, get to the byline and cross; instead he will hold; hold and roll the ball back to Johnson or Parker. This tendency for ease being dully infectious, there will, therefore, be almost no discernible momentum in the English play. And we will be easy enough to stop.
This reads depressingly, perhaps. Yet I cannot make a case for impervious defence or for imperious attack. It will be structured mediocrity; one that may be good enough, or may be swiftly exposed for what it is. And whilst I really do have some respect for Hodgson, perhaps it is pertinent to remind ourselves that there seems no likelihood that England will attack with any verve or belief; again.
What I’d like to see is some genuine fearlessness, some real want of the ball, rather than a repeated avoidance of responsibility – that waiting, that pointless offloading as opposed to constructive and purposeful ball-retention. Generally guys, give us what a wordy old arse like me might call some honourability; the game needs that, the fans (home and away) deserve that.
My view then has to be that England are unquestionably mediocre… but can they just raise something? Please?