Thursday, 1 November 2012

A reflection on England..

Lizo Johnson gives The Football Front his thoughts on England's recent form

A lot of people have jumped on the bandwagon that England have started poorly in their World Cup
qualifying campaign. I think its been alright. Not, in my opinion, anywhere near as bad as the British
media have been making out, but at the same time it’s hardly been an explosive start. The win at
Moldova was an early peak. It promised too much. Raised the expectation of fans, which was
already through the roof, to heights England could never have reached. An early goal set England
up for a demolition that was put into perspective by Ukraine’s 1-1 draw there a couple of weeks
back. This coupled with the friendly win over Italy set England up for the fall. Inconsistency has
been our Achilles heel for a while now, and it came back to haunt us at Wembley with Ukraine the
visitors. Ukraine aren’t a bad side, but especially at home England should be chewing up sides like
them and spitting them out. Instead we witnessed a very average performance and England were
eventually held to a 1-1 draw at home by a side ranked 42nd in the world. Whilst I don’t particularly
agree with many of the rankings (Portugal are currently ranked 3rd) I do feel that it is close to being
representative of the gap in quality between England and Ukraine. It was three points we should’ve
taken but didn’t, yet that point could be vital when it comes to the final reckoning.

Next up were San Marino. Lets be honest, they’re a bit of a joke. I’m genuinely surprised the
players can motivate themselves to go out and play a game of football when they haven’t scored an
international goal since 2008. Since then they’ve lost 10-0 (Poland) 7-0 (Slovakia and Czech Republic)
8-0 (Hungary and Finland) and the standout thrashing, 11-0 (Holland). Had England not beaten
San Marino it would have been an embarrassment of the biggest proportions imaginable but they
still had to go out and get a result, which they did. But then came worst performance of England’s
qualifying so far: a 1-1 draw away to Poland. However, let’s not get it confused, it was a poor almost
chanceless display from Hodgson’s men. But we must take heart from the fact that England got
a point when they didn’t really deserve one. A win for Poland would not have flattered them, yet
England ended up with a point towards their total.
We’re actually a lot better at getting results than we like to think, regardless of the performance.
We’ve won nine out of our last 13 matches, but every post match report seems to be filled with
pessimism. Do journalists not realise what is going on? Its a vicious circle, as Gary Neville eluded to
not so long ago: England players are lacking confidence because they’re scared of how they’ll look
in the public eye if they make a mistake. Players without confidence struggle to play well, its not
rocket science. Yet they are then continually slaughtered in newspapers after average matches. But
then everyone loves to brand England as ‘boring’ and ‘disappointing’, for some reason its infectious.
Everyone puts on a tone of mock surprise when England bring out a top performance. We love to
set the bar a bit higher than England are likely to be able to reach. It’s not that the media don’t want
England to do well, journalists just seem to encourage negative opinions of them too often, and
we wallow in it. Almost enjoy it. It’s almost as if so many journalists have taken the same approach
when writing on England that for the next it’s just easiest to take the same. Our attitude to England
is to always look for and exaggerate the negatives, something that’s only going to put more pressure
on players to succeed, its counterproductive. Players begin to feel like if they’re not on an eight out
of ten they’re going to be slaughtered in the press. This is proven every two years at international
competition; where England never seem to quite reach the expectation of fans. We’ve been there or
there abouts for at least ten years (Euro 2008 aside), but whenever it comes down to the business
end of the competition we fall and end up not seriously competing for the trophy.

This isn’t to say I think people shouldn’t discuss England’s performance if it is genuinely poor, I’m not
saying that they should be invincible from any criticism. But it seems that fans perception of what
constitutes a poor performance is altered once the international break comes around. If Manchester
United play a match against a team like Stoke, play poorly yet still manage to claim a point then they
are heralded champions because of their ability to produce points from unlikely situations. Yet when
you put England in the same position, the same fans have a completely different opinion.

The reality is England are top of their group, which is where they should be, and that’s where they
should finish. They have too much quality in their ranks to not finish there. But at the moment
they’re where they always are, apparently doing just a bit less than what is expected of them.

This article was written by Lizo Johnson. You can follow on Twitter: @LizoJohnson

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