When the Manhattan Project invented the atomic bomb, they created something that they would never be able to play with. Something that was so powerful, it would change future generations of the world tenfold. In 1863, England would change the world in equal measures. They too would create something so powerful, it would sweep nations upon nations, bringing large crowds of people together.
This was the year that the FA would invent modern football, offering a game to world that would capture the hearts of so many future generations. But fast forward to that future and as with the atomic bomb, they too created something with devastating effect. Little did those first few men know that what they created would torture their home nation for nearly 150 years.
With England football comes a stigma of the greatest order. The game that we gave the world, we are seemingly unable to compete in. And just like the Manhattan project, tinkering with its workings pertains to similar explosive ends.
The England managers job is without question one of the most thankless, yet most watched and wildly anticipated jobs in the UK. The position is under constant scrutiny from individuals with no qualifications or experience to make it. See a bit of bad luck, its poor management. Make a great managerial decision and it’s pure luck. What must a man do to be identified as a great England manager?
Some would argue that there have been many, others would tell you that there has only been one. But in recent years, all have come to the job with serious managerial pedigree, only to be shown the door not much more than a couple of years later. A manager that incites particular debate is Sven Goran Eriksson. The Swede, who has won 17 major titles throughout his managerial career, was tarnished with an idiots brush whilst at the helm. But the former Lazio boss won the fourth most games of any England manager, falling behind only Walter Winterbottom, Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson – all of who were in charge for twice as many games. In fact, Eriksson boasted the highest win percentage of any England boss to have managed more than 50 games. So why did we brand this Swede a ‘right old turnip?’
That’s the mountain Hodgson has to climb. Managing the expectation of the England faithful seems to be as difficult as managing the prima donna’s that occupy much of the squad.
Really though, when you break it down, what are our expectations? Are we perennial contenders? Or just overrated creators?
History has shown our expectations seem to be somewhat over-hyped. Having never won the Euro’s, the solitary star we most proudly present on our shirt came from a World Cup won some 46 years ago. Unfortunately, as good as our support as a nation is, we wrongly confuse hope with expectation.
Our draw with France in the opening game was one that was met with conflicted opinion. Whilst a majority saw the result as a negative, ridged display that brought about no real signs of potential contention, others saw a game of strength, organisation and a willingness to grind out a result.
There are many hurdles to overcome as England manager. Having to select 11 players from a squad of 23, all of which are nearing guaranteed first team football at their respective clubs must bring about its conflicts. But having to manage the expectations of a football nation is harder. That’s what Hodgson did in this opening game against France. He eliminated risk, prepared for the fundamentals and went out to get a result against what is essentially England’s hardest game on paper. This was the first game in the group stages after all, and going out all guns blazing wouldn’t be a statists plan.
And Hodgson’s appointment is exactly that. No longer are England looking to the sunnier shores of Europe to find an Italian Mourinho they can call our own. England looked inward and employed a man who might not have the flair of the ‘European Gent’, but the know how to get the job done. Making extravagant decisions whilst making flamboyant gestures in the coaching area isn’t English. Sure, much of it occupies our domestic league, but much of that is brought about by foreign influence. Leave club football to club football and let Hodgson focus on what makes us English.
Germany showed this perfectly during World Cup 2006 when Jürgen Klinsmann instilled his faith in a young German side. During that time, Germany stuck to what they did best, by keeping organized, being hard to break down and countering with youthful legs. Throughout that competition, the world watched as talent emerged like Mesut Ozil. And despite a poor qualification World Cup campaign in 2010, Germany remained upbeat about what they were building.
For a new star to emerge and shine bright, the old guard must be extinguished. England’s most recently successful moments have come from a new found spark. In World Cup ’90, Paul Gascoigne had only celebrated 6 international caps prior to that tournament, but he proved instrumental in England’s competitive games that year. Similarly Owen provided us with some real spark in World Cup ’98, where he single handedly took on the Argentinian defense and scored England’s only goal, only to crash out on penalties. What Hodgson must deliver now more than ever is the start of that spark. But for the spark to ignite, the old guard must be extinguished.
That need not come in the form of a Euro 2012 winners medal. A glimmer of young talent and hope for the future is what England need now. Attacking teams in the knockout stages with players who have yet to form skeletons in their international footballing closets and prevent the inevitability of England crashing out on penalties once more is what we need now.
There are so many elements to becoming the England manager. Handling the players and their personalities is not where the job stops. Even the most surprising obstructions must be overcome. Nobody expected Micah Richards’ outburst where he stated his disinterest to compete for a spot in the England squad. But managing the tempers of those personalities comes with the territory and Hodgson seemed to handle it well by not letting the media blow it out of control.
In the end, England’s success walks hand in hand with their environment. Too often are claims raised that England have the players yet the management has faltered. But how can that be when those managers have succeeded elsewhere? For England’s real failures, we need to look inward and relax our criticisms. This is supposed to be a national pride, not a death sentence. Ashley Cole summarised this perfectly. When asked what he thought about when he walked onto the pitch wearing an England shirt, the Chelsea star famously went on to say that all he could ever think of was a review in the morning’s paper. No signs of national pride there then.
So with that said, England needs to make their international caps a symbol of national pride rather than national criticism. That way, the game that we gave the world can come back home.