England’s draw in Ukraine sadly reminded me of the baffling expectation levels we have in this country.
Over the past week or so it’s been conclusively established that England aren’t the best team in the world. They’re not Brazil and they’re not Germany. They’re certainly not Spain. Nor are they going to win the World Cup next year.
What England might do is qualify for the tournament and as it stands they’re two wins away from realising that aim. Beat Montenegro and Poland and we’re there. That’s the bottom line, no?
I travelled to Ukraine with BBC Five Live and I have to be honest and say I found the attitude of some people – I’m talking mainly about the press – astonishing.
There was so much negativity and complaining about what I saw as a good result.
Consider the scenario in the cold light of day. The one thing Roy Hodgson couldn’t afford to do was lose on Tuesday. Lose in Kiev and the World Cup is as good as gone. He was without three key attacking players – Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck – and I defy anyone to tell me that they’d have approached the match differently or picked a different team.
Yes, the football was no spectacle and certain players were poor. Kyle Walker had a bad night at right-back. But here I’d take issue with something as well.
Over the weekend there were stories and headlines relating to Walker and a nightclub incident. Sorting that out must have taken up quite a bit of his time, not to mention his club and his country’s.
I can’t say that the reports were responsible for the way he played because I haven’t spoken to him but they can’t have helped. Was the timing of the news coincidence? Was it really necessary to publish last weekend rather than yesterday when the game had gone? I find it immensely frustrating.
Maybe I’m seeing this from a footballer’s perspective but how does this help England? How likely is it that Walker will be on his game when he’s got other matters to deal with (matters of his own making, admittedly)? Seriously, let’s try and give the team a break.
I’ve been involved in occasions like Tuesday’s as a player and you cannot go to somewhere like Ukraine and expect to win awards for your football. You dig in, do what’s necessary and make sure you get a result. Everything is so black and white these days that no-one seems to accept the merit of battling performances anymore. But as a former pro the 0-0 draw looked like job done. Sometimes you long for a bit of realism, especially within the media.
England have played the same way since forever and despite what Greg Dyke said last week, the changes that have to be made in this country aren’t going to happen overnight. It doesn’t follow that the FA’s chairman speaks out and Roy Hodgson’s tactics change the next game. We are where we are and he can only make the best of it.
The truth about England is that the strength in depth of the squad has receded badly. To take you back to when I was an England player, the choice of right-backs was huge. There was me, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Wes Brown and Jamie Carragher from time to time. At centre-back you had Jonny Woodgate, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown, Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Southgate and a young John Terry. Carragher too. You never ran out of options.
There is no comparison whatsoever between those days and the current state of affairs. We’ve reached a point where youngsters like Ross Barkley and Andros Townsend have a couple of good Premier League games and are suddenly seen as the answer to everyone’s prayers. It’s unhealthy.
Even the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard – outstanding internationals in their own right – have played on longer than they might have done.
They probably peaked four or five years ago but there is no-one coming through with enough consistency or ability to edge them out.
In short, England are not in the best of shape. But they’re top of their group and if they come through the next two matches then they’re going to Brazil.
I feel sorry for Hodgson because it’s like certain people are waiting for a chance to get stuck into him. It’s as if they actually want England to fail.
As far as I’m concerned, Hodgson did his job this week. But doing your job obviously doesn’t sell.