England’s maiden World Cup victory in 1966 is a well-documented one. Equally well documented are their attempts to rekindle that success at future tournaments. Whether it be the ‘Hand of God’, Gazza’s tears, Ronaldinho’s chip, Ronaldo’s wink or Lampard’s ghost goal, there is always an excuse for why the Three Lions have failed to live up to the expectations set for them.
I would like to propose that Geoff Hurst’s hat-trick has arguably done more harm than good in the long term for the national sport. Since being named champions of the world, fans expect each team to challenge and/or win the tournament itself. Inevitably, when the team fails to do this, the media and wider public point the finger in mass condemnation. This has created a toxic culture in which players are now so scared of what the media will say, they are afraid to play attacking exciting football and crumble under the pressure (see Iceland 2016).
Now we haven’t been without some talented players over the years: Lineker, Gascoigne, Shearer, Rooney, Lampard and Beckham all spring to mind within the last 20-30 years. But we now live in the days where players who are not up to international standard feature regularly for the national team. Instead, perhaps it would be more useful to the mentality of the squad if fans and media alike aimed to have a more successful tournament than the previous one. So, in Russia 2018, an adequate aim would be to reach the quarter-finals to better Euro 2016- because, let’s face it, England are almost categorically not going to win the tournament.
This mentality of simply doing the best the team can do has led to great success in the last year for the England youth setup. An U17 and U20 World Cup title, as well as winning the U19 European Championships and the U21’s reaching the semi-finals, indicate more success than the senior team has ever managed. The lack of pressure put on these sides to succeed has paid dividends with multiple titles across several age groups – proving this to be no fluke.
It can be said that the current structure and money invested into the Premier League means that these young English players will never be able to integrate into the first teams of their clubs, but that is an argument for another article. Instead, one should look to build on the positivity these victories have created around the England team, which has been missing for many years.
It is not fair for me to brandish Gareth Southgate’s tactics or style of play as ‘boring’. However, successive 1-0 wins over Slovenia and Lithuania (sides England tend to flourish against) indicate that the team is not currently playing positive free-flowing football. This has created a different kind of negativity around the national team, not just for failures in summer tournaments, but a failure to live up to a certain footballing standard.
I would like to leave you with this point: England are not a footballing superpower like Brazil or Germany. If it were not for 1966, we would not even be having this conversation. That one title win has put more pressure on future England teams than is necessary and we have all suffered for it. It is time to move on from the ‘years of hurt’, look to fix the issues within the domestic league integrating young talent, and build upon the positivity we currently have around the youth setup.
Russia 2018 may not be a memorable one, but it can be an important to alter our standards and mentality.
Photo source: Flickr.
Photo by: johnthescone