Friday, June 20, 2014

Dear FA...

So, England are effectively out of the World Cup. Granted, it's still mathematically possible for them to go through (if Italy win both their matches, and England beat Costa Rica, and the goal difference goes for them), but take it from a Scotsman - hoping for the "mathematically possible" is folly.

Anyway, in light of last night's defeat, the media have gone into immediate post-mortem mode, trying to find someone to blame and some way forward. And it would appear that the expectation is that Roy Hodgson will be identified as the scapegoat and either resign or be sacked.

This would be a mistake.

There are two things that really should be borne in mind here:

Firstly, the draw for this World Cup has thrown up some groups that are dominated by a single big team (for example, it looks likely that both France and Argentina will easily win their groups, and in fact will just glide into the quarter finals without issue), and some groups that are hugely difficult. England are in one of the latter sort. And if you're in a really tough group, it's not hugely surprising if you don't get through it - someone has to lose.

Secondly, it was always known that Roy Hodgson had a significant rebuilding job to do. With the gradual retirement of the so-called (and over-rated) "Golden Generation" there was always going to be a need to bring through lots of new players, establish a new defence and attack, and generally bring the team forward. That process has begun, but it's not done yet, and not by a long way.

For the two reasons above, most of the informed analysts were suggesting that England would face a difficult time and would likely fail to progress from their group. That being the case, given that England have faced a difficult time and likely failed to progress, why the surprise? Why the outrage? "Meets expectations" isn't good enough, but it's no reason to panic.

And it's not as if England were roundly thrashed or played particularly badly. (Well, at least against Italy - against Uruguay they did get caught out at the back at least once when they really couldn't afford it, and they never really looked like equalising a second time.) There are some good players there, the performances were (mostly) disciplined, and there's reason for hope.

The thing to do at this point is simply: Keep Calm and Carry On. Don't change the manager, don't try to overhaul the playing staff radically... just wait. Two years from now, the 'kids' who are just breaking into the side will be markedly better. The team will be more used to playing together. They'll just naturally do that bit better - not well enough to win, right enough, but then there's probably no manager and no possible England team that could be fielded that would win.

Longer term, achieving that win would require the production of a large number of new, top-quality players. It's not a matter of finding 11 world-beaters, or even 25 to make up a squad; it's a matter of getting together 50 with a mix of youth and experience. You don't get that in 2 years. It's a decade-long project at best. And, for reasons I've posted before, it's probably never going to happen. Sorry.

But for now, it's really just a matter of beating Costa Rica (not to qualify, but to salvage some pride), and then looking forward to the next one. Panicking is the wrong response, and really won't help.

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