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Euro 2016: Don’t get too excited

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As the current premier league season draws to a close all footballing eyes turn to this summer’s Euro 2016 tournament, in France. It all kicks off on the 10th June at the Stade de France where the tournament hosts take on Romania.

Pundits and fans alike have now completed autopsies of their club’s league campaign and are now stocking up on crates of tournament branded cases of lager and engaging in that tedious biannual ritual of building-up the England team to the point of believing that they could actually win a tournament – regardless of the litany of evidence to the contrary.

“Anything is possible” – I hear you say. Who would have thought Leicester would have dominated the Premier League just one year after toying with relegation to the championship.

Nobody could deny that the rollercoaster story of Leicester winning the premier league is one of the most compelling and interesting ever written. Yet, it is difficult not to feel underwhelmed at a season that promised much yet rarely delivered anything beyond run-of-the-mill and inconsistent football.

Without wishing to put a dampener on things or appear overly pessimistic, I expect that Euro 2016 will provide more of the same. I honestly do not think I can ever remember an international tournament that has filled me with so little in the way of hope, excitement, or interest.

Scanning through the squads of the twenty four teams that are competing there is a real paucity of names that enthuse. Those that do are invariably on the wrong side of thirty and in terminal decline.

Sure, there will be players I know nothing of who will emerge during the tournament and create an instant name for themselves. However, we can talk about those players and the bloated transfer fees they will then command for just half a dozen decent performances in six weeks’ time. For the now, I am totally underwhelmed.

International football is in the doldrums, and has been for at least a decade. The mediocrity that was served up at the 2014 World Cup is likely to be reheated and served again in a few weeks’ time – albeit with a different side salad.

I can’t see anyone other than Germany winning the tournament. They will be predictably dependable performers and they possess the required smattering of gold dust needed to be able to lurch over the finishing line in July.

As far as outside bets go I am interested to see how Belgium perform. They have one of those once in a lifetime squads that will either rise to the top like France 1998, Spain 2010, or end up as an enormous anti-climax – like England’s so-called Golden Generation.

So, what are England’s chances? Well, they have a squad of players that as a whole is the blandest and most uninspiring that I can remember in over thirty years of watching football – with a manager a manager to match.

So, who has Roy Hodgson picked to travel to France?

Well, he has selected a provisional squad of twenty six players. This will be reduced to twenty three after he has had chance to assess them in the upcoming friendly fixture

Joe Hart is the only real choice as England goalkeeper. He is consistently reliable but has certainly not developed into the commanding number-one I was expecting him to, years ago. Barring injury or a serious calamity – Forster and Heaton won’t get a sniff.

In defence; Cahill and Smalling are solid enough without being world beaters. Bertrand and Clyne are both now at a level where I expect them to become England mainstays over the next five years or so, and I expect that they will have good tournaments.

John Stones has many positive attributes and you often hear pundits waxing lyrical about how good he is on the ball and how well he distributes from the back. While I would not argue that those aspects of his game are important, I feel his bread and butter defensive game, is average. He has been over-hyped by the football commentariat for the last couple of seasons. Although I must add the caveat that the blame for that lies with the media and pundits, not the player himself.

The Tottenham duo, Walker and Rose – while nothing special – are both logical inclusions when you consider the dearth of defensive talent at Hodgson’s disposal.

In midfield and attacking positions there are players who can unlock opposition defences. Sterling, Lallana, and Barkley all come to mind. Unfortunately, Barkley has had a poor season and needs coaching out of his ‘headless chicken’ and ‘taking a shot from forty yard every time he receives the ball’, mentality. Lallana and Sterling, while dangerous and creative, can equally drift in and out of games, becoming ineffectual passengers.

Not that I am decrying their workmanlike contribution, but, Henderson and Milner will ‘do a job’ no more, no less. Andros Townsend, Fabian Delph and Jack Wilshire have shown nothing over the last year to merit their inclusion. Although, maybe their selection says more about the quality in-depth of available players behind them in the pecking order, than it says about them.

Both Deli Alli and Eric Dier have both had excellent seasons with Spurs and their inclusion – along with that of James Milner, are the only midfielders there on merit rather than reputation.

In terms of strikers – while it may be beneficial for Marcus Rashford to be in and around the England set-up he has only been named in the squad because of who he plays his club football for. I have nothing against Rashford; he is a very promising young player. However, he has only played eleven league games in his entire career. He should be dropped when the provisional squad is culled.

With the options of Vardy, Kane, Sturridge and Rooney up-front, there are undoubtedly goals in the team – should they receive the right service.

How Rooney will fit into the side, and indeed whether he should at all, will be revealed in the coming weeks. As an aside, I for one believe that this should be Rooney’s last major tournament and his last games for England.

As is usual when international tournaments come around those not included in the squad lead to as much debate as those who have been selected.

Jermaine Defoe’s omission from the squad is a strange one. He has netted eighteen goals this season despite playing in a struggling Sunderland side. He is experienced, a proven goal scorer, and despite difficult circumstances he is on form. So, unless there is something we don’t know, an injury, or he has declined to participate, it seems like an odd decision from Hodgson.

The non-selection of Andy Carrol is less of an issue for me. The oft-trotted out lines of ‘We need someone who can do something different’ or ‘we need someone who can make a nuisance of themselves and mix it up a bit’ are a myth. Such a player is of notional value to the squad and rarely get off the bench, never mind make an impact.

You don’t see the great sides of Brazil, France, Holland, or Spain insisting that they include a big lumpen target-man in the squad – just in case. They take their best players, and so should England.

Despite my criticisms of the squad and available players there is a tiny shard of light visible at the end of the dark and well-trodden tunnel.

Greece won Euro 2004 with a squad lacking the individual talent and flair that even this lacklustre England squad, posses. Greece had a team greater than the sum of its parts, they gelled together perfectly and had desire and team spirit in glorious abundance. That said, it is difficult to imagine that the current England squad could mirror the magnificent achievement of Greece.

If my permutations are correct, then should England win their group they would likely face Switzerland, Poland, or Croatia – all of whom I predict will finish 3rd in the respective groups. Whoever has the most points would then face England.

If England finish runners-up in their group then they would face the team that finishes 2nd in a group that contains Portugal, Iceland, Austria, and Hungary. As the likely winners of that group are Portugal it’s reasonable to propose that England would have the upper hand on any of the other teams in that group.

Before you know it England would then be in the quarter finals. A bit of luck here, a penalty shoot-out there, and all of a sudden the unthinkable becomes possible. Out will come the face paint, the George cross flags, and an endless stream of football royalty harking back to 1966.

Yes, you may have noticed that I have inadvertently fallen into the trap that I mock at the beginning of the article. I have succumbed to the English disease of talking up our chances despite the weight of history and facts to the contrary.

That said, the weight of expectation on this England side are a low as they could be. Maybe that lack of pressure and expectancy may have a positive effect on the players and coaching staff….. Time will tell.

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