“England expects”: the words that are repeated over and over at every single international tournament; the words that represent our desire to see our country play and play well; the words we all stand by. Last night, English football lost all expectation.
Ukraine away was played up as the most important fixture in our search for qualification. A win would all but guarantee our ticket to Rio next summer. A loss would be devastating. A draw would keep qualification most definitely alive going into our home games at Wembley, if not necessarily setting it in stone.
To my utter dismay, it was the latter of those which our manager decided to aim for from the first minute.
Ukraine are not a nation known for their footballing class, nor will they ever I doubt. The Dombass Arena is, no doubt, an intimidating ground due to the loud eastern European, with loud cracks of flares and fireworks going off at random points, silencing the England faithful in the opposite corner of the ground. The England team though, full of professionals well-paid and well seasoned, should be prepared for such grounds. No matter what situations, England expected a win against the team in yellow.
The England team that former Fulham, Liverpool and Albion manager Roy Hodgson took to the Dombass was a weakened one, not at first by choice due to ‘injuries’, but certainly such weakness was increased due to the selection of James Milner.
Milner, now (regrettably) a regular international and Premier League winner, is a consistent player, no doubt, but consistent at being average. Sure, tags of ‘high work-rates’ and ‘puts in a good shift’ are ones Milner has earned. Yet I have never seen a player so less befitting to the tag of ‘world class’ than Milner. He possesses no finesse, no style, no distinguishable talent, nor is he a game changer or match winner.
In that sense, James Milner is Roy Hodgson’s playing representative. Hodgson is a manager who has never even come close to the heights of management, failing at his highest post at Anfield, nor has he won a domestic trophy. He is not known for any specific style of play, except perhaps grinding out satisfactory results.
What does this show for English coaching, or indeed the FA, that a man with very little credentials or talent in his profession can elevate to the highest post in English management?
Am I harsh to criticize Hodgson? Well, let me dissect the Ukraine game and we’ll find out.
From the first minutes, England looked dodgy, with England’s number one making a rash challenge on Ukranian striker Roman Zozulya in the box, the referee pointing for a corner and not to the penalty spot.
A flatly driven long pass into the box from midfielder Edmar opened up another chance for Ukraine in the box, to which England only just defended.
England’s chances, however, were limited to a few long range shots and corners, with zero creativity coming from Jack Wilshere or Steven Gerrard. Rickie Lambert, a classic number nine, did not profit as a result and barely made a shot in the entire game.
As the game wore on, you would expect teams to settle down and become more confident on the ball. On the contrary, both teams became insufferably poor in midfield and with very little football played by England in the final third.
Ukrainian winger Konoplienka was by far the stand out player from this match, terrorizing Spurs full back Kyle Walker all match. His bursts of pace and moments of skill, however, results in many clear cut chances. Walker, however, was suspect throughout the whole game. In fairness to him, the entire team were just as poor, even if England’s faithful do like to scapegoat the Sheffield-born man.
Hodgson made some unconvincing substitutions in the second half, bringing on Ashley Young for Jack Wilshere and Tom Cleverley for Theo Walcott. As you would, neither contributed anything notable to the game.
The game finished all square, with most people struggling to pinpoint the exact words to describe the performance. Whatever it was, it left me distraught at the ninety minutes of my life I would never get back. As ever, cheers Roy.
Many Englishman understood the slightly positive implications of the result, in a whole ‘job done’ attitudes whom many adopt. Many, however, expected more.
Me? I have lost all sense of expectation. Ever since Hodgson took charge at the Euros, England’s football have resembled the same negative style of football. Players from the ‘best league of the world’ lacked flair and composure, often outdone by Ukrainians. Players who have been in the international setup for years and years lacked cohesion with their teammates, as if they had been thrusted together for the first time. No creativity. No depth. This is what I have come to expect from England now.
English football is near beyond any treatment. While countries even as small as Belgium overtake us in every sense, England remains in purgatory. Hope? What hope? Expectation? What is there left to expect? We have been left for dead due to the attitudes of the FA. And yet, it is up to them to revive English football. Or else, The only thing “England expects” will be disappointment.
Visit Jonny Walczak’s original article on his personal blog: Rants from an Angry Yid