England’s Euro’16 defeat by Iceland is, of course, a calamity — a nation with a population two hundred and thirty times smaller outplaying a supposed multi-rich powerhouse, the founders of the game. Sadly, there was a predictable element to Iceland’s stunning victory, taking them to a quarter-final against France.
Having watched England for over sixty years, I have not seen worse . Yet I am not rushing to blame the players, poor though they were on the night. This was fundamentally a lack of organisation, the most incoherent display since England lost away to Norway some years ago in Oslo under the management of Graham Taylor.
As this was, that too had been a tale of bungled selection, repeated changes, tactical confusion. Roy Hodgson, the current England coach — a pleasant benevolent man with a moderate career of minor successes — sent out a side that was, in a word, clueless. Constant change of selection, formation, and tactics reduced competent players from the commanding Premier League to a state of disarray.
It was not that they ran out of luck, or missed chances, or encountered superior opposition. It was simply that they performed inadequately against Icelanders possessing demon determination. Much of the time Hodgson had his face appropriately buried in his hands as England slid towards exit and obscurity.
Some of the players — young Rashford from Manchester United, Sterling (Manchester City), Kane (Spurs), Sturridge (Liverpool,) — may re-arise in the future but were now burdened by managerial indecision. There was no tactical adjustment to known Iceland strategies — not even during the interval — and in their state of uncertainty England’s passing declined from poor to pathetic.
I had the good fortune to be coached when young by the exemplary Bill Nicholson, during his emerging years as one of the finest with Spurs. His advice was the game’s blueprint : make it simple. Success is dependent on repetition, retaining possession, eliminating errors rather than being brilliant (a bonus). In general, the side that makes the fewest mistakes will win. England made such a profusion of mistakes it looked like an early season training session.
Moreover, and tellingly, when Iceland lost possession, they ran like a pack of terriers and twice as hard as England to regain it. England suffered a moral as well as a tactical defeat.
Comparison was made with England’s shock World Cup loss to USA in World Cup’50 at Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
This was much worse. England then had famous players such as Finney, Ramsey, Wright, Mannion and Mortensen. The pitch was rough, they missed a hat full of chances, had a goal disallowed–a genuinely freak occurrence. Iceland’s triumph was correct.
Hodgson dutifully resigned, instantly… though his contract had anyway expired with elimination The problem for the Football Association is that there is almost no obvious replacement. With the Premier League dominated by foreign players and coaches, there are decreasingly fewer English coaches emerging. This trend is deepened by the contemporary wealth of players dissuading them from wanting to embark on the lottery life of the coach, ever briefer in a club environment of unsatisfied ambition.
This story first appeared in the blog, The Sport Intern. The editor is Karl-Heinz Huba of Lorsch, Germany. He can be reached at ISMG@aol.com. The article is reprinted here with permission of Huba.