Steven Gerrard's excuse for England's defeat explains why he never won the Premier League title
Roy Hodgson's biggest achievement as England manager was to lower the fans' expectations19:51 Friday 1 July 2016, 19:51 1 Jul 2016
The sight of an England manager sitting before the assembled press and explaining why they have crashed out of a tournament is a familiar one, but the scene of Roy Hodgson doing so this week after their defeat to Iceland at Euro 2016 was one that was so comically bizarre that it verged on the grotesque.
As he continuously reminded those members of the media in attendance, he wasn't sure why he had been dragged out before them to answer their questions, as his statement on the matter should have been sufficient. He had resigned, and much like David Cameron in the wake of a shock defeat in the Brexit referendum, the resulting mess was somebody else's problem now.
As usual, the soul-searching had begun as England desperately tried to find a scapegoat.
Some chose to criticise the (now former) manager, who, admittedly, must carry some of the blame. Decisions like bringing Jack Wilshere or deploying Wayne Rooney as a midfielder when he has neither the nous or the stamina to play there were, at best, baffling. In his defence, Rooney was the only one who demanded the ball from his team-mates as the game slipped away from them, but his basic errors were reason enough to haul him off the pitch much earlier than Hodgson did.
When he wasn't making bad decisions, he simply wasn't making decisions at all. Persisting with Raheem Sterling was seen as keeping faith by some, but it was a way of avoiding telling an out of sorts player that his performances were not good enough to justify a place in the team. Similarly, he seemed unable or unwilling to tell Harry Kane to stop taking free kicks and corners. Or, at least to stop taking them so terribly.
Roy Hodgson's biggest achievement as England manager was to lower the fans' expectations to a level that somewhat reflected their reality, but they were unprepared for the completely surreal scenes that would follow a defeat to Iceland. The bar had been set so low before the World Cup in Brazil that no one noticed when they failed to clear it, preferring instead to smash their heads off it, finishing bottom of their group without winning a single game.
Somehow, questions that should have been asked were not, and Roy stayed on so that this time, not only did they prove unable to clear that same low bar, they tripped over it and fell flat on their face, with the world watching and laughing.
Apart from the manager, the players themselves came in for a healthy dollop of criticism from the media and fans alike.
Amid pointing out that Wayne Rooney was losing his hair and that Joe Hart did ads for shampoo, The Daily Mail were keen to blame women, particularly the ones that "distracted" the players with dastardly acts like attending games or being their girlfriends. The squad were all "hippy crack idiots" or "spitting brawlers" and it was their fault.
Jamie Carragher also chose to blame the players, saying that the English FA and the Premier League had managed to create a system that made players soft mentally and soft physically, unable for the rigours of a tournament like the European Championship where things don't always go your way. For Danny Baker they were a disgrace to hard working people like him, overpaid "worms" who should be showing dead soldiers some bloody respect by earning less money.
Gerrard, however, sympathised with the players. The usual excuses of boredom in the hotel were ticked off the list, but he also spoke of the pressure that the media puts on them, and the way that affects a player's mindset.
The former Liverpool captain highlighted how he, gripped with fear, thought about what awaited them when they once more disembarked the plane as a bunch of losers.
"I hate to say it, but your mind drifts to what the coverage is going to be like back home and the level of criticism you are going to get," wrote Gerrard in his column for The Telegraph. "You cannot stop yourself. 'What if we don’t get back into this? What will it be like if we go out here?'
"Panic sets in. The frustration takes over. You freeze and stop doing those things you know you should be. You start forcing the game, making the wrong choices with your passes, shooting from the wrong areas and letting the anxiety prevent you from doing the simple things."
This tidbit gives some insight into what shaped Gerrard's career, and, in turn, what was working against him as he struggled, alone, to lift the Premier League title. When things went poorly for Gerrard on the pitch, his mind drifted and he worried about what the press would say, how did he influence the game?
His solution to that was often to don the Superman cape and, as he said himself, start forcing things; shooting from too far out, trying passes that you would never think of trying normally, forgetting whatever system (if any) was in place from the manager. All of those things invariably end up harming the team more than they help it.
There is no better example than Gerrard's slip and subsequent display against Chelsea in the season Liverpool came agonisingly close to winning a title that has eluded them for decades. If it's him who scores the wonder goal, then the press will get off his back. If he brings glory to the team alone, he'll get the praise he really deserves. If he huffs, and he puffs, he will bring the house down.
England are a far cry from being that close to an international trophy, and haven't been for 50 years. While Gerrard's mindset may not have been shared by the majority of the team before they got there, it will certainly be now. The press literally threw the kitchen (or bathroom) sink at them.
It has, to a certain extent, become part of the English psyche. The argument that they're not a "tournament team" holds little water, given the only job of a national team is to qualify for and play in tournaments, but they do seem to have a pathological fear of failing on the biggest stage. That fear shrinks some of the players, leaving those who do stand up flailing wildly as they try to compensate for the shortcomings of their colleagues.
Those players have all now returned home, tainted with the failure of the Iceland game forever. David Beckham had to emigrate and even then it took the best part of a decade to overcome what happened to him against Argentina in the World Cup in 1998, and many of the squad don't have the luxury of that type of time. Only perhaps Marcus Rashford; in his five minutes on the pitch, he was their most effective player, but looked perplexed as to why the rest of his team-mates were paralysed by fear and unable to do even the most basic things. He'll understand soon enough.
England will eventually replace Hodgson with a new hope, and the press will find themselves something to blame: not enough academies, too many academies, the right number of academies but they're making players soft, footballer's wages, foreigners, lack of geysers...the list could be endless.
As the FA once again scramble in a panic to find a replacement that will get the media off their back, there's an opportunity to reassess if the changes being sought are the right ones to make. It remains to be seen whether or not they will crumble under that pressure.
Perhaps the real reason England failed, and continue to do so, is because they're so worried about what everyone will think about them, they forget to actually think for themselves.
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