David Baddiel and Frank Skinner must love the fact that ‘Three Lions: Its Coming Home’ will continue to make the charts every two years for the rest of their lives. Yet, to me, it always seems out of place. After all, the song is all about winning. Something that, sadly, England very rarely does.
On the eve of almost every major tournament, most England fans will say, ‘let’s aim for the next one, no point having high expectations here’. We then proceed to beat Tunisia and Jesse Lingard is prophesied as the new Bobby Charlton, John Stones as Bobby Moore and Jordan Pickford as Gordon Banks. As a nation, we are incapable of not putting pressure on our side to win and it is this pressure, among other things, that regretfully leads me to say football will absolutely not be coming home this summer.
Carlo Ancelotti recently stated that rotating goalkeepers in domestic league fixtures is not an unusual thing elsewhere in Europe, but when England no.1 Pickford was dropped from Everton’s starting XI, social media and the English press went into a frenzy, as if Pickford’s career was as good as done. The shot-stopper is only 27.
This same sensationalism can be applied to all England campaigns; I had people saying to me in 2018 at the quarter-final stage that they believed we could win the World Cup, when we had beaten Tunisia, Panama and Colombia, in addition to losing to Belgium’s second-string side. The expectations of English fans surpass all others. We win a game and some suddenly go from having some vague resemblance of hope all the way to possessing genuine belief that we will win the entire tournament. Of course, this sets them up for a big fall.
Not only do the English fans and media pile the pressure on our players’ shoulders, but those players have almost no experience of winning anything even remotely similar. I will only include those that have won a significant European trophy (as we know none of them have won senior international trophies) as having relevant experience. Domestic cup competitions do involve the drama of knockout football, but it is not uncommon for a draw to result in sides playing against mediocre opposition all the way to the final.
Therefore, of the 26-man squad named for the World Cup Qualifiers that were just played, only Rashford, Lingard and Shaw, who won the 2016/17 Europa League, have tasted success in a major knockout competition and, even then, the Europa League is little to brag about compared to a Champions League, for instance. Whilst some players may make the squad for the Euros that aren’t in this one, of the 23 other players, we have four who have won three league titles, and that is it.
To put this into context, let’s compare this to the French squad prior to their World Cup win. Spread across 15 of their players, they had won 27 league titles and four Champions Leagues; they had also won a number of Europa Leagues, but such is their success that it is hardly worth mentioning. Given the vast majority of that French squad have gone on to win more, how can we possibly hope to compete with that experience.
What’s more there is another glaring problem; our manager doesn’t know his best side. Followers of England’s national side seem split on this; you have some that want to play two full-backs that can’t defend with two no. 10s, you also have others (Gareth Southgate included) who want to play a back five with two holding midfield players. Both of these options lack the key ingredient to success in a major tournament; balance.
There is an interesting juxtaposition where people are extremely quick to complement our plethora of attacking talent, compared to our Achilles heel that is our central defence, yet seem determined to leave our defence as exposed as possible by playing as many attackers as they can. Until we sort out a balance for our side, I believe ‘Three Lions’ will continue to have to extend the ‘years of hurt’.
As far as my tip for winning, if you asked me to select the two best sides in Europe, I would say Belgium and France, but regrettably due to the way the draw works, they will likely meet in the semi-final. As a result, I predict a final between France and Spain with Les Blues coming out on top. As for England? With our draw meaning we face one of France, Portugal or Germany in the last-16, I fear we will meet our demise at the hands of the Germans. Again.