England won’t win anything soon, of course
Nobody was surprised when England handled Moldova with minimal fuss, winning 4-0. Today, they play Ukraine, where they will perform disappointingly to win, lose or draw. What is perplexing is not that England’s quality no longer demands any regard from abroad, but that there are still a handful of people preoccupied with it in the country itself. There are so many subjects that England is involved in that are noteworthy, despite its declining international standing. International football is not one of them.
CERN is, though. CERN - the European Centre for Nuclear Research - was established in 1954. It has thousands of employees, representing hundreds of universities, and 113 nationalities. It is an example of the world working together to discover the uses of one of the most complex scientific areas humanity has discovered. At CERN, the World Wide Web was born, invented by Tim Berners-Lee. Without CERN, you might not be reading this at this very moment. At CERN, they are using the Large Hadron Collider to prove or disprove the existence of the Higgs Boson particle, which is the key to understanding the start of the whole universe. It is genuinely important stuff, exceeding even the chance to meet Eric Cantona for 30 seconds. Spending billions of pounds and putting in decades of effort to advance our understanding of the world so that we might progress as a race, and England played its part.
Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have played for England 104 and 99 times, respectively. Yet, there are still people discussing, researching and postulating in just what manner the two of them can succeed together. They cannot succeed together for England. They cannot succeed separately for England. This is a busted flush. The combined human effort discovering this once, twice, and many more times is genuinely an insult to the hours of labour, education and genius expended at CERN. Anyone English discussing it anymore should genuinely be ashamed of themselves. Jamie Redknapp alone is excused, being in possession of neither the emotional intelligence nor correct trouser size required to experience 'shame': what excuse do the rest have?
It’s not just in complex physics; in applied health science England can be proud too. In 1948, the Marie Curie Cancer trust was formed, and since then, along with other charities, national and international health service and pharmaceutical company efforts, the survival rates from cancer have increased admirably. There is still a long way to go, but with radiotherapy, chemotherapy and gene therapy, there is no reason to give up hope. This work demands respect.
James Milner has 40 England caps. There is no discredit to him personally. He doesn’t get into disciplinary scrapes - by all accounts he is teetotal - and he rarely puts in a below-average display. He also rarely puts in an above-average display. Add to him Gareth Barry, Michael Carrick, Jermain Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Glen Johnson and Gary Cahill, and it doesn’t take long to discover the problem. Lack of humiliation is treated as success, rewarded with continued indulgence and England caps. Football is obviously less important than cancer research, but it would be nice if the players and managers at least pretended this wasn’t the case.
This is the state that England find themselves in. This is a recurring dream borne of diminishing returns. Repeating the same action and expecting a different result is supposedly the definition of insanity. More prosaically, it is the definition of actually believing in the England side. There is no good reason to think they will win anything soon, of course. Even the new chairman doesn’t assure people he believes that. He has a mixture of joy and delirious hopelessness you might expect from a man who has already planned his retirement. His retirement, his world cruise, his holiday homes, his trust funds for his children and his next three wives.
He talked of ways to improve the England side. It was the same idea of making training methods more sophisticated, with a radical overhaul, and addressing the number of English players at the highest level. Fantastic. It appears England have appointed someone who thinks and knows exactly what we all know. When the columnists, the pundits, the coaches and the FA Chairman are all in agreement about the problems, we can be assured the improvements will follow. The problem is the FA was not willing to suspend a player, John Terry, who was accused of racial abuse, as would have happened at almost any other company or organisation in the country. Dealing with an important but obviously routine matter was beyond them, and that was so recent as to inspire no confidence that a technical overhaul in training methods and league quotas is anything but a pipe dream. They can do bland speeches, about anti-racism drives and organisational reform, but only a fool would trust them to carry it out.
They have a new chairman, but that chairman is Greg Dyke. The Hutton report into the BBC, at the time he was chairman, found his news-checking skills as ‘defective’. Oh dear. He then displayed canny brinkmanship, offering his resignation with the expectation the board would reject it. They, obviously, accepted it. With this kind of negotiating nous and attention to detail, few can have confidence in him. England need a strong leader with vision, not somebody who resigns by accident.
There’s also the manager. Roy Hodgson has an intriguing choice for his favourite novelist - JP Donleavy (though clearly he’s no Frank Lampard) - it’s just a shame it doesn’t extend to his football. Most people assumed Liverpool fans were overreacting when they appraised him with real disgust, but it turns out they finally happened to be right. Euro 2012 was a rank embarrassment, and 2013 has given no reason to supporters or the increasing pool of dispassionate onlookers to feel any different.
No players, no manager and no chairman able to change the circumstances, and yet still people ponder the ways to success. The time has come to simply stop talking about England and focus on something more productive.
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