Like many others I was saddened by England’s defeat to Germany in the World Cup on Sunday. It was the worst defeat in England’s world cup history, and, like many others, I think a moment or two to analyse the defeat might shed light on why it happened.
Many people’s first reaction would be to sack the coach and get in someone with the tactical vision that we are no doubt now assured Fabio Cappello lacks. But interestingly, Fabio Capello has been successful at every other team he has been at except England. Likewise, Sven Goran Erikson was successful at every club he managed … except England. If you look at all recent England managers, they have all had extremely successful careers .. until they reach England. We could no doubt find another world class manager, who would also fail at the onerous task of managing the national side. So the problem cannot be with the coach.
Perhaps it is with the players. But all the players are from Premiership sides that are extremely successful, both domestically and abroad. These players score goals week in week out for their clubs, but when they put on the England shirt it all seems to dissipate.
I think the problem lies precisely there – the England shirt. When playing for England, players cannot help but be aware that they are playing for England. They become walking talking emblems of national pride and aspiration whilst on the pitch, and feel the beseeching and longing of the England fans in the terraces like a hot sun. Whilst playing for England, they become living tokens of national identity. Perhaps it is here that the problem lies. How else do we explain why players like Rooney, who have probably scored 20 or 30 goals last season, cannot find the back of the net when in the England strip? The answer lies in sports psychology.
In four years there will no doubt be another world class manager heading England up, and a set of world class player wearing the shirt. But I have a horrible feeling that despite all the talent and skill, when they jog onto the pitch and hear 40,000 fans shouting “Come On England” something will happen to their heads akin to the famous English batting collapses in cricket. Call it the weight of national expectation, or the weight of carrying the national banner a few yards further forward in time, the undoes them.
I have suggestion, and it is neuro linguistic programming. I think the England team should have hour long relaxation sessions every evening when away at a tournament, during which they are told they play for West Denmark. The England coaching squad should institutionally start referring to the team as West Denmark, and the players should become conditioned into believing that this is the team they are playing for, until the fact that they playing for West Denmark becomes the unquestionable neuro-lingustic fabric of reality.
Perhaps then when they step onto the pitch, they will feel a different weight of expectation. Perhaps they will feel free to express their talent and create goals, rather than labour under the weight of a concept – playing for England – that is so weighted down with expectation and previous disappointment that each player ends up surrendering to it.
If football was swimming, then the England strip, with its three lions, would be a very heavy item of swimwear that end up dragging even the most talented swimmers under the waters surface. Playing for England is like living in a Grade 1 listed building that you are never allowed to redecorate, until eventually the weight of the place’s 400 year old wallpaper and carpets drags you under. The concept of playing for England is psychically stale, heavy and difficult for talented sportspeople to do. The best thing to do with the whole concept of playing for England is chuck it in the skip.
Play for West Denmark, and let a world class manager and world class players make the goals flow!