I didn’t think I’d feel angry. I’ve never felt angry about a group of players trying their best but going out of a tournament. Heartbroken (86,90,96,98), resigned (2002,2010, 2012), privileged to be there (2004).
But last night was the pits. As wretched as it was possible to imagine. It was impossible to find anything remotely resembling an excuse, not least given that it was seven whole days since the previous match, a luxurious gap by this tournament’s standards.
But the clue was in the game against Slovakia. England played an experimental second string XI. They, after all, could afford to. OK, the group hadn’t been won, and Slovakia had already shown that they were not be underestimated. But this was England. Deluded into believing that they were A list, by the money and the hype. Two players emerged with great credit from the Slovakia game. Henderson and Clyne. Both were never to be seen again in the tournament.When England needed a midfield substitution, they turned to Wilshere, the player who had stunk out the Wales game. To replace Sterling, the player who had stunk out the Wales game. Three players emerge blameless from this debacle. Two are Henderson and Clyne. The third is Marcus Rashford.
Rashford didn’t dazzle against Wales. But he played well. He brought much needed pace and fearlessness to England. But that is not what England are about. England are about sticking obstinately to the status quo until it is too late. Much as Hoddle delayed Owen in 1998, and Sven took off Rooney against France in 04, Hodgson’s reward for Rashford’s excellence in the Wales game, was to ignore him for the next 175 minutes, in favour for tired, jaded and utterly out of form legs.
This is not a vintage squad, but it is a squad more than capable of making it to the quarter finals. It was hopelessly, ineptly managed, and the Slovakia gamble backfired spectacularly. Playing the disappointing Sturridge in his right position, gambling on younger fresher players, playing Rooney in every game so as to familiarise himself with his new role, being reactive about out of form goalkeepers, all of this may have helped. But the truth is one that Sky Sports will never tell you. English football is shit. For all the relentless noise, last night is where we are at. A generation of players who, both mentally and physically, freeze on the big occasion. It is the first time I’ve been angry rather than sympathetic.