Turning The Mid-Tables

Another solemn summer, annoying autumn and yet another notch in the great English depression. Sam Allardyce departed for his off-field business dealings, The FA’s synthetic computer generated product Gareth Southgate now leading the Lions and a Captain who can’t get a look in at club level. Check the family tree, you might get lucky, your great great grandfather may have been half Welsh and then it’s all aboard the Bale bandwagon.

Fair to say it’s pretty bleak right about now, as if we weren’t already pessimistic about the future of our game, it’s far from the beautiful one we bang on about. If anything it’s the equivalent of that 38-year-old woman at 3am outside the nightclub, kebab in hand, shouting about how Jamie was the best boyfriend even though they broke up six-years ago and he’s now married with children.

We aren’t in the best state and the Euro 2016 hangover is just beginning to fade. So what is our bacon sandwich? What makes everything okay again and gives us that blind optimism that we will of course win the World Cup in two years time?

A 2-0 home win over 178th ranked part-timers Malta didn’t quite set the taste buds into a drawl, nor did a tedious 0-0 stalemate in Slovenia, so where next.

The probable answer is exactly the same as every underperforming competition; back to the same tired and tested squad that dropkicked our souls into an Icelandic abyss a few months ago.

There are a few glints of hope within the squad as Pep Guardiola seems to have cuddled Raheem Sterlings’ ego back in from the cold at club level and Jordan Henderson now looks like a proper midfielder, like, with accurate passing and everything. I know, miracles do happen.

However there are some that have a lot to do if they’re keen to remain out of the back pages and in the starting XI.

And it begins with our leader Wayne Rooney. Finally dropped by club and country after a string of underperforming months his decline is an ever-present reminder that we missed a golden opportunity to achieve when he was at the peak of his goalscoring powers.

The vice-captain Gary Cahill is another of the senior heads who need to take a look in the, probably cracked, mirror. Constantly careless in possession, lacking in decisive clarity and about as sturdy as a student union toilet door.

Joe Hart seems to have finally stitched on his hands after the tournament in France and his scintillating display in Slovenia surely proved, once again, he is still a valuable member of the Southgate plan. And he’s only playing in Italy, it’s not as big a step down as the Pep loving papers will have you believe.

The FA maintain their philosophy of playing through the thirds which benefits the new breed, especially John Stones whose ball playing stance will please the football purists. However his human turnstile performance (lets everybody through) in the last international still leaves a lot of room for growth, but his ability is obvious and once he settles we will have one helluva player on our hands.

What we need is an identity. Do we want to be a luscious, possession-based bulldozer who finish every match with 70% of the ball and dominate from the outset? Like a Spain who, for all their admirers and stunning stroked passing game do sometimes border on boring.

Or do we want to set up like a Leicester City side who know how to win games, play to their strengths within the squad and release a quick passage of play with a sharp cutting, clinical edge. We have the pace, we have the clinical finishers but is our football snobbery preventing our tactical progression.

It’s not about our limited resources which some pundits will have you believe, a wise old football coach once told me “It’s not where you look, it’s how you use your eyes”… Still not quite sure what he was on about then but I’m pretty sure here the reference would be to look further than your nose.

The England squad announcement will be made and the majority will be from Spurs, Liverpool, Manchester United, City, Arsenal and Chelsea, that’s usually how it goes with a couple of outside additions to keep the public barks quiet and down to just a disgruntled growl.

Why is this a common factor? Is this where the problems start or finish?

Performances this season, baring in mind it’s only the shallow end of the campaign, have shown the homegrown talent is there and thriving in our top flight.

Charlie Austin is the standout performer thus far. He’s tucked away four of the nine league goals the Saints have scored and looks ready for the next step. Another two notches in the Europa League have further proven his ability to stick it between the posts but still finds a flurry of misfiring Lions ahead of him in the pecking order.

If you were building the perfect versatile wideman, you’d build a Michail Antonio. Powerful, strong, technically sound and a keen eye for goal the West Ham lad is on the cusp of a first cap. He’s been included in the past two squads but is still awaiting that first outing in an England strip. His form is unignorable too, contributing to 56% of the Hammers goals but, similar to Austin, still finds a few unshiftable faces ahead of him in Southgates plans.

There are countless options if you withdraw the ‘Big Six’ so perhaps its time to rid the hierarchy bias and allow the opportunity to a wider pool of players.

Scott Dann has captained Palace to an FA Cup final and a strong start under Alan Pardew, could he be an option to solidify a newfound defensive structure.

Michael Keane is another young defensive option who has impressed for Burnley and could be after a valid choice if called upon.

Troy Deeney, Junior Stanislas, and Danny Simpson have all also endured a flourished start but the chances of their respective call-ups are probably on par with Sam Allardyce’s run for parliament.

Ultimately none of us have the answers so it’s our responsibility to examine every option, no matter how ludicrous or unimaginable it may seem.

I don’t buy in to the whole ‘mental baggage’ argument that due to previous national team failings the players head into tournaments with an expectation to fail, no chance. If you started a new job and was told the person who did that job before you was awful and underperformed, would you pack it in then and go home? No, you’d be buoyed by the challenge to step up and raise the bar.

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result… Or to give it a 2016 football reference, putting Harry Kane on free-kicks and expecting a Juninho Pernambucano thunderbolt to nestle in the top bracket after he’d shanked the previous three into the floodlights. Nice one Roy, that worked a dream but like you said yourself you had no idea what you were doing.

At this point in time, and for the foreseeable future we are, and will remain unless something drastically changes, a country in transition that refuses to change.


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