As the players sat disconsolately on the turf in Nice, the nation’s football fans felt a familiar sinking feeling: South Africa, Ukraine, Brazil, and France; no matter the continent or tournament, England flop.
Roy Hodgson fell on his sword in the immediate aftermath of Iceland’s victory, as the inquests began. Believing there is a bright future for the England team takes considerable effort, it’s there if you look hard enough but mustering that enthusiasm is a labour beyond even Hercules.
The first job is appointing a new coach. It’s hard to think of a ready-made candidate. The suggestion of Sam Allardyce is as underwhelming as calls for Harry Redknapp and Glenn Hoddle are baffling. And the notion of Arsène Wenger taking the helm is fanciful – sadly – as his vision of how football ought to be played is perfectly suited to international football.
It’s not just about Russia in 2018 where England are 14/1 according to the football betting; this has to be a template for the future. If Wenger could be convinced to take the job, he would need to be appointed along with his potential successor. Eddie Howe and Gary Neville are the most obvious candidates.
The combination is most appealing. Wenger the visionary, Howe and Neville the tactical pragmatists, imbuing flexibility into the Frenchman’s technical requirements.
Immediately, England’s new coach has to look at his squad. There are many candidates for the axe. The youth levels – Under 17 & 19 – are enjoying success; can any of them step into the main squad? Bring them through now, ready for the next World Cup.
For this to work, the Football Association has to impose its will on the English game.
They have to reduce the number of friendlies England play. Bring the players together for four training camps each year, to improve their technical abilities. Let them learn to love the ball rather being afraid of it.
Then it’s down to the clubs. A successful national team, performing consistently well, sends a positive global message about the state of the English game.
With players becoming increasingly susceptible to injury, we need to reduce the number of club matches.
Persuading turkeys to vote for Christmas may prove easier than convincing Premier League chairmen to reduce the number of clubs in the division to eighteen. However, four fewer games a season offers the prospect of the oft talked about winter break becoming a reality.
The domestic cups have to be reviewed as well. Replays, a thing of the past in the League Cup, need to follow the same route to extinction in the FA Cup. Give smaller clubs guaranteed home ties in Rounds 3 and 4 to compensate.
And extinction is somewhere the League Cup as a competition needs to go. There’s no Europa League place for the winners which brings participation for the Premier League clubs into question. Do they need another potential half-a-dozen games in the season?
The onus on much of the improvement falls onto the clubs. If they and the FA put the structures in place, it will then be down to the players to perform.