For a long time, I fell out of love with the England football team. As well as the obvious on-pitch disappointments, my three main bugbears were: the Football Association’s gross mismanagement of the national team, the unrealistic expectations of many England fans, and the destructive red-topped agenda against the manager-of-the-moment. Against the odds, however, Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad have rekindled my interest in the national team.
Let’s get one thing straight: the FA effed up royally and regularly in the last year. Amongst other errors, their embarrassing failure to ban John Terry would not have been tolerated in any other workplace and, directly or indirectly, led to the loss of a very decent manager. Then, the scandalously protracted process of appointing Capello’s successor destabilised Premier League clubs and presented the FA as a rudderless and indecisive ship. Confidence in England’s governing body had rarely been lower.
Then, much to Harry Redknapp’s surprise, they made a rare sensible and right-headed move: they appointed Roy Hodgson. Hodgson was the right man: an experienced tactician well versed in continental and international football who could oversee English football from the grassroots up. Surprisingly, the Fleet Street hacks who had all but anointed Redknapp as the new manager greeted Hodgson warmly and, by and large, threw their weight behind him. Far from kow-towing to the media, the FA had beaten its own path to Hodgson’s door – and the media respected them for it.
And with Hodgson’s appointment came more realistic expectations. After years of expensive Swedes and Italians managing the Premier League’s leading lights and shining stars, we had the reserved and dignified Hodgson offering realisitic appraisals of the England squad and promising to deliver tactically adept and disciplined teams picked on merit rather than reputation.
Almost unbelievably, the majority of fans bought into this ethos. Many had already become disillusioned with the England team thanks to the abject failure in South Africa and a feeling of being alienated by the ‘foreign manager’ and prima donna players who had let them down. The conclusive spanking handed out by Germany in Bloemfontein and the sparkling football employed by Spain in winning the World Cup seemed to finally convince England fans of a truth they’d previously not dared to acknowledge: the England team has a long way to go before it can truly compete with the top nations.
And so here we are. Many of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ has been discarded. Down-to-earth, nice young men like Joe Hart and Danny Welbeck have shown that England footballers needn’t be snarling, petulant egotists. The manager has introduced a clear tactical model based on teamwork and togetherness. The team look like a team and the squad looks happy and harmonious. The fans have accepted that winning ugly is an acceptable form of triumph and that sometimes we cannot compete toe-to-toe with technically more accomplished nations. And, although their importance can be overstated, the print media have begun to reflect the prevailing attitude in the country rather than attempting to instigate witch-hunts and outrages.
A healthy balance has finally been struck: We can be optimistic without being over-confident and, should we fail to won the tournament, realistic rather than reactive about our failures. Being an England fan is starting to feel good again.