Passion is a funny word. England, the country where football originated in the 19th century, have just won one global trophy, the World Cup in 1966 on home soil.
One would expect them to have scaled more heights since they are the oldest team in world football, stemming from the passion they have for the beautiful game.
Add, the biggest club tournament, the Premier League, which every English faithful is so obsessive about, and the lack of trophies in their cabinet is all the more a sheer mystery. How is this even possible?
England wilt under pressure
Over generations, the likes Kevin Keegan, Alan Shearer, Robbie Fowler, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and John Terry, who are all outstanding players in their own rights, have played for England, but still, the Three Lions have lacked in major tournaments.
Why is this? Well, the biggest reason for me is England coming short at big moments because they wilt under the pressure of knockout games.
Let’s look at some instances when this has happened.
· Euro 1996 – Semi-final defeat to Germany
England being the hosts, were the much-fancied team to win a second major trophy after the 1966 World Cup. They boasted the likes of Alan Shearer, Gareth Southgate, Teddy Sheringham and Robbie Fowler to name a few.
The Three Lions demolished a strong Netherlands team 4-1 in the group stage at Wembley and then got the better of Spain in the quarter-finals, en route to their semi-final meeting against the European powerhouse, Germany.
The game was one for the ages with both teams locked at 1-1 before the dreaded penalty shootout, which also did not disappoint. Levelled at 5-5 before Germany made it 6, Gareth Southgate took the sixth spot-kick for England and missed.
The hosts were knocked out, and a packed Wembley was on its knees in disappointment. The occasion got the better of England and an opportunity to feature in a Euro final was wasted.
· World Cup 2002 – Quarter-final defeat to Brazil
When Michael Owen put England in front against mighty Brazil, one would have thought this could be the time they manage to get over the knockout hoodoo and move to the next round. Alas, it wasn’t to be, with Rivaldo equalizing just before half-time and Ronaldinho putting the South American giants ahead, beating goalkeeper David Seamen with an extraordinary free-kick in the second half. England lost 2-1.
· Euro 2012 – Quarter-final defeat to Italy
England had done well to hold Italy to a 0-0 scoreline before the penalty shootouts. One was hopeful about an England win before the two Ashleys – Ashley Young and Ashley Cole – squandered opportunities and Italy won 4-2 on penalties. The Three Lions again had lost the chance to reach the semi-finals.
· Euro 2016 – Quarter-final defeat to Iceland
England, under Wayne Rooney, were favourites to beat minnows Iceland in the quarter-finals, but the Scandanavian nation pulled off an upset by beating the Three Lions 2-1. Again, the pressure of performing in the knockout rounds got to England.
These instances clearly show how England have always choked in big occasions, much like South Africa in cricket. As a fan, nothing can hurt more.
Lack of cohesive football
Football is a team sport and if the team don’t gel as a unit, miracles don’t happen. Team spirit and bonding is the core to every team’s success.
With so many club games and not enough international football, players representing their country don’t get enough time together.
As a result, often while entering big tournaments, there is a lack of understanding between players, which results in the team coming short in big games.
England are a classic example, with players mostly playing the Premier League and other club tournaments and hence, are not cohesive enough when it comes to representing the national team.
This needs to change. Players before major international tournaments need to have bonding and team-building exercises so that they understand each other’s game better on the field.
With Gareth Southgate at the helm, England are working towards being a unified team and cohesive unit.
Where there is a will, there’s a way
A case in point example of England playing better as a team was the 2018 World Cup.
Under Gareth Southgate, the poker-faced manager, the Three Lions, although lacking in experience, played an aggressive brand of football and the players knew each other’s strengths.
Harry Kane – the captain and the main striker, Dele Alli – the playmaker, Eric Dier – the defensive midfielder and Kieran Trippier – the marauding right-back, were key to England’s good performance as they had played together at Tottenham Hotspur and the camaraderie was there for everyone to see.
England reached the semi-finals after beating Sweden in the quarter-finals and Columbia in the Round of 16, with Eric Dier scoring the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shootout win over the South American nation.
It was the only second time England won a penalty shootout at a major tournament after beating Spain in Euro 96.
Whats more, Harry Kane was the leading scorer in the tournament with six goals, despite England crashing out against Croatia in the semis.
The commendable effort of reaching the semi-finals in last year’s UEFA Nations League further adds strength to the resurgence of the Three Lions.
With such performances, one can surely hope that a trophy is not far and as a die-hard fan, I feel this team has all the ingredients of bringing the 2021 Euro home.
The will is surely there, and the gritty Gareth Southgate, along with the immensely talented Harry Kane, are definitely showing the way.