England is on the road to nowhere at the World Cup–and this time the majority of fans will not be drawn in to any of the usual hope or hype.
It's over. No blood, sweat or tears. England have once again topped their World Cup qualifying group with ease.
Despite dominating at the top of the tree, much of the hysteria surrounding England’s chances at another main event seem to be out of sight. The feeling seems to be that the Three Lions are in actual fact on the road to nowhere - and this time the majority of fans will not be drawn in to any of the usual hope or hype.
To use an old Roy Keane term, Gareth Southgate is just another “yes boy.” The “safe” option for his employers. He stands there, hardly prowling the technical area, cutting the image of a nice clean cut fella, but without any real grit or steel - all the attributes a manager needs to get this team firing once again seem to be missing.
He strikes the image of a guy who will crumble under any kind of pressure or criticism, and happily walk away with his tail between his legs at the first sign of trouble.
Let’s look at his credentials. Good defender during his time as a player. Uninspiring time as a club manager. Relatively boring pundit. Not great so far. But he's easily manipulated by the Football Association to fit into exactly with their way of thinking, making him just perfect for one of the biggest jobs in world football. Southgate is an ideal front man for the FA.
The Roy Hodgson era is thankfully in the past, but has anything really changed? A new manager should bring a fresh impetus, a new vision, the ability to learn from past mistakes. Someone who can drive this current crop of good English players on. Someone who can take away the fear of playing for your country and replace it with the hunger and desire that is required to succeed.
The tools are there for sure and Southgate has a good pool of players to pick from. With Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Dele Alli, England have 3 key players all capable of stepping up and doing something out of the ordinary to win a game. However, with Southgate’s failure to drop the likes of Joe Hart, his love for Jordan Henderson and his 2 holding midfielders against the likes of Malta, the team seems nowhere near the heights it should be at.
Remarkably, fans seem to prefer making paper airplanes and landing them on the pitch.
Rashford is worryingly still not one of the first names on the team sheet despite starting the last two games. Jordan Pickford and Jack Butland still wait for an opportunity behind the floundering, unimpressive Hart, when their league form is so good week in week out.
Henderson seemingly impresses with his sideways and backwards passes. Not to mention the defensive, cautious set up against Malta; a team who are well off the pace and don’t attack. The early signs are all extremely worrying and baffling to say the least.
Worryingly too, there still seems to be a decision to make on the captaincy, with Southgate rotating the armband. Surely there is a stand out player right now, with a stand out attitude and the footballing world at his feet. The face of the current England team. Harry Kane.
Just give it to him and let him have time to bed in to the role before the World Cup. The mere murmurings from Roy Hodgson last week suggesting Kane is not ready are surely to be ignored.
“I’d like to see him scoring goals and doing what he does best as a centre forward. It could be that the captaincy could weigh on him and in some way impact upon that,” said the Crystal Palace manager - the same man who put Kane on corners during England’s last tournament outing. A good strategy would be to do the exact opposite in terms of Hodgson’s suggestions.
England have not been inspiring since the days of Terry Venables. Sam Allardyce would have no doubt done things his way, picked the best players in terms of form and played to the team's strengths.
Granted, he may not have succeeded but was certainly the better option. Unfortunately, due to another “sting” operation, we’ll never know. But for now, it looks very much like more of the same dull football the country has grown so used to.