By 90Min
November 07, 2017

With just 216 days remaining until next summer's World Cup in Russia, faith in Gareth Southgate and England's hopes of progression past the last 16 are arguably at an all-time low. 

With upcoming friendlies versus Germany and Brazil at Wembley Stadium as part of preparations, Southgate's dossier labelled 'Russia 2018' have once again had coffee spilt on them, by disruption due to injuries. 

It seems the notion of a full-strength England has become a myth, with the absence of at least one or more central figures in the England set-up in recent memory - outside of major competitions. 

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With the withdrawals of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson to name but three this time around then, is there a bigger problem at hand than just the excesses of an inexorably-long campaign?

There is no secret of the indifference that exists between the fans of the England National Team and the players that turn out regularly for them, and frankly there is little wonder why. But does player disillusionment lurk also? Is the appetite to play for England in particular now not what is was?

Given their many well-documented failures and frustrations, fans of the Three Lions have been forced to endure sporting torment since Italia '90's initial penalty heartbreak in Turin against West Germany - now over 27 long and arduous years ago - after seeing two separate so-called 'golden generations' pass and leave empty-handed.

It could be so different for England. In the wake of their Italian odyssey almost 30 years ago that faded away like a teenage holiday romance, the four years that followed saw the price paid in the wake of Bobby Robson's departure as England boss, before English football's rebirth during Euro 96'.

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Despite their perceived failings, the statistic remains nevertheless that the former World Champions have failed to take part in just one of the last 11 major footballing tournaments, that being in Austria and Switzerland in 2008, after their - and Steve McLaren's - most public humiliation to Croatia. 

But penalty heartache has continued and remains a by-word for fear in the hearts and minds the average football fan in England, having fallen to them on another three occasions - twice consecutively to Portugal. 


Add to that three quarter-final berths and without a semi-final, few could point to previous England eras as truly successful. Have the narrow margins for success and failure now become too much for both fan and player alike?

If failure to progress past the group stages in Brazil was not England's death knell, their humbling to Iceland in Nice at Euro 2016 was, for many. Since England's South American nightmare, getting the public back on side has been a task any PR firm in the world would have had their work cut out in reversing such an ebbing tide

Have falling crowd attendances, a boo-boys culture and the emphasis on club over country being stronger than ever, finally fed down to player level? Whilst player reaction in the south of France that evening might suggest otherwise, the notion should be considered.

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A cynic might point out, that in how many games before an international hiatus have players been substituted citing injury or fatigue, when the real possibility lingers that by doing so would give a passable alibi to simply 'overlook' one's duty to his country (at least in sporting terms)?

With the competition for places at top clubs hotter than ever, injury can mean not just time out of the limelight, but a place on the bench as rivals deputise in the starting XI and then hold their berths.

An observer might say that a player could play four league, two European and one league cup games over the course of a four-week period and expect the possibility of injury. However, one may also state that managers would want to protect his player from any unnecessary exertions. In this case, England duty.

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Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino employed such a tactic on Sunday against Crystal Palace, and whilst, yes, Kane was nursing a problematic knee - having just returned to fitness - there remains the distinct reality that neither player nor manager wanted to even risk a further absence. But with club only in mind.

Or did Kane not have the pure burning desire to play for his country, under a manager who is failing to get the best from his troops? Few could blame the 24-year-old, with Spurs having started-off this season as they ended the last.

Whatever the real position is, until England finally do themselves justice on the big stage, the divide will continue to grow and the unrest will remain amongst the fans.

The bigger problem, however and certainly if further humiliation comes this June as many fear, that could then see such a gap grow in the minds of the players. 

As the line in 'Three Lions' states regarding 30 years of hurt, that now 50-year wait grows and should such conjecture come to pass, that number will merely keep on rising.

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