After 52 years of hurt, is 2018 the year that football finally comes home? Well, there’s certainly plenty to be optimistic about!
After another relatively trouble-free qualification campaign, England once again find themselves preparing for a World Cup, with the usual circular debates raging in the stadiums, pubs and online forums. So, will this summer be any different from every other one we have witnessed since those halcyon days at Wembley in ’66? Most people you talk to, and most opinions you will read, will say probably not. But (and I’m not just playing devil’s advocate here), if you scrape below the surface of past disappointments, apparently endemic weaknesses, and a perceived losing mentality, things aren’t as bleak as they may at first appear.
Since 1980, England have reached one semi-final in both the world cup and the European championships (with three and two quarters, respectively). Bookmakers currently have the odds of an England world cup win at approximately 14/1. That’s seventh favourite, even behind Argentina despite their hapless qualification campaign. That in itself suggests that the odds are worked out on more than just current form—and include a nod to history.
England’s unprecedented success last summer gives the lie to the oft-wheeled-out notion that somehow English players simply don’t possess the winning mentality that our European and South American cousins do. Let’s just remind ourselves of what happened last summer:
Steve Cooper’s young England side lost on penalties to Spain in the final of the European Championships in May, only to gain revenge in the world cup final in October, running out 5-2 winners.
The under 19’s won the World Cup in July, replicating the success of the under 20 side a month earlier. In the same month, another under 20’s side won the Toulon Tournament—for the second successive year.
The fact that the under 21 team lost on penalties to Germany in the semi-finals shouldn’t be greeted by the clichéd eye rolling, but instead be regarded as a part of a fantastic summer of achievement that bodes well for the talent being unearthed and cultivated at St George’s Park. Don’t forget, those facilities – which are among the best, if not the best, of their kind anywhere in world football – are a product of the hand wringing and soul searching of the last two dozen senior tournaments; so now that it appears to be paying dividends, we should not dismiss it out of hand.
Even the Germans are getting concerned about England’s success at all levels. Of course, no one will dare mention the prospect of another golden generation, but one criticism often levelled at England is the lack of talent being produced, which is something that is blatantly not true—at least for now. There are also parallels to be drawn to what happened with Spain, who experienced their period of world domination after being perennial tournament no hopers.
Another criticism levelled at the England set up involves the Premier League and the lack of opportunities those young lions (who’ve achieved so much success) receive from their clubs in order to push on. This is an argument that you can use regardless of which side of the fence you are on. Having what is likely the best league in the world on their doorstep offers opportunities many youngsters can only dream of; and, as in the case of Ademola Lookman’s move to the Bundesliga, there are ways and means of getting those initial games outside the English top league. No one can deny the influence that the likes of Pochettino and Guardiola have had on their English charges—the perfect example being the transformation of Raheem Sterling into the player everyone thought and hoped he could become.
Under the calm and solid stewardship of Gareth Southgate, England have an opportunity to build something, if not special, then certainly better than what we have unfortunately become used to, and Russia is the first chance to see if we are on the right road to achieving that. If you look forward, not back, and allow yourself to dream a little, there are many reasons for England fans to believe that we are entering into an exciting period.
Can England go all the way, or is it too soon? Leave us a comment below.