You know how it works in football when England play Germany. It’s a hard fought battle between two highly competitive teams, one of which is wonderfully well-organised with players who all look comfortable on the ball and the other is England. Germany’s team will doubtless provide the national team players of the future whilst ours will gradually drift away from the top flight, working their way down through the Championship and maybe lower still. And tonight, in the European Under 21 Championships, England lost to Germany. On penalties, of course.
I say on penalties, of course, as if it was a classic game between two evenly matched teams, but it wasn’t. For much of the time, England’s limited players could barely get the ball off the Germans, never mind create anything. If the Germans had not been so wasteful, it would never have got near penalties. It is the technical level of the English game, not so much the penalties, that makes me despair.
It amazed me that such a limited England team got as far as the semi-finals of a major tournament. Whilst the Germans played with an excellent range of passing and movement, England were often reduced to hitting pressure relieving long balls to the German defence. It seemed for long spells that we were still in the stone age of football. Having observed the brilliant total football of the Dutch, the pace, power and poise of the best Brazilian sides and, latterly, the tiki-taka of the Spaniards, led by the genius of Xavi and Iniesta, we remain locked stubbornly in the past.
The England side comprised mainly of reserve team players and those not from the top tier of Premier League clubs and it showed. Tammy Abraham is a classic goalscorer in the Championship in England, but that was about the level he displayed today. The whole team appeared nondescript to me, with the notable exception of the goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, who is undoubtedly the real deal. All that work he did last season behind a pitiful Sunderland defence was good preparation for today.
We didn’t deserve to win and anyone who is being honest will admit we didn’t deserve to get as far as penalties. The standard of top young English players is nowhere near to that of top European players. The manager, Aidy Boothroyd, deserves a medal for steering such a mediocre side as far as the semi-finals of an international tournament.
When Spain ruled the world in football not so long ago, even they had their critics, particularly those who could not understand how tiki-taki worked, referring to it as tippy-tappy instead, as if it was possession for possession’s sake, but look at tonight’s game. The German players regularly retained possession in the opposition half. Think about that for a moment. If you have ever played football at any level, you will know that it is almost impossible to do that. England, by contrast, were unable to keep the ball even in their own half, hurriedly lumping it forward in almost every play. If you hate the idea of your team playing possession football, or whichever disparaging name you wish to give it, you have pretty well given up the chance of winning anything. If you hate tiki-taka, as practiced by the great Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Fabregas and co and you enjoy the dross England teams serve up “hitting the channels” don’t be upset when England exits yet another tournament before the end.
I was proud of the young England boys tonight because they played just about as well as they could. But the fact that they can’t play much better is a far bigger worry. Never mind. The Premier League will be back soon and we can enjoy watching some of the best players in the world, almost none of whom will be English. Remember that next summer when we struggle at the World Cup.