It turned out that England’s kids did a good job against Germany at Wembley last night. Many of the first choice were injured – and I believe, with the exception of Danny Drinkwater, they really were – the likes of Tammy Abraham, Jordan Pickford and Ruben Loftus Cheek stepped up to the plate, with the latter being by some distance England’s man of the match. This being England many of us are getting carried away. Let’s dump the old guard (Kane, Alli, Henderson et all) and stick with the kids. They’re going to be great players. Here we go again.
Right away, the expectation levels are rising, as they always do in England on the basis of one encouraging performance in an experimental line up in a friendly match. And this is where everything starts to go wrong. I am not one of those who believes the England players do not try and so produce below standard performances. I do not believe their millionaire statuses mean they lose the love of playing for their country. I see the problems are more simple than that.
First, our team is very average in world terms. We have no world class players and mere qualification for a tournament is our natural level. Second, many supporters don’t realise this and expect too much from the players who turn out. Then the levels of expectation rise and you then get fear. And if you don’t understand how players can crumble in the face of expectation, you don’t know football and footballers.
We need to praise Gareth Southgate for giving young talent its head, young talent that in the case of Loftus Cheek and Abraham has been rejected by their clubs and loaned out. Last night was the former’s 22nd start in senior football. The manager is calling up yet more youngsters for the Brazil game next week. Give the boys a chance.
Too many people simply assume that players who are unavailable for internationals are liars who aren’t really injured at all. It is far more likely that they genuinely are carrying knocks that will get worse if they play two games in a couple of days. Why not, instead blame the insane number of games players are expected to play? I’ll wager that many of the absent England absentees were given the nod to do miss out by the England medical staff. No player would want to miss playing against Germany and Brazil. I know Danny Drinkwater did because he thought he wasn’t fit enough, but Danny Rose was absolutely desperate to play despite a lack of fitness. That’s why I think Drinkwater is the one who will pay a heavy price for ducking out. We know this to be true about him. We just speculate about the rest.
“Let’s just go with the kids” is a catchy slogan but this is cynical old England and if they are blooded too early and fold under the pressure you can bet that half the country would be slagging them off as lacking desire, having too much too soon and all the rest of it.
Don’t forget that for the first 20 minutes, England could not get the ball off of Germany. They could have been out of sight by half time. It was good last night, but not that good. I can’t help wondering if some people relish the failure of the national team.