Every international break must seem the same if you’re an England fan; you grind out two uninspiring and demotivating victories against two minnow nations who are there for a good day out. Then, the written and television media complain that the team is lacklustre, not up to standard and will flop in the World Cup.
It’s been this way for a while now. Both fans and the media alike have to get real, this is no golden age of English football. The players at Gareth Southgate’s disposal are not world-class. The attack, if performing well could carry the Three Lions to a certain level, but everything behind them, excluding the full-backs, is mediocre at best.
In recent years, there have been great sporting stories of average teams achieving great things, just look at Leicester winning the Premier League. Another example of this was Wales’ run at Euro 2016, storming into the semi-finals in their first major tournament in almost half a century. Excluding Gareth Bale, man for man England have a far superior team compared to their neighbours, yet one team is under-performing, and one is overachieving.
Everything that surrounds the Welsh national team is the opposite of the that of the English camp. Fans and local media realise that Wales aren’t, or at least shouldn’t be world beaters, and set their expectations accordingly. If Wales fail to qualify on Monday night, there will be disappointment, sure, but there’ll be no cries of despair or outrage. Looking more in depth, the media coverage is different, too. Welsh newspapers recognise this generation of players as heroes, as they’re the ones that went to a major tournament, and were close to making the final. The likes of John Hartson, Ian Rush, Craig Bellamy and the great Ryan Giggs couldn’t achieve that.
English media has a tendency to hound their players, as if they’re favourites for winning tournaments, when in reality, they’re a million miles from that. Look at the way Wayne Rooney was consistently treated throughout his international career, all-time record goal-scorer, but if you believed the media, he was public enemy number one.
Look at the managers, too. Chris Coleman, a seasoned professional who’s found his calling being in charge of his country, and always seems up for the fight. Then there’s Gareth Southgate, a man unwillingly promoted from under-21 manager, who has the excitement of a sedated dog in his press conferences and in his mannerisms on the touchline. There’s fire beneath the surface, but he just hasn’t let it out, and constantly seems bored to be England manager.
Moving onto the pitch, the whole attitude displayed by both sides is worlds apart. England play as a group of individuals, and have done for a long time. That’s why England couldn’t win trophies with the likes of Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Owen, Beckham, Ferdinand, Cole, Terry; the list goes on. The passion involved is very different. Wales go out onto that pitch knowing that they have to play as a team, it’s been drummed into them by Coleman, and they know that as individuals, they won’t beat too many teams.
It’s a phenomenal mentality, and was never more evident than at the Euro’s. Wales are often labelled with the tag ‘one man team,’ referring to the reliance on superstar Bale. Yet, in France last summer, Bale wasn’t even in the top three Welsh performers for the tournament, and he still played really well. Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams all stepped up as leaders for their team. When you watch England, how many leaders do you really see?
The FA could do far worse than studying the rise of the Welsh over the past five years and instilling the same kind of attitude on their players. A new passion, a new mentality and a new connection with the fans is needed if England are to be successful anytime soon.
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featured image credit sky sports