I am not particularly a fan of international football these days. I prefer the club game and of course watching West Ham. However I am still proudly English and like to watch the major tournaments and the qualifying games. I am definitely not a fan of friendly games where unlimited substitutions take place. These are not true football matches, and serve little purpose in preparing the team for tournaments. They hold no interest for me whatsoever and I don’t usually watch them at all, unless of course a West Ham player is involved, in which case I might sneak a look. But, of course, despite the ever increasing dearth of English talent playing in the Premier league these days, West Ham’s English players have not had a look-in in recent times.
It was a different matter when I was growing up in the 1960’s. England international games were one of the few opportunities we had to watch football on TV. There was something quite magical about watching the national side then, and of course this was enhanced by England winning the World Cup when I was just 12.
Since we hosted Euro 96, when we came very close to winning, (losing to Germany on penalties in the semi-final) we have never gone beyond the quarter finals in a major tournament, often not getting that far. Despite this we have frequently qualified for the tournaments with ease, so something is very clearly wrong in how we tackle tournament football.
Since 1996, when Terry Venables lost his job, we have had six managers up to and including Euro 2016. Can you name them? In order they were Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson. Apart from one notable failure (the famous “wally with the brolly” headline refers when McClaren was outwitted by Super Slav) we have qualified every time, but not achieved very much in the finals themselves.
What do those six England managers have in common? They all won their first game in charge, something our old friend Big Sam has replicated with the last minute win in Slovakia. I won’t say too much about the game, other than that I think we deserved to win, we controlled the game, but we showed again how difficult we find it to score goals.
I was pleased for Allardyce, and despite my reservations about what I believe are his limitations as a manager, as a patriotic Englishman I hope he does well. One thing that is amazing really is how the England team has changed in the four years since Roy Hodgson’s first game just over four years ago in May 2012. England’s starting XI today under Sam was Hart, Walker, Cahill, Stones, Rose, Dier, Henderson, Sterling, Lallana, Rooney, and Kane. Personally I don’t have too many qualms about his choice, although I’ve never personally rated Henderson, and other attacking players such as Lallana and Sterling, despite being very good footballers, need to score more goals. Perhaps this is where our own Michail Antonio will get his chance (as long as he doesn’t get picked in the right back role!)
I looked up the starting eleven chosen by Hodgson for his first game, and not a single one of them were in the starting line-up today. His team was Green, Jones, Jagielka, Lescott, Baines, Milner, Parker, Gerrard, Young, Downing, and Carroll. There were four players with a West Ham connection, either then or later. The last West Ham player selected for England was Downing a couple of years ago when Hodgson picked him for one game, played him in a position that he wasn’t occupying for us at the time, and then discarded him.
So qualification for the World Cup in 2018 is now underway, and the initial results couldn’t really have been better. Three points from an away game in Slovakia, one of the tougher fixtures we will face, in a qualifying group that additionally contains the might of those footballing giants Malta, Scotland, Lithuania and Slovenia. It was boosted still further by the latter two drawing in Lithuania and therefore getting one point apiece. I am writing this before Scotland’s trip to Malta is more than half an hour old, with the score currently 1-1. But that result shouldn’t really matter in the final reckoning.
Big Sam’s absolute minimum requirement is to qualify for the World Cup finals with ease, just like his predecessors have usually done. The important thing will be what happens when we actually get there. That’s where his credentials to manage the national team will be tested. He will probably only get one chance.