There was a time in the not so distant past where every football fan in England would be buzzing with anticipation for tonight’s fixture in Spain. A chance for hopefuls to set out their stall and make their case for selection in next year’s Euro 2016 squad. To add a bit of spice to the occasion the game will be played against a Spain team who have dominated most of the last decade in international football and team made up largely of players from the great Barcelona and Real Madrid teams. So what’s changed? The answer is relatively simple: Expectation has changed.
For years long suffering England fans convinced themselves there was a decent chance of England winning a major tournament. ‘Why not’? You would hear people say ‘individually we are as good as anyone’ was another overused conversation starter heard in pubs up and down the country late in May every two years. In recent times the golden generation with Becks and co have come and gone and still we are no nearer to seeing an English pair of hands on a major international trophy.
Given the amount of time that has passed since that famous victory in ’66 you would think expectations would have died off a long time ago. Unfortunately a few England teams dared to flirt with the idea of winning something and these brushes with glory made us all believe when really we had no place to. Gone are the days of building up the weight of a nation’s expectations and then unfairly placing them firmly on the shoulders of one special talent. Nowadays England fail collectively and people like Gareth Southgate are even allowed to become manager of the under 21s. In 1990 it was Gazza, 96 saw Shearer banging them in for fun and in 98 we had we had the precocious Michael Owen terrorising defenders. The last person we built up to shoot down recently became the nation’s leading all time goal scorer but in truth the last time he was winning matches single handedly was 2004. England it would seem no longer expects.
The average football fan has become more cynical. There are many who see international football as an unwanted distraction from the Premier League and more recently the Champions League. No longer does the World Cup or European Championship hold mystery. Through foreign talent coming through the Premier League, saturated European football tv deals and YouTube we have seen them all before. There are very few talented players off the radar that no one has heard off and as a result the big international games have lost some of their magic.
There is even an air of ‘less is more’ from the hierarchy at the FA. The appointment of Roy Hodgson a while back will have pleased a few who were looking forward to having an English manager again but without disrespecting the current gaffer, he wouldn’t be on a shortlist for many other big jobs in the world of football. In the past England had lured masters of Europe in the form of major dissapointment Fabio Capello and before him Sven had a few bites at the cherry with England’s so called ‘golden generation’. Roy has done a great job against bad opposition in terms of qualification but his tournament record is not a highlight for his CV. You get the feeling with Hodgson that he is mere moments away from becoming the new ‘wolly with a brolly’.
Perhaps this is all entirely wrong and England will shine against Spain and from that take the inspiration needed to go on and win the Euros next year. A few years ago some would have been able to get on board with that fantasy. Getting carried away with a performance in a friendly was perfectly acceptable. Nowadays? Anyone booked their tickets for the final?