We are less than two months away from Euro 2012 and, as ever, the build-up to a major tournament for England is far from straightforward…
England’s first group game of this summer’s European championships takes place against France on 11 June, less than two months away. Before that, England have two international friendlies against Norway and Belgium on 26 May and 2 June respectively.
Therefore, with such a big summer ahead for English football, for a tournament that is key, if not for England to have a realistic chance of winning - because, let’s be honest, England don’t really stand much of a chance of triumphing, and that was before Wayne Rooney was banned for the first two group matches - then to at least blood the bright new generation of youthful English talent. To give players like Danny Welbeck, Kyle Walker, Micah Richards, Joe Hart, Daniel Sturridge, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere (before it was confirmed he will miss the tournament through injury) and the like the experience of playing at an international tournament, as it is hoped that the above players and many more besides will be the spine of the England team for the next five to ten years.
After the debacle of the South African experience, it was clear that the ‘Golden Generation’ had well and truly failed and a bright new young generation must be brought through. The tournament in Poland and the Ukraine is likely to be the swansong for players such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand and countless others if, of course, they are selected in the first place. Some of those mentioned above may well have already played their last game for their country.
To some extent, it is now bordering on farcical that we are now less than two months away from an international tournament, and there is still no full-time manager installed for the England job.
Stuart Pearce was installed as caretaker boss, supposedly only for the friendly against the Netherlands at Wembley at the end of February, but there have been further revelations this week from Pearce that he would be happy to pick the squad for Euro 2012 and lead the squad into the tournament if needs be. Pearce is indeed a likable man and a good motivator, particularly with young players, but the track record he has thus far in his young managerial career is questionable at best. At Manchester City, he was often quick to point out what was wrong with the team and where the side needed to improve, but would then do nothing about it and, low and behold, the same deficiencies in that City team continued to be exploited by opponents and Pearce was left quoting the same rhetoric once more. In spite of undoubted quality as a motivator of younger players, his time coaching the under-21 national side has also been a mixed experience, despite having undoubtedly quality young players, the under-21’s have flattered to deceive at tournament level in recent years.
One thing that is also farcical about Stuart Pearce’s situation is that, alongside the caretaker position he is currently adopting for the senior England national side, he is also the coach of the under-21’s side AND has been appointed as the coach of the Team GB men’s football team for this summers London 2012 Olympic Games. So, if Pearce is seen a football match somewhere in the country, say, at an Arsenal game, is he looking at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as a potential for the Euro 2012 squad? Or perhaps as a place in the under-21 side? Or does he have a place in mind for the 18-year-old to compete at the Olympics? In the aftermath of all the talk linking him with the vacant England managerial position, and on being asked if the job could be combined with managing a Premier League side, Harry Redknapp said that it would be near impossible to combine the two roles. So if it is near impossible to do two jobs at once, then how hard is it to fulfil the criteria of three, albeit for a limited but very important period of time?
To an extent, this situation is a damning indictment of just how powerful the Premier League and its clubs have become. With the recent free fall that Tottenham Hotspur have been in recently in the Premier League, a decline that has coincided with Fabio Capello resigning from the England managerial post and Spurs boss Harry Redknapp being instated as the undisputed favourite for the position – something that Redknapp, to his great credit, has never hid from or denied his interest in – the FA have been caught up in a classic ‘Catch 22’ situation.
As soon as Fabio Capello cleared his desk at Wembley, the FA clearly wanted to ring Daniel Levy, the chairman at Tottenham Hotspur, and work out a suitable compensation package for the North London club, as well as permission to speak with Redknapp about taking over the job, if not immediately, then at the end of the season after Spurs’ final game. The major problem with this though, aside from the amount of compensation that Levy would unquestionably demand from the FA for his manager, is that if Spurs’ season started to stutter and went downhill – which low and behold, it has – then the FA would clearly be blamed for destabilising Tottenham by pinching their manager and thus wrecking their extremely promising season. There are indeed some that have still somewhat unfairly accused the FA of such an act, purely because Redknapp’s head may have been turned by the job and this may have in turn affected the performance of the Tottenham players. At the same time, the FA are being criticised for not appointing someone on a full-time basis, so they really are in a ‘lose-lose’ situation in some respects.
Whatever the situation, the fact remains that the English national team is heading into an international tournament that they have realistically little hopes of winning. The fact that the Three Lions are also heading to Poland and the Ukraine without a full-time manager installed underlines the disjointed nature of England at this time and it has to go down as one of the most chaotic build-ups to an international tournament that we have ever had, certainly in my lifetime.