Italy finally brought England's deficiencies to light
For once in this tournament an English television pundit summed it all up perfectly. On ITV's England v Italy highlights show Jamie Carragher said what everyone should have been saying the moment that Roy Hodgson was given the England job. To paraphrase the Liverpool defender, Carragher, strangely passionate for once regarding all things England, said 'we talk about getting kids to play more like Spain in this country, to keep the ball and pass but who is the manager of the England first team? Roy Hodgson, who plays with two banks of four and doesn't play with a passing style'. Nail. Head.
As damning statistics flashed up on the screen regarding possession (Roy doesn't believe in that, remember?), shots on target, passes made etc against Italy, the massacre that Andrea Pirlo and his co conspirators had inflicted on England over a tortuous two hours was hammered home. Carragher again led the way in sensible rhetoric. 'This Italy team isn't a great Italy team and they've played us off the park tonight. Those stats are what you would expect from a Championship side when they play against a Premier League team'. I'd have changed only the end of Carragher's analysis. Those stats are what you would expect from a Roy Hodgson team against any quality opposition.
Hodgson won't change. England must.
For two weeks Hodgson had got the nation on his side. I don't know how he did it, but he did. He convinced a country boasting one of the strongest squads at this tournament that qualifying from a group containing Sweden and Ukraine was 'exceeding expectations'. I often felt like the world had turned upside down as people blindly refused to acknowledge my assertion that Roy Hodgson was not taking English football forwards, but backwards. 'Ignore the fact we've had the least possession and shots on target of any team in the competition, we're winning, we're playing with spirit and heart' was the much heard retort. I'm sorry, but blocking shots left, right and centre and conceding ground to the likes Ukraine doesn't represent progress for English football. Neither does a rigid 442 system with two banks of four camped on the edge of your own area for two thirds of each match regardless of the opposition. As someone who suffered through a Roy Hodgson led team with my club side Liverpool, all of this was familiar to me and the notion that the ends justified the means regarding England's ugly approach infuriated me as history had already shown me that his failings will eventually come to the fore when luck deserts him. And boy were those failings shown up against Italy. The make up and fake tan were removed by the Italians and suddenly England looked decidedly hideous in the unforgiving light of day. Try as he might, Hodgson can't fool all of the people all of the time with his approach.
As England topped their group and Roy was lauded to high heaven by fans and pressmen alike, Liverpool supporters like myself were criticised as we had apparently not given Hodgson enough support or time at Anfield. Rubbish. He was hounded out of Merseyside for his woeful football and rigid tactics. He turned a Liverpool team containing talent like Gerrard, Torres, Reina, Kuyt, Maxi, Johnson, Agger and Lucas into a team that were fighting relegation and playing like West Brom or Stoke on a weekly basis. It was Hodgson's way, it remains Hodgson's way and it will continue to be Hodgson's way. That is why he will drag English football to lower recesses than we've seen for years.
If Fabio Capello had produced football as sterile as what Hodgson has served up during Euro 2012 then he'd have been a national pariah. This England team boasts world class players in every department. Hart, Cole, Gerrard and Rooney would walk into most sides in world football. They are surrounded by players who have won Premier League titles and have a wealth of Champions League experience. They are not the no-hopers that they are often made out to be. Nor did they come up against the likes of Spain or Germany which is when Hodgson's approach would perhaps have been acceptable or at least, understandable. Playing negatively against sides that are clearly much better than you (as Spain and Germany undoubtedly are) is one thing. Doing it against teams who don't have one player who would be good enough to make your squad is another matter entirely.
It is so blindingly obvious that Hodgson won't improve England going forward in any way what so ever. His tactical set up has never deviated from it's current archaic incarnation. It is Chelsea in Europe last season. It is Greece in Euro 2004. It is underdog football that rarely prevails and offers no sustainable model going forward. It relies solely on keeping it tight, working hard and hoping for a bit of luck. When that luck runs out however, what are you left with? What crumbs of comfort did Euro 2012 offer for England? Have they shown any positive attacking play? Have they shown they can beat big sides or even live with them in terms of possession or quality on the ball? Have they laid any foundations for the future regarding their footballing philosophy? No. But apparently that is irrelevant to most when you are somehow squeezing out lucky victories against the might of Ukraine.
Diamante's penalty sent England packing.
The most perplexing offering from the press and supporters of England this summer has been the myth regarding England's much lauded bravery. This is astonishing and could not be further from the truth. It also highlights the lack of knowledge this country has when it comes to the beautiful game. Bravery in football is trying to keep the ball under pressure, attacking the opposition and doing so with style. It isn't kicking the ball up to your hulking number 9 in the hope that he can win a flick on. It isn't sitting 8 men in front of your goal. It isn't putting your faith in a lucky bounce going your way. England returned home after playing like cowards when they possessed a calibre of player that promised so much more regardless of what Roy Hodgson and his sympathisers say to the contrary. If you disagree then I'd ask you to answer this question: How many of the French players would you have swapped for England's when they faced each other in the first game? Three? Four? England had at least an equal (I'd argue more than equal) level of quality in their team that night and yet they simply retreated into their shells and let the French do what they wanted. Yes, Scott Parker blocked the ball, yes John Terry threw himself into tackles but that isn't bravery in a footballing sense. Bravery would have been trying to out play France and win the match, not merely surviving. Italy's performance against Spain was real footballing bravery. They attacked a far superior team at every opportunity, went toe to toe with the Spaniards for 90 minutes and could easily have beaten the world champions that day. Hodgson's team were weak, flaccid and unambitious all tournament and will continue to be so.
Penalty shoot outs are often considered a cruel way to leave a tournament. But with the exceptional Germans lying in wait for England in the next round, perhaps their elimination was the most humane way of sending England home. If the Italians were able to strip England bare and embarrass them to such an extent then God only knows what Schweinsteiger, Ozil et al would have done to them. Until England wakes up and realises that Roy Hodgson is little more than a chancer, this county's footballing failures will only be added to. England were awful at Euro 2012 and no amount of media spin from Roy or his fans should convince you otherwise.