Yesterday the sun shone and in the evening and England played for a place in the World Cup Final. This morning we awoke taking in a bitter loss to a grey sky and the news Donald Trump was flying in- how quickly a mood can turn sour.
But as the dust settles we need to put last night’s disappointment in the context of where England were 2 years ago- dumped out of the Euros by Iceland on the back of a listless 90 minutes that represented the lowest point in England’s chequered footballing fortunes.
For all the disappointment and the opportunity lost this World Cup has restored hope and expectation in the England team. Last year the junior sides showed it can be done by winning 2 age group World Cups and a European Championships now the senior side has got close to the biggest prize in sport.
But what is important now is England build on the successful World Cup campaign in the way a similar Germany did after the 2006 tournament. That means keep improving the team and keep themselves amongst international football’s elite after so long in the shadows. After their previous semi-finals in 1990 and 1996 England went into a steep decline, this time it needs to be different.
Lessons from past Semi Finals
It was announced before the 1990 World Cup Bobby Robson would be moving to PSV Eindhoven after the tournament. After the high of Italia ’90 Robson was replaced by Graham Taylor who swiftly ditched the progressive style Robson had favoured in Italy for a return to a rigid 4-4-2 and long ball football. England then suffered a winless group stage exit at Euro ’92 and failed to qualify for USA ’94.
After the success of Euro ’96 England again switched managers from Terry Venables to Glenn Hoddle. Hoddle had a similar footballing philosophy to Venables but struggled to connect with his players and England went out in the last 16 of France ’98 before Hoddle made way for the clueless Kevin Keegan who lead England to disaster at Euro 2000.
Changing the manager was the obvious mistake in both 1990 & 1996 and The FA have dodged that bullet with Gareth Southgate’s contract currently running up to Euro 2020, although surely that will now be extended to 2022. The other problem Taylor & Hoddle both suffered was they inherited veteran sides. As soon as England returned from Italy in 1990 Peter Shilton & Terry Butcher announced their international retirements whilst Gary Lineker would follow two years later- leaving big gaps to fill. After Euro ’96 Hoddle had to deal with a steeply declining Paul Gascoigne whilst Tony Adams & Stuart Pearce were both starting to creak. This time England have a young squad with only 2 players (Gary Cahill & Ashley Young) over the age of 28 so there will be no need to urgently find replacement players
Time for Evolution not Revolution
Southgate has overseen a largely unnoticed revolution since joining the FA as Head of Development back in 2011 through the Under 21s and now as England Manager. But now England must consolidate the gains made and build on the foundations laid in Russia. Coming into this World Cup the likes of Maguire, Pickford & Trippier are now seasoned campaigners having arrived in Russia international novices. Southgate has been quick to point out England are still a developing side but I see two areas that need improvement.
The most immediate is left wing-back where Ashley Young’s indian summer will surely not last. Danny Rose will be looking to regain the spot now fully fit after a tough season at Tottenham and Luke Shaw will likely move to getaway from the Emperor of Old Trafford. But the most exciting prospect who could provide an instant upgrade to the side is Fulham’s 19-year-old Ryan Sessegnon who after a steller season in the Championship will be making his Premier League debut next month.
The other issue is the lack of a creative midfielder. Southgate would have liked to have Adam Lallana but for injury and rightly baulked at taking perma-crock Jack Wilshere. England have plenty of youngsters who could audition for the role- Phil Foden, Mason Mount, Kieran Dowell, James Maddison but none have thus far secured a regular start at Premier League level. England aren’t short of potential playmakers but for now these great prospects remain just that.
But clearly what we don’t need now is to rip it up and start again
Targets for the season ahead
The next major tournament is of course Euro 2020 with the unusual twist of the tournament being held across the continent and the final & semi finals being held at Wembley. But England have 2 more immediate goals- the Euro Under 21s next summer with England’s Under 20 World Champions looking to add the one youth trophy never taken back to St Georges Park.
For Southgate and the senior squad the next competition is the newly formed UEFA Nations League where they will face Spain and er Croatia over 4 games this autumn with the winner to face a mini tournament next summer. Neither tournament will garner the attention of the World Cup but they are significant milestones for how the team is progressing ahead of 2020.
With interest in the national team reinvigorated England fans have plenty to be optimisitc about and football may still be coming home, albeit delayed.