The summer performances on show by the England squad in the European Championships were some of the most disappointing since the turn of the last century. Despite the fact that the Three Lions squads over the years have only won six knock out matches in international performances since their sole triumph of 1966, fans had high hopes going into the Euros.
The result was all too familiar. England’s Group Stage campaign started off with an infuriating draw against Russia due to a last-minute goal. Despite the resulting anger among English fans, hopes remained reasonably high as the squad could learn from the mistakes of the game. The next game was an elating comeback with a last-minute goal against Wales, making it all the sweeter. Optimism was high once again, though it soon came to an end with another irritating draw—this time a goalless game against Slovakia—meaning that our national team finished second to our bitter rivals, Wales. Then, the tense wait for the 16 draw. When drawn against Iceland, fans considered it a guaranteed victory. However, the team gave the most underwhelming performance in living memory. There were no excuses that would satisfy a livid country of football lovers and there was no escape for the manager. The next morning Roy Hodgson resigned from the managerial position.
The month-long media rumours began with pundits and fans trying to predict the next manager of the England team. After much debate, Sam Allardyce was announced as the new manager of England. Allardyce was an experienced manager who had been managing in the highest tier of English football for over a decade. Despite not having trophies to his name “Big Sam”, as he is sometimes known, he remains famous for playing a no-nonsense style of football; over his lengthy career as a top-flight manager, Allardyce has saved many a club from relegation in the Premier League. Surely a manager like Allardyce was exactly what England needed after their abysmal European Championship campaign: a straight-talking manager who would try and get England out of their current rut. But once again, things were not as simple as they seemed.
After Big Sam’s first game in charge, during which the team avoided yet another infuriating draw with a last-minute goal from Lallana, all seemed to be going to plan. However shortly after the game, a video was leaked to the press showed Big Sam talking about how to sidestep FA rules and take shortcuts in the game. This resulted in a tirade of pressure from the media, public, and the FA urging him to step down, eventually resulting in his resignation. Consequently, Gareth Southgate, former England international, stepped in as a temporary caretaker manager.
Although Southgate won his first game comfortably against Malta in England’s World Cup Qualifying campaign, his career so far has not been problem-free. In particular, England captain Wayne Rooney is in poor form and is booed by fans. This hostility towards this loyal servant of the English cause has put pressure on Southgate and has resulted in Rooney being dropped to the bench for the next World Cup Qualifying round. Without a clear natural born leader in the side, the England team have not played as cohesively in recent times.
So what is next for English football? The next qualifier against Slovenia has the feel of a must-win game for the New England manager if he is to silence the critics and restore the long-lost confidence of the nation—the confidence so vital for the success of the England team. Looking to the future, it seems that the best way for England to approach the 2018 World Cup is to qualify with confidence and play in the same way, but approach the tournament with a level-headed, perhaps less optimistic, mentality in order to alleviate some of the pressure that was so evidently present on that appalling night against Iceland.