Only the English could find a way of exiting Europe so spectacularly twice in the space of four days.
Somehow, against all odds, the increasingly ubiquitous sense of national distress that manifested itself early last Friday morning was eclipsed on Monday, as our nation’s footballers demonstrated a complete lack of leadership, responsibility and urgency in Nice and succumbed to the seemingly innocuous threat of Iceland.
As one infamous Nordic commentator declared in 1981, our boys took one hell of a beating.
England lacked leaders. On a night where patience and perseverance was destined to be paramount, our players panicked, frequently showing profligacy in the final third and committing fundamental errors when in possession.
Harry Kane, our former player, was as ineffective last night as he was in a Norwich shirt, mis-hitting free-kicks, miss-controlling simple short passes and posing an almost non-existent threat to Iceland’s resolute defenders.
Sterling and Rooney also struggled on a catastrophic night for England, whilst our own defence seemed to have more holes in than the shadow cabinet.
The talent is not lacking in this young England side. Neither is the ability, skill or passion. Monday night’s disaster was less a product of a lack of quality than it was a lack of cohesion, organisation and leadership.
Hodgson had no Plan B, no alternative to rely on when our players were performing so haplessly in possession. Marcus Rashford should have been brought on earlier after his mature yet fearless twenty minutes against Wales. Pity.
These factors – the manager’s ineptitude, our players’ lack of direction – are subordinate, however, to our national team’s profound absence of leadership. All sports teams require leaders, players who take responsibility and rally others in times of difficulty and hardship. On Monday night on the Riviera, all fourteen players deployed by Hodgson failed to demonstrate even a fragment of this essential characteristic.
Joe Hart’s decibel levels and subsequent organisational abilities dropped as fast as his head after he failed to thwart Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s tame effort.
Wayne Rooney’s usually laudable attributes as captain deserted him after his unforgivable streak of poor touches and passes.
Gary Cahill failed to provide defensive discipline or organisation.
This England side is rampant with weak, timid personalities that are incapable of providing sufficient responsibility in major tournaments.
With the new Championship season looming, vital lessons can be learned not just by Alex Neil’s Norwich City but by all domestic sides. Be bold. Communicate. Provide leadership not just on the pitch but from the dugout as well. Take responsibility.
It’s no coincidence that Germany – world champions – are a team saturated with leaders, with Thomas Muller, Mats Hummels and Manuel Neuer palpably representing all that England are lacking. France too possess an abundance of responsibility takers. England do not.
If Norwich City are to have any success in this imminently challenging and difficult season ahead, we will need characters. Players like Craig Fleming and Malkay Mackay, whose leadership both defensively and more broadly guided us to the top flight so memorably in 2004.
We will need John Ruddy at his commanding best. Wes Hoolahan has an important role to play after his success with the Republic of Ireland at the Euros. In short, if we stand any chance of an immediate return to the Premier League, City must learn from England’s failures in France.
Despite his frequent impetuousness – his mindless and irresponsible tackle on a freezing Janurary Wednesday at the Britannia sent me and over 2000 fellow Canaries into fervent fury – the selling of Gary O’Neill to Bristol City was not a positive move, offloading a player who is capable of providing leadership and responsibility both on and off the pitch. To distort the lyrics of the once popular chant, we no longer have O’Neill.
Keeping Timm Klose remains a key priority, whose leadership and defensive organisation was so sorely missed during our run-in following his injury in South London last April. Klose, Ruddy, Tettey, Howson, Olsson and Hoolahan all have critical roles to play across our next 46 competitive league games, providing the desire, belief and drive that is required in order for a Premier League return.
It won’t be easy. Alex Neil still needs to recruit at least two strikers to challenge the grossly wasteful Cameron Jerome, whose new three-year contract divided Norwich fans.
Although Ryan Bennett and Klose can form an effective partnership, Neil also needs to bring in at least one new centre-back to enhance depth. The departure of Nathan Redmond leaves us short of width.
Business in the transfer market before August 6 will define our season. In Alex Neil, we possess a man whose leadership from the side lines and on the training ground outweighs the less than Churchillian Roy Hodgson’s. Neil can provide the direction and desire required in order to mount an assault on the summit of the Championship.
However, the players – both current and future recruitments – will need to demonstrate similar levels of leadership and responsibility on the pitch.
With a power vacuum both emerging in British politics and within English football, it is essential that our club do not succumb to the same fate. England’s failures throughout Euro 2016 that culminated in Monday’s disgrace in Nice cannot be replicated by City this season if we are to discover any success.
Ability and quality aside, we will need leaders, players who take responsibility and instil the team with a sense of passion and direction. We had it in 2004. We had it in 2011. We had it in 2015. We now need our team to be bold, step up and do it again in 2016-7.