Summer 2018 seems so long ago now.
Those 4 glorious weeks that myself and (I’m guessing here) the majority of the country spent basking in sunshine, drinking copious amounts of beer, and watching (in my opinion anyway) one of the best World Cup Tournaments in a long time.
What also made it so enjoyable to me, was that this time, there didn’t seem to be the usual overblown build-up of hype and self-entitlement that gets everybody completely convinced that we’re going to win it all – that this time, football really is coming home.
We all know how that usually ends up for us…
Truth-be-told, I don’t think many people gave us much of a chance this time. Nobody, myself included, really thought that we had much hope of even progressing beyond the Group Stages – never mind going on to win the whole thing. Judging by how far we ended up going in the Tournament, it was definitely a good thing, as by the end, pretty much the entire nation had joined together in unison – marvelling at how much we had actually achieved.
The lack of pressure and expectation certainly helped the team relax, enjoy playing, and damn-near get to the final – all with a team that (on paper at least) had no real chance at doing so.
Anyhow, I digress.
Is the Uefa Nations League our chance to return to former glory?
Normally, after a major tournament you have to wait a while to see a competitive International game, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear about the UEFA Nations League.
Rather than having a bunch of friendly matches that a) don’t have any significant outcome other than potentially injuring players, and b) lack passion and excitement of any kind, it gives us and the players another chance at chasing some glory.
Yes, friendly matches are an opportunity for players to earn a Cap and to represent their country, maybe try out some new tactics and formations, but ask yourself this – can anyone do as good of a job when they know the end result doesn’t really count towards anything? To me, it’s the same as having sex with your wife when you’ve had too much to drink – yes it feels good to be back in action, but you both know fine well there’s not going to be a satisfying end result.
Well, maybe not for her anyway..
The UEFA Nations League sort of crept up on me a little. I’m not going to lie – I had no idea it existed, never mind that we were going to play in it. I know some people have likened it to “Mickey Mouse Trophy” status, but to me I think it’s holds huge potential.
People seem to forget that, as hard as it’ll be for people to hear – England aren’t as good as we, the fans, want them to be.
There hasn’t been a “World-beating” England side since the days of Euro 96, and even then, we ended up being beaten in the semi-finals – and in our own backyard no less. There seems to be this idea that, because we’re England, because “we invented football”, and that we have arguably the best domestic league in the world, we automatically assume that we’re going to do well at major International tournaments. There’s almost a kind of “entitlement attitude” amongst England fans (myself included, before you anyone starts shouting at me..) that simply can’t accept that we might not win. It’s like we’re all becoming self important, self-entitled Millennial, who can’t accept the reality of a situation.
“But we’re England! Remember 1966? We’re world beaters!”
No, we aren’t World-beaters just yet – but we’re definitely on the cusp of it.
Thanks to England’s 2-1 win over Croatia, we’re now heading to Portugal next summer for another shot at some glory. That means we can play more matches as a finished team, rather than going down the Friendly route of playing everyone and their pet dog in order to “see how different players gel”. I’ve never been a fan of this tactic, as it detracts from the amount of time your “Final Team” gets to play together. A good team needs consistency and time to become a great team, and swapping people and formations around every time you play is never going to allow that to happen.
How are you supposed to do well at a tournament if the team has barely played together as a finished unit?
If we do well out of this tournament, then it’ll be a massive boost to the team, the manager and the entire country. It’s a chance to take the much needed step towards being able to dominate at the Euros in 2020, and we need to seize the opportunity. Yes, I know, it’s not as big a tournament as The Euros or the World Cup, but we’re not at the point of being able to go all the way in either of those just yet. However, a win or a place in the final would surely change that.
I say that the UEFA Nations League is a massive chance for England to take the step from good team to great team, and it’s up to us as a nation to get behind it and support our boys. Don’t look at it is a “Mickey Mouse Trophy” – look at it as a chance to step up to the level that we, as a nation, want ourselves to be at.
Only, let’s do it the way we did at the World Cup, because after all – a little less expectation can go a long way.