England’s World Cup excuse check-list

When England inevitably return to this country, sun-burnt and unsuccessful, it will be to the sound of half-a-dozen excuses.

We always fail at international tournaments and we do so for a very simple reason: England are not good enough to win a European Championship or World Cup.  We’re aware of that, obviously, but we don’t really like to talk about it out-loud - defeats in major tournaments are easy to stomach when they can be attributed to a foreign manager, a single under-performing player, or a referee.

So which outside factor will stop our march to glory this time around?

The pitches

The media has started to lay the groundwork early and there’s definitely some mileage in the state of the pitch in the Arena Amazonia.  It’s rock hard, it looks uneven, and the surface in Manaus ticks a lot of boxes - if an English player turns an ankle  or takes a heavy fall on it, expect much hand-wringing and forced outrage.

It’s a Daily Mail article waiting to happen, isn’t it? Something about a FIFA conspiracy to put England in the middle of a jungle and making their progression through the group stage as difficult as possible.

It won’t just be a bad pitch, it will be a nasty, South-American ‘stitch up’.  Lovely stuff.

The Environment

It’s going to be warm - very, very warm - and anybody who has ever seen a picture of a British footballer on a beach holiday knows that our kind melt in the sun.

This might not stand-up that well, because we’ve grown a tolerance to this excuse.  For as long as anybody can remember, it’s been accepted that England are not capable of playing football in anything above twenty degrees - until a tournament is held within ‘on a rainy night in Stoke’, we have absolutely no chance.

Brazil?  South Africa? Japan and South Korea?  Those tournaments might as well have been held on the moon.

The Manager

Nope, nothing to see here.

In 2010, The Sun thoroughly enjoyed themselves at Fabio Capello’s expense.  Day after day, article after article, childish graphic after childish graphic - the xenophobia bubbled and intensified as England got worse, and Steven Howard’s anti-foreigner bile probably came very close to giving him a stroke.

Roy Hodgson?  No, he’s far too English. When the manager is one of our own, it’s much harder to cast him as the principal villain.  Capello and Eriksson were easy fits, because the mouth-breathing, UKIP-voting element of the population didn’t need any encouragement to swallow the ‘dirty foreigner fucks over English football’ narrative.

The Ball

The Brazuca is presumably ‘the roundest ball ever made’ - as every tournament claims to be - and with that spherical purity will come inevitable complaints.  It will fly ‘funny’, goalkeepers won’t be able to see it, and players with ordinarily immaculate control will look silly.

That’s all very interesting, but it’s far too universal a problem.  Even by English standards, that excuse just will not hold up.

A lack of a Winter break in English domestic football.

Yup, you know it.

The FA

There’s definitely something here.  At some point during the competition, the Football Association will be branded as a ‘disgrace’ for something.  It could be the hotel preparations, it could be the travel arrangements, or it might even - an interesting cross-category excuse - be related to how many hours of practice they allowed the side to have with the tournament ball.

They are a fantastic scapegoat because they provide such a wide range of opportunity.  As a rule, you can take almost any off-field situation, judge it retrospectively, and claim that The FA should have known better - even if you yourself had no idea of the existence of the relevant problem before the tournament started.

In terms of creating a lasting excuse-legacy from the tournament it’s not the strongest option, but some FA-hate could fuel a Martin Samuel column or two.

Cheating opposing players

A lovely, rich topic, and one we’re very, very comfortable with.

Secretly, the tabloid press love it when England suffer as a result of some South American/Southern European/Asian/German etc shenanigans, because it affords them the chance to unleash their inner xenophobe.  It’s akin to a white racist being mugged by a black man - it provides a false sense of validation.

England are playing against Luis Suarez in the group stage, you say?  Yes, I wonder what the narrative will be after that game.

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