England’s Groundhog Day has very little to do with the taking and missing of penalties. If only it were that simple.
It’s really about that recurring moment when we realise we’re not good enough - as has been the case for the best part of 50 years.
This is different in that we pretty well knew we weren’t good enough from the start. So it’s right that there’s been no savage overreaction to an all-too-predictable quarter final exit from the Euros, considering England went further than most expected under a new manager still getting a feel of the job.
But already Roy Hodgson is bashing his brains against the problem that has beset all his many predecessors since Sir Alf Ramsey. Other countries are better than us at keeping the ball and passing it.
We have blundered on in the blind arrogance that our bulldog spirit will prevail in the end, that the camaraderie of our players will show the strength of what we pride ourselves in calling the English game.
Well, whatever else England lacked in this competition, we didn’t fall short on fight - as usual. But that should also be telling us that something is fundamentally wrong in our approach. If you can’t beat ‘em you have to join ‘em.
Germany (my tip to win) Spain, Portugal and, of course, Italy are all clearly far superior in skill and technique. England tricked us into believing against France, Sweden and Ukraine that we won the group without performing at our best - a trap I fell into here last week.
In fact, we should now consider those patchy performances as par for the course.
Only our defence, the one functioning unit against Italy, is truly world class. Our midfield and attack - where Wayne Rooney was a pale shadow of his Premiership self in all but size - fall well short.
Okay, there is no way we will ever play like Spain; nor would we particularly want to. But we must embrace the best of what they do rather than simply trying to counter it. Must get away from the managerial mantra of “hard work, honesty, hunger, commitment” because those are bare essentials.
For consolation, I think a sea change in our football is already underway. Kids are being schooled to pass the ball and enjoy the game rather than being asked to win at all costs; higher up you will see most teams in the professional structure attempt to play passing football rather than hoof it.
We just have to get better at this desirable aim and it will take time. A friend said he shouted at the radio when I commented on a BBC Sheffield programme that we had to change our culture. “What’s wrong with a good long ball, a quick cross and, bang, a header into the net?” he demanded.
Nothing as it turns out. There is no right or wrong way to play if it gets results. It’s just that we will never win a World Cup or a European Championship that way.
But club beats country for most of our fans and our boast of having the best league in the world is based around foreign players.
Maybe the real truth is that we’re not that bothered about England . . .
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Howard carrying our hopes again
So we’re relying yet again on a referee to reach the final of a major competition. And for all that’s wrong with England’s football team, maybe Howard Webb’s latest crusade will remove an unfair stigma from this country’s much-maligned officials.
Sheffield-based former FIFA whistler and ex-referees’ boss Keith Hackett has always championed them as among the best in the world. He has also long rated Webb as THE best, making a prediction that came true when the Rotherham police sergeant took charge of the World Cup final two years ago.
Keith, seldom moved to lavish praise, rated the performance of Webb and his team as “textbook” and “sheer class” in a congratulatory email after their handling of Portugal’s quarter-final win over the Czech Republic. “You are not coming home, mate!” was another part of that message.
It’s often easy to moan and always harder to praise. Play-acting, shirt-tugging and referees seemingly incapable of awarding penalties have been the main bugbears of Euro 2012. Tell you what, though. While players seldom make news with good behaviour, their conduct has been almost exemplary. Respect is taking hold as an international code and match officials are clearly finding it easier to exert their authority.
Let’s hope the finalists uphold the trend . . . that Howard’s the man in the middle. . . and that the stain left by Holland two years ago is firmly expunged.
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Appetite of fans simply insatiable
Every summer as a kid, I would buy the evening paper just to see if my team had made a signing. And guess what? Most days I was disappointed. Events move faster now but there are still more days when nothing happens.
Thing is, I couldn’t ring a radio station or - what’s this? - send a tweet? Otherwise, I’d have pestered the life out of my predecessors in this media trade. So, like all the journos on the local scene, I fully understanding the bombardment of “what’s happening?” messages. Fact is, often very little and sometimes things we either don’t know or can’t divulge.
But I’ve never known such hunger for news. Even with the drip-feed provided by the social media, the appetite of fans is simply insatiable.
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Inertia-hit Blades still hard to leave
Good to hear Milan Mandaric keeping the Hillsborough drumbeat going strong in my interview with the Owls chairman today. As they say, you must never stand still in football. But sometimes there is no choice.
The apparent transfer inertia at Sheffield United - made all the more frustrating by Wednesday’s recruitment drive - is nobody’s fault. Not the chairman, not the manager and not the players who are exercising their rights under freedom of contract.
Consolation is that, as things stand, United still have a very good squad for what should be a less exacting League One. It will be chipped away at some point, presenting Danny Wilson a challenge that will demand all his experience and expertise.
But United also have one more thing good thing going for them. They are still hard to leave and easy to join. Whether that will balance the books remains to be seen, but it does suggest that Blades fans will still have a competitive team to support.