Sunday, 21 July 2013

The misery of England's Euro 2013 campaign

Having had time to reflect on England's dismal Euro 2013 performances, it is becoming a much more popular opinion that Hope Powell's time as England manager should come to an end. Though it would be easy to lambast the players' efforts, the direction the management set up went for in this tournament led to the early exit of The Lionessess, and whilst many in the media looked at England's ranking of fourth best team in Europe, those who regularly watch WSL matches were not so shocked at the team's premature return home.

As soon as the original 23 player squad was announced, many within the game hung their heads in utter dismay at the glaring exclusions from the touring party, meanwhile the same old names were cropping up for another tournament under Powell's regime. The likes of Anita Asante, Casey Stoney, Kelly Smith, Karen Carney and Eni Aluko were all selected for their fifth international tournament in succession, despite all having major question marks against their names concerning form or fitness. One of Powell's current cliques is the out of form Lincoln Ladies back three of goalkeeper Karen Bardsley and central defenders Stoney and Sophie Bradley, despite Lincoln sitting seventh in an eight team WSL half way through the season and having failed to win a game in seven attempts.

The major issue regarding the squad announcement however was the huge risk placed on injured players. Steph Houghton, Stoney, Carney, Yankey, Rachel Brown and Smith had all missed large parts of the season with injuries, whilst Bradley picked up an injury in a warm up game against Sweden. Powell's reliance on these "big name stars" meant she could not possibly leave them behind, especially knowing the amount of media coverage this tournament would be getting back home, Smith in particular. For so long the golden girl of the English game, but now only capable of showing glimpses before picking up another long term injury. Her half hour spell against the French was an example of a player who has lost the aura she had 6-8 years ago. Houghton and Stoney started and finished all three games, and their lack of match fitness showed as they toiled, alarmingly so against France.

As previously stated, it is very easy to point the finger at the players, but in truth the majority are simply no longer good enough to play at that level any more, despite Powell's blind faith in them. I feel for Houghton, the converted left back in the squad, despite numerous possibilities for that position, including Kerys Harrop, Corrine Yorston and Alex Greenwood. She has become a victim of her own success, grabbing headlines with goals in the Olympics for Team GB, and therefore has been dispatched to the left back berth ever since, despite being naturally right footed and, in my opinion, a much more competent central midfielder. Bradley was also unlucky, her injury not allowing her to show her abilities, and in turn showing up the frailties of her partner in crime Stoney.

While some will argue Powell did pick young players in the form of Jordan Nobbs, Toni Duggan and Jade Moore, it was impossible not to pick them considering their club form, but then to go the whole tournament without giving all but one of the youngsters any game time was an appaling display of no confidence, opting towards the omnipresent Asante and Jill Scott. Duggan's inclusion off the bench against Russia was an act of pure desperation, and luckily for Powell it paid off, and following her impressive introduction, she simply could not leave her out of the France game, but as for the other young players in the squad, they may as well have stayed at home.

There are so many names that could be brought up that were not involved in the squad, and many already have been, but it is a sign of the manager's inflated ego that there are a number of players that will not be included by their choice. Lianne Sanderson has publicly stated that she will not be available for selection while Powell is in charge, and the likes of Rachel Williams and Gemma Davison, amongst others, have had disagreements with the coach.

One enormous cross against the managers name came in the final group game, a must win game against France. Despite already being through, France still named a strong line up, with Necib, Thiney and Henry in midfield. What with England having to win the game, Powell bewilderingly decided on a 4-4-2 formation, with Asante and Fara Williams in the centre of midfield. Consequently, the game was over as soon as it began, with the talismanic Necib controlling the midfield, and the French ensured England hardly touched the ball, in particular in the forward areas. This, much like Duggan's appearance against Russia, smacked of desperation from Powell, but it only highlighted her lack of tactical awareness in the modern day game, and if anything shone a bright light on all of her team's weaknesses, namely the pace of opposition movement and off the ball running.

Powell has had a relatively easy life as manager of England, what with the lack of media and supporter scrutiny for the vast majority of her reign, but despite a rather fortunate run to the final of Euro 2009, where Germany did the same thing as France this year, she and her regular squad have never looked like achieving something of a substantial tournament win. It appears she has no intention of stepping down, and I am sure the F.A. have bigger and more expensive things to worry about, so it would not surprise me to see her, along with her usual squad members, take to the field in their first World Cup Qualifier in September, but more and more people within the game, players and supporters alike, would like to see new life breathed into the England set up. Mark Sampson of Bristol Academy has shown what he can do with a group of young players, leading them to two FA Cup finals in three years, while Mo Marley could easily make the transition from U-19 level to first team coach. If Powell stays, you can be sure her merry band of players will also stay for one more crack at an international tournament, but if she goes, maybe we will see a domino effect and some of the senior players will call time on their international careers. In the meantime, England will continue to fall further behind the advancing nations, and this would be a crying shame to all the young exciting talent English football has to offer.

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