To borrow a phrase from Roy Hodgson, the idea that this is a do-or-die game for England is “absolute f*****g b******s”.
The England manager’s crude language came after a comment from a journalist. My outburst is more simple: this is not the beginning of the end for English football, no matter how morose the World Cup and those lines of empty Wembley seats last Wednesday made it seem. It’s time to slap out of this apathy and start getting excited about English football again.
So what if Roy Hodgson’s outburst proves he isn’t always the cerebral owl he’s been caricatured as? So what if the FA’s out of pocket after failing to sell out Wembley for a frigid Autumn friendly against Norway? It doesn’t mean England has a maniac for a manager or that fans have given up supporting the national side so they can stay in and watch The Great British Bake Off.
Try to remember for a minute the reaction to Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad. For a moment, we were all rational. This was a squad with limited international experience, but a bucketful of promise. Nobody expected much; in the end, we were given even less.
But there was another feature to that May announcement: a sense of relief that England had finally moved on from the frustrating years of the ‘Golden Generation.’ With Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard now gone, it’s worth remembering that pre-World Cup prudence.
This national experiment – or “new journey” if you listen to the FA’s blather – is more important than ever, but also more interesting to watch. What sort of team can England be under Roy Hodgson? Will they frustrate, aggravate, maybe even create?
Then there’s the age of the players. England’s squad players were too green for the demands of the Amazon, but perhaps come France 2016 the revolution will bear fruit. England’s midfield is pretty much a blank canvas following Gerrard and Lampard’s departure: Raheem Stirling (aged 19), Jack Wilshere (22) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (21) can all fire the imagination again.
Danny Welbeck too has a chance to transform his England fortunes tonight following his move to Arsenal and Daniel Sturridge’s injury.
Tonight’s away match in Basel is an anxious challenge, but Switzerland aside, these Euro qualifiers appear kind to England. An ideal petri dish to refine young talent, and let older hands like newly-appointed captain Wayne Rooney to point the way.
I started with a blue quote from Roy Hodgson, so I’ll finish with another, more characteristically sage, line from the man with the impossible job. “Winning this game does not make a great team in 2016. Neither does losing it make us a poor team in 2016.” In other words: Don’t Panic.