According to reports and leaked photographs, England’s footballers held clear the air talks after their disappointing 4-1 exit to Germany at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. They settled down, shared some cigars and a drink from the bar, and presumably discussed their abysmal campaign under Fabio Capello’s stewardship.
It’s almost two years later and this is still represents the only glimpse where I’ve seen the players genuinely enjoying each other’s company.
These days, English footballers have such intense rivalries at club level that it must be impossible to suddenly become mates when the squad get together. Last year, Paul Scholes spoke openly about how there is “no love lost” between players from different clubs, an opinion that now carries a far greater weight if you consider the apparent personal friction between John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. There is no togetherness, no camaraderie, and without this we simply stand no chance of success this summer.
The very best managers in the world have succeeded in building these qualities in their teams; Jose Mourinho brought together difficult individuals to fight for each other by turning everyone against them, while Sir Alex Ferguson rebuilt the fractious relationship between Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo after the former’s infamous stamp on Portugal’s Ricardo Carvalho at the 2006 World Cup. They went on to win the Champions League together.
Roy Hodgson, the new England manager, must address this issue if we are to stand any chance of international success – and we must give him as much time as possible to achieve this. His squad, which he announces next Wednesday, will be flown out to Spain for a pre-tournament training camp before they face friendly matches against Norway and Belgium. This is the perfect opportunity to get everyone on board. Anyone who refuses or behaves in a reluctant and petulant manner should jump ship or be made to walk the plank – I’m sure Ferguson or Mourinho would do exactly that and stand up to the personalities. Just look at the way they handled Roy Keane and Mario Balotelli.
How Hodgson goes about this difficult task is up to him, but I do think his international and cultural experiences from working abroad will have given him many ideas. The last two England managers to excel in their jobs, Sir Bobby Robson and Terry Venables, had gathered similar experience abroad when they were approached by the FA and I’ve never seen an England squad since as united as theirs. It can be done, and until I see it I won’t be getting my hopes up this summer.
It has happened for teams in other sports. England’s cricketers have been riding on the crest of a wave for two years now largely because they enjoy each other’s company and have a strong team spirit as a result. Cast your minds back to the victorious Ashes campaign Down Under as the “Sprinkler” took dance floors everywhere by storm and you forget it was created by Graeme Swann in his Ashes Diary featuring his teammates. Bring back the John Barnes rap anyone?
In golf, Europe’s Ryder Cup squad enjoy a friendly rivalry on tour but display team qualities every time they face the USA, while in rugby union Stuart Lancaster has received widespread praise for the way he has his England squad playing for each other after using several modern methods to get his message across to the players.
If anything is likely to lift the players it’s the appearance of a new manager. If you ever listen to a press conference when a new man is appointed, they always talk of “getting the players to play for each other.” Hodgson never achieved this at Liverpool, which is worrying because he is likely appoint the same captain for England, but he must make this his priority as he takes the England reigns.
I would never question the England footballers’ commitment when they represent their country – I just question their commitment when they play for each other.