No chance of success, time for England to lower expectations

Playing Brian Stimpson in the movie Clockwise, John Cleese uttered the famous words: “It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It’s the hope I can’t stand.”

We don’t know whether Steven Gerrard is a fan of the movie or indeed of Cleese himself, but the England captain’s words after Tuesday’s defeat against Germany would have had Stimpson nodding in approval.

“We’re not one of the favourites, we know that,” admitted Gerrard. “At the same time, you’ve got to go into the tournament with a bit of belief and confidence, and give it your best shot. But, of course, there are better teams out there than us. You only need to look at the rankings and where we are.

“I think these results will bring people a little bit down from where they were after Poland and Montenegro [when England secured qualification]. There will be a bit of realism and perspective out there.”

Realism and perspective have always been at a premium as far as England are concerned, even more so when it comes to the World Cup but fans and media would do well to embrace Gerrard’s words.

On paper at least, every one of the 32 participants has as many chance of lifting the trophy as the other teams but the truth is, obviously, quite different.

England, quite plainly, have no chance of winning the World Cup and it was brave of Gerrard to admit it in advance, even though his words might sound as those of a man already desperate for excuses.

While there were positives to be taken from reaching the finals without the hassle of a play-off, there’s no disputing that if the World Cup was structured as a league, England would be a mid-table side at best.

Roy Hodgson’s men do not possess the individual flair of Brazil and Spain, nor do they have the depth at Germany’s disposal, the solidity that typifies the Italians and, admittedly like many other teams, are bereft of a stellar individual talent like Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

Furthermore, and that’s perhaps even more crucial, England seem to be still searching for their best line-up, the magic formula capable to squeeze every ounce of talent out of what, harsh as it might sound, is a side stuck between the “average” and the “good”.

Wayne Rooney, arguably England’s best player, hasn’t proved himself in a major tournament since bursting onto the scene at Euro 2004, Joe Hart’s return to form for England can’t masquerade the fact that the Manchester City goalkeeper remains prone to committing mistakes, while age is catching up with Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

Phil Jagielka and Chris Smalling look far from being the solid centre-back partnership required for a World Cup, while in Andros Townsend England have a winger who doesn’t cross the ball and is too mono-dimensional to pose a serious threat to the world’s elite.

Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana have great futures ahead of them, but the World Cup might be coming too soon for them, while one has to wonder whether Tom Cleverley and James Milner should be in Brazil at all.

However, entering the World Cup with limited expectations could prove to be beneficial for England, who have too often been hindered by unrealistic hopes of success, fabricated ad hoc.

A humbler approach is required and, perhaps, it’s already been unconsciously adopted by the fans as well as the players, as the resignation with which Tuesday night’s defeat to Germany was met.

Granted, there were some boos and discontent, but no longer than a couple of years ago, losing at home to Germany in such abysmal fashion would have sparked an inquest.

The bar has been lowered, perhaps it could be the first step towards raising it again.

 

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