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England Out of Euro 2016

 

The story starts with a lacklustre campaign lacking a coherent narrative. The result, unexpected to all but the most pessimistic, is defeat and a shock exit from Europe.

The outcome is so abject that the man in charge is left with no choice but to resign before the result has really sunk in with the public.

Sound familiar?

After last week's political earthquake there was always a chance Euro 2016 would become an extended metaphor for the political carnage at home.

So it has proved, though England's defeat to Iceland was so abject that even the architects of self-inflicted Brexit might object to comparison with Eng-xit.

Any prospect of the football providing light relief from the graver issues of state disappeared in Nice as Iceland, a country of just 330,000 souls, reduced the cream of the richest football nation on earth to panic and confusion.

We have seen England labour in the heat of major tournaments regularly over the last decade, but here they were exposed, not just by their own failings, but the stature of the opposition.

In the World Cup two years ago England foundered on the rocks of Italy and Uruguay, world-class teams with tournament pedigree.

Iceland offered no such built-in excuse. The smallest nation ever to reach these finals with not a single fully professional club, against a nation of 53 million with four professional leagues.

Modest journeymen by comparison to their Premier League peers, Iceland were organised where England were off-the-cuff; cool and composed while Roy Hodgson's side panicked.

For that, responsibility must primarily lie with Hodgson. He has had four years to shape the side and receives more than £3m a year for doing so, yet they arrived in France long on youthful promise but short on an identifiable plan.

A decent, cerebral fellow, he has not been quite the caricature of a man out of time, that some would paint. On his watch he has managed the progression from a squad led by experienced hands like Steven Gerrard to a younger, and outwardly more exciting, youthful group.

Yet he arrived in France (at a lavishly-appointed base in Chantilly declared "the best ever") without apparently being clear of his best starting team, or how they would adapt to circumstance.

The players must share responsibility, but this was a failure of planning and execution rather than effort.

Take England's two most reliable international players, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart.  One found himself playing in centre-midfield for the first time for England weeks before the tournament; the other missed routine saves for two of the goals England conceded.

Hodgson's resignation solves one short-term problem for the Football Association but the tougher issues remain, including who will replace him.

There is a shortage of English candidates and no-one obvious.

Eddie Howe of Bournemouth has one season of Premier League survival behind him, Gareth Southgate a so-so record with the under-21s, Alan Pardew an itinerant career at middle-ranked clubs on his CV.

The bigger question is the same one the FA faced, one way or another, since the sepia days of 1966. How to capture the huge financial power and enthusiasm for English football to ensure that it has a national side to match the expectations of its public.

If civil servants struggling to deal with Brexit fancy light relief, they might turn their minds to Wembley and reflect that it could be worse.

 

There's some fun for anyone who loves the over enthusiasm of the Icelandic commentator though - see The video here

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