The Euros - It's Not Like The Brochure...

Wednesday 26 June 2024

Back in the 1980’s, in order to book a holiday, you collected a series of brochures from the travel agent, reviewed them all and tried to build up a picture of your potential resort/hotel/villa choices by cross-referencing the various entries. 

At that point you realised that travel companies seemed to locate every useful amenity as being “just 400m from your hotel” - at a time when knowledge of the metric system meant that distance could conceivably be anything from 40 yards to 400 miles. 

I also never understood why the photographers whose work filled these brochures were not more in demand at weddings. Given their innate ability to photograph any property at such an angle that it appeared to be on the beach/close to the town centre & nowhere near the local sewage works, all in one photo should surely have put them in demand for assignments outside Croydon Registry Office?  

“Lovely photo...did you get married in Barbados?”

“No, Oswaldtwistle...”

Anyhow, back to football. Reading the pre-tournament pull-outs, listening to the podcasts, watching the TV previews, a tournament (at least for England) seems to bear close comparison to booking your holiday in the pre-internet era. 

You are very excited by the prospects & possibilities. But, when you arrive, your expectations start to be dampened by that 4-hour coach ride from the airport (where you are *always* the last drop-off point), the location of the hotel (just in front of the local abattoir) and the view from your room (overlooking the air-conditioning unit of the hotel next door). 

England at the moment (after the group stage) have successfully transported us to our destination, but all of the promised in-resort amenities are falling way short of the proclamations in the brochures. 

The main cause of concern pre-tournament surrounded the defence, but surprisingly, they have conceded just one goal so far and that to an absolute corker. The issues have all materialised in the areas that were supposedly set to yield unprecedented success for England – namely in midfield & attack.

Despite having months in qualification in which to work out a successful combination, Gareth Southgate has instead jettisoned his trusty lieutenant Henderson as well as the more maverick talents of Grealish & Maddison. His selection of Eze, Mainoo & Wharton was hailed as bold and imaginative, but not if they don’t play.

Harry Kane looks to all the world as if he’s still suffering from the back injury that ended his Bayern Munich season but he lumbers around the pitch like a grizzly bear emerging from hibernation looking for leftovers in the litter bins. Meanwhile, Watkins & Toney look on wondering just why they were brought along. 

We have somehow destroyed Bellingham, Foden, Saka; have tried to shoe-horn a right-back into about three different roles, have largely ignored Palmer & Gordon and don’t get me started on the role of Adam Wharton in this squad. Has he been chosen to get the coffees in or warm the slippers or something?

This now really looks like a tournament too far for Gareth whose endearing, homespun philosophies are increasingly being exposed as insufficient to combat seasoned international opponents with superior tactical nous.

Going back to our holiday analogy – have you ever wandered round a resort only to see a hotel that you nearly chose? You wander in, the pool is magnificent, the ambience is tranquil, the cocktails look amazing and inevitably you wonder just what might have been. 

England’s final group game against Slovenia gave us a merest hint at what might be possible. Cole Palmer & Kobbie Mainoo injected some much-needed pace, ingenuity and creativity into a moribund England team. Anthony Gordon’s three-minute cameo was all too brief but asked fundamentally different questions of Slovenia.

Southgate seemed to have set up the England team for the group games as if it was “must not lose” knockout football. Now we are entering the do or die phase, the fear is that the clamour for a more adventurous formation may yet leave that defence exposed and all the pundits can then say “told you so” as England concede at will to the likes of Netherlands or Austria. 

England are still very much in the tournament, they are in the “easier” side of the draw (again) and there is still hope. 

Your hotel might not be the best, but you find a lovely restaurant off the beaten track, a quiet beach known only to the locals and your fortnight passes all too quickly as you enjoy every minute. 

England now have to make the most of what they have – pick the players who aren’t injured/knackered in positions they enjoy, leave out those who can’t do what’s needed and see if that can be made to work.

Italia 90 was an awful group stage but a new system emerged eventually and the team blossomed. Right now, reaching the semi-final would be a major achievement. If not, there’s a World Cup in two years’ time and you can always book *that* other hotel next year...



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