Earlier this week, Football Association chairman Greg Dyke was not unrealistic. He was not overly harsh. He was not damning of the current England set up.
Stating, frankly, “I don’t think anyone realistically thinks we are going to win the World Cup in Brazil.”, Greg Dyke perhaps felt that he was helping temper expectations ahead of what could be one of the most roundly-competitive World Cups in decades – not a bad strategy, but I can’t but feel the timing was completely off.
As a football chairman, he took away the pressure, purpose and, perhaps, a little bit of hope from the England senior squad ahead of this weekend’s World Cup qualifier against Moldova.
With qualification far from assured, England face a few injuries to in-form players and a clear divide between the old guard and the new, “St George’s Park” generation of English footballers, there’s every chance the Three Lions could under-perform in Group H.
Poland, Ukraine and Montenegro have all proven they’re capable of taking points off England – and each other. In a month’s time, England could well be sucked into a situation where top spot assurance is taken out of their hands, and with Ukraine and Montenegro facing San Marino and Moldova whilst England must lock horns with Poland, the dreaded qualifiers are more than just a worst-case scenario.
With that comes the possibility of drawing Croatia, France, Sweden or Russia; the sort of teams that England at their best are on the same level as. To win those games the team who wants it most will be apparent – and after being told by the boss of the Football Association that they won’t be in Brazil to win – will the Three Lions really be up for the fight?
Perhaps these statements will unite the England dressing room? Bring together the supposed conflict of egos as the look to prove the suits upstairs wrong?
With both captain Steven Gerrard and manager Roy Hodgson both agreeing with Dyke’s comments, it would seem there’s not even that silver lining to the clouds cast over Wembley this week.
We certainly hope that Gerrard was just doing what any good public figure would do and presenting a united front with his higher-ups, as there several players who still feel they can make their mark in 2014.
In our recent interview with Ashley Young, the Manchester United winger said England can succeed in Brazil, but team spirit is the driving force that would make any glory possible – for the head of your own FA to write off your chances of doing anything except ‘do well’ at a World Cup is completely contrary to that attitude.
Everyone in the England set-up is echoing the sentiment of a German-inspired reinvention from grassroots up; something I am all for, but we need to stop talking as if English football is fundamentally broken.
The truth is, England are one of only four countries to reach the knockout stages of the last four World Cup finals and have recorded victories against Spain, Brazil and Italy in the last two years.
There is no reason England can’t reach the knock-out stages and keep that record going in Brazil next summer, and once you’ve made it that far – anything can happen. Just ask Greece.
Hoping to replicate what happened in Euro 2004 is unrealistic and potentially dangerous for the development of this generation of English footballers, and looking pragmatically at the next handful of international tournaments is something I applaud Greg Dyke for.
Even still, whilst some have said Dyke’s speech should have been kept internal, I think generating this conversation with players, coaches and the English public is absolutely essential to the growth of a stronger England football set-up.
However, with four qualifying matches still to play, I cannot comprehend what is to be gained with the timing of this speech. St. George’s Park was opened less than a year ago to give England the same advantages as a top-level football club, able to keep things ‘in house’ and help the players focus on international duty.
By making his speech now, Dyke may as well not have bothered cutting the ribbon on the place for another 12 months.
Perhaps even worse is the expectation of the fans. The FA’s social presence on Youtube, Facebook and on ticketing emails has been ramped up to bring more people through the gates at Wembley. Nike’s excellent ‘England Matters’ videos have allowed fans to feel closer to the players than ever before – throw Twitter into the mix and this might be the point that turns disillusioned England fans back into the 12th man.
But based on Dyke’s comments, and Gerrard and Hodgson’s echoing – why should I spend thousands of pounds going to Brazil to see a team that’s backed by the man at the top to make up the numbers?
As a huge fan of the England football team in the north of the country, why would I spend over a hundred pounds on travel and a ticket to tonight’s qualifier, when the result is now less meaningful?
Do you think England have what it takes to win the World Cup this summer? Let us know in the comments!