When it comes to international football media, there is none in the world that seems determined to ruin their team’s hopes quite like the English. While other countries media back their boys, the English media go the opposite way. For some, it seems their sole aim is to bring England down in any way possible.
The 180-degree turn that they have taken following the defeat to Belgium has been nothing short of exasperating. Wins over Tunisia and Panama, particularly the 6-1 demolition of the latter, had the country and the national media, bouncing. Comparisons to the teams from Euro 96 and Italia 90 before it were plentiful, with predictions that this England side could go far abundant.
With Harry Kane leading the line, Kieran Trippier playing like Cafu in his prime and exciting talents such as Jesse Lingard, Dele Alli and Ruben Loftus-Cheek they had plenty of players whose shoulders they could lay the nations hopes upon. In Gareth Southgate they had a manager they could set up as the best since Terry Venables or Bobby Robson, lauding him as much as possible.
Queue the doom and gloom
Then chinks appeared in armour against Belgium. A 1-0 defeat in that game has given the doom and gloom merchants that surround England plenty of ammunition. A rotated side performed poorly.
The attractive, cohesive football of the first two games was missing. In its place was a boring, lacklustre game with few good performances and the media have taken the chance to show their claws.
First came the criticism for Jordan Pickford, who had blame angled at him from every direction. His failure to keep out Adnan Januzaj’s excellent strike provided them with the perfect opportunity to justify the criticism they had levelled at the Everton number one before the tournament even began.
It does not matter that former goalkeepers, including some of the best ever like Neville Southall, have explained why they are wrong to criticise Pickford. They have explained why he did not dive in the wrong manner, why his height does not matter and pointed to the mass amounts of praise he receives at club level as reasons why he is England’s number one.
They eventually found their scapegoat
The media are not interested. Each tournament the media identifies a scapegoat and Pickford has been the anointed man from day one this summer. The same can be said of the criticism they are now levelling at Gareth Southgate, a man who has endured an exceptional fall from grace in the analysis of the Belgium defeat.
Southgate had become something of a media darling this summer. The media loved the open, free speaking setup he had brought to the England camp. They loved the open, attacking football his side were playing too. Now, though, it is a different story. Southgate has made a grievous mistake in this defeat, they say.
As far as the media is concerned England should have played a full strength team against the Belgians, going all out for the win to secure top place in the group. It makes little difference that they would have likely ended up facing Brazil in the quarterfinals as a result. England should not be worried about who they will face at some point in future, the focus should be on maintaining momentum and playing each game as it comes.
England would have taken this path
They ignore the fact that England have now been handed a very attractive run to the semi-finals of a World Cup. If England had been offered a last 16 tie against Columbia and then either Sweden or Switzerland in the quarterfinals before the tournament began they would have taken it gladly. They are very winnable fixtures.
Should they win them, England then find themselves in a World Cup semi-final. It may end up being against Spain but, as has been proven time and time again, anything can happen in a semi-final. Surely it is better to take the ‘easiest’ route possible and then find yourself there rather than needing to find a way past favourites Brazil in a quarter?
The reality is England are no great shakes and Southgate knows they are not yet ready to take on the big boys. Plotting a potential route to a semi-final against teams they should beat is the kind of realist thinking that has been sorely lacking in the past.
Southgate handing his star men a rest ahead of the clash with Columbia is just another positive. Kane, Sterling, Lingard, Alli, Stones, Walker will all be raring to go on Tuesday as a result. These positives far outweigh the negatives of finishing second on the basis of an unimportant, 1-0 defeat to Belgium. Southgate’s own reaction to that loss showed as much.
The shutters are sadly down
But the media are refusing to accept it. The shutters are down, fingers have been firmly lodged in ears and they will continue to pick fault in everything England do regardless of the evidence showing that they are wrong.
To put it simply, they know better than everyone else. Despite the fact they have consistently been wrong about both this England side and the ones of the past. Their overhyping of the Golden Generation is evidence of that.
In truth, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised; the reaction to this defeat is not the first time the media have shown their true faces this summer. They attacked Raheem Sterling for his tattoo before the tournament began. Then they leaked the team sheet for the Panama game courtesy of a long lens camera and tabloid skulduggery, handing England’s opponents an advantage in the process.
They even attacked Gareth Southgate when he had the temerity to call them out on the subject.
All three incidents were the latest examples of how the English media are consistently working against the team they claim to be supporting. Should England fall again this summer, you can be sure they will have their claws sharpened in preparation. Destroying Southgate and this England team appears to be their sole aim this summer.