Dear Football Association: why not look into making Roberto Martínez the England manager while there is still time? Or at the very least, if Roy Hodgson has done nothing to warrant being deposed, send the Everton manager along to the next World Cup draw to keep up everyone’s spirits in the event of a tough group.
Greg Dyke, who rubbished England’s chances before they even qualified and greeted their Group D allocation with a defeatist gesture that he deserved to have instantly pinged around the world, is already looking like he ought to be deposed.
The FA chairman could learn something from a manager who won the FA Cup with Wigan Athletic and who has just supervised Everton’s first Premier League win at Manchester United at his first attempt: namely that you don’t achieve the seemingly impossible without having a go.
Even as Alan Shearer sneered in the BBC studios, Martínez was looking on the bright side, pointing out that Italy versus England would not be an unequal challenge in the heat and humidity of Manaus – politely ignoring how heavily the stats favoured the Italians when the sides last met in Kiev last year – and suggesting that the reward for getting out of the group would be a round of 16 game against a side from the none-too-frightening Group C. Shearer admitted he was daunted by the draw; Martínez instinctively identified a positive to cling to.
Should England finish first or second in Group D they would go on to face Colombia or Ivory Coast, unless Greece or Japan spring any surprises. On paper at least, that represents a winnable game, and that is how England should approach the task ahead. Regardless of their fairly consistent record of departing tournaments at the quarter-final stage in recent years, any side reaching the last eight with a few wins and a fair wind behind it has a chance of building momentum.
That’s the theory anyway. It is only a theory, and maybe even less than that, a mere frame of mind, but it is better than shaking one’s head and resigning oneself to an early exit.
There are two things that England should not contemplate at this stage. One is doing any worse than they did at the last World Cup – it is just not possible – and the other is what happens after the round of 16. Which is that Spain or Argentina lie in wait in one half of the draw, while Brazil and Germany will most likely provide the opposition in the other. It is best not to look that far ahead, though England do have to look beyond the group stage, or at least approach the group stage like a team with faith in its ability to progress.
Little point now in bemoaning the bad luck that saw Sir Geoff Hurst pull England’s name out just ahead of France, who scraped into the World Cup finals but ended up in cushy Group E. England would have liked that group, which could easily lead to a knockout round meeting with Nigeria or Bosnia-Herzegovina, but they faced a similarly gentle first stage in South Africa three years ago and almost made a mess of it.
There is some evidence that England fare better against stronger opposition. When they were in the alleged group of death in Japan 2002 they managed to send Argentina and Nigeria home early, and though Uruguay deserve every respect in what could turn out to be the crucial middle game in São Paulo on 19 June, they are not as formidable as Brazil or Argentina or as highly ranked as Colombia. It could even be pointed out that they only made it to the finals via a play-off, though it is possible to take positive thinking too far. So did Portugal, and England would not necessarily have fancied fifth-ranked Cristiano Ronaldo and his pals.
It will be Mario Balotelli and his pals instead (seventh), followed by Luis Suárez and his pals (sixth), and England will just have to make the best of it.
It is perhaps worth remembering that no European team has won a World Cup in South America, although the old distinctions are becoming a bit blurred now that just about everybody plays club football in Europe, and that only once, in 1986, has a World Cup been won by a team outside the first group of seeds.
Facing such odds it seems facile to complain about your luck in the group-stage draw. Better to set sail in the spirit of adventure. Argentina were not particularly strong in 1986, but they had a persuasive matchwinner in Diego Maradona who effectively, if not quite literally, won the tournament on his own. You could call that luck, or you could say Maradona made his own luck. Peter Shilton certainly would.
England need a hand from somewhere but, despite what the bookmakers and the FA chairman think, the task is not hopeless until the manager and his players begin believing it to be so. Between now and the first game will be when Hodgson really earns his money.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010
Published via the Guardian News Feed plugin for WordPress.
This article titled “England’s World Cup pessimists can learn from Roberto Martínez” was written by Paul Wilson, for The Observer on Saturday 7th December 2013 22.00 UTC
Support InfoStride News' Credible Journalism: Only credible journalism can guarantee a fair, accountable and transparent society, including democracy and government. It involves a lot of efforts and money. We need your support. Click here to Donate