Why do England fail in major tournaments?

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The post-mortem has begun after England's dismissal in Brazil.
The post-mortem has begun after England's dismissal in Brazil. Credit: Shajor / PikoPress

By Steve Scott: Sports Editor

Tomorrow pointless England play a pointless match against Costa Rica.

I say that, but it is more likely to be a Costa Rica reserve team because the "whipping boys" of Group D have already qualified for the knock-out stages. Why risk any of their stars, like newly relegated Fulham’s sometimes striker, Bryan Ruiz, before their next game?

England’s line-up will have an unfamiliar feel about it, too. Roy Hodgson has said he will start with those who have played little part in this doomed campaign to give them a chance to show what they can do on the world stage. It’s a little late, to be frank. (No pun intended)

Frank Lampard is in line to captain England against Costa Rica.
Frank Lampard is in line to captain England against Costa Rica. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

And while this meaningless encounter plays out, we are left to ponder again why England continues to perform at a level that is apparently way below the sum of its parts. Hodgson and his captain Steven Gerrard confronted the media yesterday, for the first time since Italy’s loss confirmed their expulsion.

They were contrite yes, genuinely downbeat and offered no excuses. But they offered no reasons either, which is more troubling.

If these two are at a loss as to what’s behind England’s biannual embarrassment, what chance have the rest of us got? And make no mistake about it, England teams are recidivists.

Since 1966 the best they have managed is two semi-finals - both of which were way back in the 1990s.

Roy Hodgson is expected to stay on until the end of the Euro 2016 campaign.
Roy Hodgson is expected to stay on until the end of the Euro 2016 campaign. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

So where to start?

Are our junior level coaches sub-standard? When learning the game, are English kids encouraged to win at the expense of all else, with little attention given to improving technical skills like ball control, passing and shooting?

Has the government’s policy on bulldozing school playing fields slowly robbed the nation’s youngsters of facilities or is football simply a less important part of growing up for the Xbox, social media, selfie-obsessed generation?

Stop me if you’ve heard all this before – tournament after tournament after tournament. At the elite level are there too many foreigners blocking the path for English youngsters in the Premier League? Or is Harry Redknapp right when he says many top players would do anything to avoid joining up with the England squad.

Read: Steven Gerrard yet to decide on international retirement**

Steven Gerrard's future England remains a doubt.
Steven Gerrard's future England remains a doubt. Credit: Nick Potts/PA Wire

While at Tottenham he says he was asked to make excuses for quite a few, so they could escape being part of the national set up. Redknapp said it in a radio interview yesterday and I have heard the same from several other top flight managers, several times before.

Gerrard was appalled at this concept and asked Redknapp to "name names", but he must have been aware the syndrome exists, especially when it’s "friendly" season.

How many players can you remember developing convenient injuries just before a meaningless Wembley showpiece?

I don’t think our unconvincing and passionless rendition of the National Anthem is indicative of anything at all (It’s not the most inspiring of tunes, let’s face it).

Likewise, I refuse to believe that players in an England shirt are uninterested in whether they win or not. Wayne Rooney cannot bear to lose a game of table tennis, let alone a World Cup match.

England fans have been given little cause for optimism.
England fans have been given little cause for optimism. Credit: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

No, it is far more nuanced than that.

If we assume that Redknapp is right, it follows that there must be a few in the England squad who are indifferent about being there. They are proud to be representing their country yes, but it is not their top priority or their overriding passion. That commitment lies with their club.

The logical extension to that is that these players will inevitably fall short when that extra effort is asked of them. Not intentionally, it is part of their subconscious.

At the top of any sport, fine margins make big differences and that is why England will continue to disappoint.

Meanwhile, other nations will prosper through players who are motivated - and inspired, even - when pulling on their national shirt.

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