There’s been much gnashing of teeth and clutching at straws since England’s spectacular failure to qualify for the Euro 2008 championships in Austria/Switzerland. “There’s too many foreigners!” some exalted, as if the strength of the English Premiership impacted badly on domestic players. “We need to train the kids better” others said, as if this campaign has been a result of long-term negligence. “There’s too many egos in the squad!” claimed others, including Sunderland boss Roy Keane. None of that is true; the truth is the problem was plain incompetence by manager Steve McClaren; and the decision to sack McClaren means England have already taken a massive step towards recovery.
England were drawn in a group that they should have found fairly straightforward. Russia and Croatia are both good sides, but neither have much history of achievement in International competition, and neither is currently enjoying a ‘golden generation’ as the English are often said to be. Israel are a third-tier side with only 1 or 2 players who would get near the English squad. Macedonia and the others should have been easy meat for a team like England. Yet a home draw against Macedonia, an away defeat to Croatia, an away draw to Israel, an away defeat to Russia and a crushing final day home defeat to Croatia meant far too many points dropped for England. The Croatia game on Wednesday was particularly galling: needing only a draw to progress, England pulled themselves back from 2-0 down to level it at 2-2. But incredibly they were unable to hold on for the point, in front of 80,000 home supporters, against a team that had nothing to play for. Croatia scored again, England were deflated, Russia went through at their expense. England finished in third, level on points with Israel. McClaren was sacked on Thursday morning.
Typically, there were some Englishmen who were only too willing to pin the blame on foreigners. They claimed that top Premiership clubs such as Arsenal and Chelsea flooded their teams with players from Europe, Africa and South America, restricting opportunities for local players. The argument fails for the same reason that the indignant “they take our jobs!” attitude to immigrants fails: because the best man gets the job whatever his nationality, as proven by the key English players who simply cannot be replaced by foreign imports. The cream always rises to the top. If they are good enough, they will break through – and in fact, young players can only benefit from training alongside the likes of Tevez (Argentina), Makelele (France) and Gilberto (Brazil). Besides, England didn’t always have it their way before the Sky TV revolution changed the national make-up of the league: they failed to qualify for six of the 14 tournaments between World Cup success in 1966 and hosting the European Championships 30 years later.