Leon Wobschall: Shambolic exit leaves England exposed once more

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THE pastime of hand-wringing is a biennial sporting event that is as quintessentially English as Pimms at Wimbledon and Dad’s Army repeats.

Shock, horror: England bow out of a major football tournament in thoroughly abject circumstances, with the sustained inquest on social media, the airwaves, in print and in the country’s bars being strident and depressingly familiar.

Roy Hodgson during his press conference yesterday.

Roy Hodgson during his press conference yesterday.

The faces change on the pitch and in the dug-out, but the recriminations stay the same.

Although this time around, the heights of ineptitude scaled by the national team were of Everest proportions. They really did surpass themselves.

It will, at least, have yielded a moment of fleeting mirth among the decision-makers in the major continental capitals of Paris, Berlin and Rome – still ruminating over the UK’s decision to plump for Brexit and leave the EU.

As for those stoical England supporters armed with a backpack of gallows humour who thought they had seen it all on their footballing travels over the years and decades, they had not quite witnessed everything.

That is until Monday at least when England bowed out of Euro 2016 in Nice against Iceland, a side who four years ago were ranked 133rd in the world and embarking on their first tournament knock-out game.

Wretched, pathetic, pitiful, deplorable. Insert your own adjective here to describe England’s performance against a country of 346,000 inhabitants. Shambolic is a personal favourite.

A last-16 exit to Iceland may rightfully be considered as beyond the pale. But let’s face it, something had been in the wind in a tournament in which the deficiencies of England and its manager had been exposed.

The paucity of on-pitch lieutenants may have been glaring against the Icelandics, who possessed the qualities of leadership, togetherness and organisation that the English lacked.

But a group of aspiring men are only as good as their commander-in-chief and it was here where England’s vacuum was chronic.

Roy Hodgson, a good man whose pride in managing his country has been manifest, was a man out of his time and depth in France.

A spot of mitigation to England’s insipid World Cup elimination two years earlier in Brazil under Hodgson may have been provided by the fact that the footballing heavyweights of Italy and Uruguay were in their group.

Two years on and there were no excuses. England were blessed with a benign qualification group and modest last-16 opponents.

England entered the Euros without an obvious plan or structure and left it as a shapeless embarrassment whose formation was negligible. The ad hoc game planning scribbled on the back of betting slips failed to pay off.

While Europe’s big teams took a look at Plan B’s in their final friendlies before the tournament and kept their powder dry, England were scrambling for a Plan A in their pre-Euro 2016 friendlies against Turkey, Australia and Portugal where the victories were Phyrric and the performances lame. Surely better to lose, but have a plan at least.

A lack of coherence also pockmarked each of England’s matches at key junctures, reaching its nadir against Iceland, where the display was as sophisticated as a tub of whelks. An alehouse showing against a side co-managed by a man called Lagerback.

It ended with an 18-year-old substitute in Marcus Rashford, who only made his first-team debut 123 days earlier, showing more gumption in four minutes than his team-mates managed in 94.

Hodgson’s instincts may have been attacking, given his naming of five forwards in his squad. Knowing how to use them was always the trick, although a lack of defined width hardly helped.

Sometimes things don’t necessarily get better with age unlike a fine wine, with the upshot of Monday’s beastly show being that England are looking for their seventh manager this century.

In the final analysis, baby steps, if any, have been taken forward since Fabio Capello left in February 2012.

Strategic reviews, debriefing sessions and PowerPoint demonstrations will no doubt take place at England’s £105m St George’s Park complex and in the plush inner sanctum of Wembley.

Unfortunately, it is like a loop that lasts two years before starting again. Put plainly, in the footballing sphere at least, England backed the wrong horse in Hodgson, certainly post Brazil.

It leaves England supporters disenfranchised from their national team who stand for little but consistent modern-day failure.

Just as David Cameron’s Prime Minsterial legacy will forever be inextricably linked to Friday morning’s Brexit referendum result, so Hodgson’s England reign will always be associated with one word: Iceland.