IT says everything about the walk in the park that qualifying for Euro 2016 has become for even notoriously under-achieving nations such as England that the sporting agenda during the week of an international double header is likely to be dominated by two books detailing spats and fall-outs that began long ago.
Radio phone-ins are all about Roy Keane versus Sir Alex Ferguson and Kevin Pietersen taking on what seems to be every figure of authority in English cricket, rather than discussing the Three Lions.
Some of that can be put down to the low-key nature of the opposition that will line up against Roy Hodgson’s men in the coming five days – tomorrow night’s opponents San Marino are ranked 208th and joint last in the world, while Estonia cannot even make the top 80.
But this lack of interest surely can also be partially put down to the bloated nature of qualifying for the tournament.
Unlike the last five European Championships when 16 nations competed in the finals, thanks to the meddling of Michel Platini and his cohorts at UEFA there will be an additional eight teams involved in Euro 2016.
With holders France qualifying automatically, that leaves 23 places to be filled from a 53-team pool, a ludicrously high number that means even the most mediocre of football’s erstwhile superpowers – and, yes, this includes England – will surely not be able to mess it up.
Certainly, the moment Hodgson’s side successfully negotiated the only potentially tricky fixture in Group E – their trip to Switzerland – the Three Lions’ presence in France was guaranteed.
Which, of course, means the rest of qualifying is not only going to be a hard sell in terms of tickets – a crowd of 45-50,000 is expected tomorrow night on the back of ticket prices being slashed – but also in maintaining the interest of supporters.
For the players, however, things are very different with a host of places up for grabs in the wake of senior players such as Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard retiring plus Hodgson publicly stating his desire to give potential a chance.
One of those desperate to become a fixture in the national team is Adam Lallana, who after a slow start at Liverpool following his £25m summer move from Southampton is starting to show his better form.
“Definitely,” replied the 26-year-old when asked if there was plenty at stake for the players in the double-header against San Marino and Estonia.
“It is always good, even in training, to show the manager what you can do and remind him, so if I get my chance I will be looking to take it and impress him.
“There is always going to be competition at this level. The amount of English players we have playing in the Premier League – there is no shortage really, so there will be people pushing you for your place.”
Lallana had been hoping to make his England breakthrough in the summer at the World Cup, but managed just 91 minutes spread across three appearances as Hodgson’s men crashed out at the group stage.
“It was disappointing because we didn’t get through,” said the Liverpool midfielder, who is part of the senior squad for the 12th time tomorrow night. “That is what was disappointing.
“Of course, as a footballer, you want to play every game possible. But the manager has big decisions to make.
“He has a squad and 11 places to choose for. I have huge respect for the manager and every decision he makes.
“I still feel I have a lot to learn and prove. I don’t think by any stretch I am an established international. I have hard work to do to get to this level consistently.”
Tomorrow night will be the fifth time England have met San Marino and the minnows have scored just once, the infamous goal by Davide Gualtieri in 1993 just eight seconds into what turned out to be Graham Taylor’s final game as manager. In reply, the Three Lions have netted 26 times, underlining what a total mis-match meetings between the two countries have been.
Despite that, Lallana insists the team must be fully focused at Wembley.
He said: “We have got to remain focused on ourselves, that is vital, and put in a good performance. And if we can achieve that then hopefully (we can) get a convincing win.
“It is the target to get six points. Estonia is a difficult place to go to, although we are expecting to win.
“We want to get the job done against San Marino.
“We have been working on how we want to play in training, preparing for the game exactly as normal and being professional.
“I am sure players will want to fill their boots and get goals, that is the same in any game.
“If you are a striker you want to get on the scoresheet and the same for midfielders (who) will be looking for assists as well.
“But we will just be focusing on our performance and get the three points, that is what we want.”