OVERPAID, over here – and, quite possibly, over-sexed too.
That might as well represent the current perception of many England supporters towards the national team’s under-achieving footballers, who provided the piece de resistance to some lamentable tournament failures with a spectacularly bad and guileless offering in France on Monday.
The recriminations to another dishevelled showing are plentiful, with the cries from many that England’s crop are not only technically and tactically anaemic, but mentally soft and too cosseted in their Premier League ‘bubble’ resonating with many sections of the public.
The feeling that representing England is not the apex of ambition for its leading footballers is also increasingly seen as the reality by many in the know in football, including one who has donned the white jersey 19 times in former Leeds United and Middlesbrough full-back Danny Mills.
He also provides another aspect to the perceived and continual argument that England’s players lack the tools to cope with the pressure situations of tournament football.
Namely that the incentive and prestige of playing for England for the country’s best – on fat contracts at their respective club sides – has been eroded, unlike in several other sports where representing the national team is pretty much the be-all and end-all.
Mills told The Yorkshire Post: “A lot has been made of Eddie Jones and how he is dealing with the England rugby (union) team and you do start to wonder.
“There is no carrot and stick for England footballers, unfortunately. They will all go on holiday and, in two months’ time, what happened in France will be forgotten.
“For rugby players, England is their livelihood. They have to play for England to make money and get the prestige. It is the same with cricket but football doesn’t have that any more.
“Maybe Gareth Bale was right, too, saying that there isn’t as much pride in playing for England as in other countries.
“It is maybe because of the money in the Premier League and all those sort of things.
“If Eddie Jones says to Chris Robshaw: ‘You are not playing for England any more’ that would affect his lifestyle, living and everything. If you say to an England player that he is not in the England side any more, it really doesn’t affect him that much. They will still get great contracts from their Premier League clubs and have the same prestige.
“If you ‘beat’ the players, they are not going to be bothered. But where is the carrot of doing well?”
Mills also sees merit in the argument that England players are inherently deficient in their ability to make decisions and lead on the pitch, with Monday’s disastrous events against Iceland in Nice exemplifying that.
The 39-year-old says that manager Roy Hodgson proved wholly deficient in carving out a successful tournament for his confused side. But he also fervently believes that players should take responsibility on the pitch, though in an era when top players have most things done for them, are indulged and pampered and lack for nothing, leadership drifts.
Players may be trained and drilled, but having the gumption to make decisions out on the pitch for themselves remains a different thing entirely, says Mills, who saw little of that from England players out in France in his role as a commentator.
He added: “There were no leaders and people who said: ‘Right, we are going to do this. Forget what the manager says, this isn’t working; we need to do something a little bit different.’ If you keep looking to the bench, you need to be on the bench.
“Where were the leaders in the Iceland game? Centre-halves have to bully people, pull them into position and make them do things. That didn’t happen for the first or second goal.
“Iceland said from day one what they were going to do and have had the same team for four games running.
“They showed what football they were going to play and were going to score goals from counter-attacks and set-pieces and long throw-ins. They said if you want to come and watch us train, that’s fine because they were a side comfortable in what they do.
“I do not think England knew what their game-plan was.”
With a manager in Hodgson who palpably failed to come up with a coherent tournament in situ, the equivalent of a perfect storm was created. Players were devoid in leadership skills and had a manager with little or no plan or solution.
It made for an appalling spectacle against the Icelandics, an organised side comfortable in their skin. In short, everything that England were not.
Salt was rubbed into wounds for many after the game when Hodgson failed to sufficiently ‘front’ up and answer questions about his side’s failings following a shambolic defeat.
Where was the plan, what was the plan, many wondered out aloud, with answers at a specifically arranged press conference on Tuesday also leaving a fair bit to be desired for many.
Mills said: “There is still a lot of confusion, anger and unanswered questions and Roy’s press conference didn’t really answer any of those questions which we wanted the answer to, which is a bit of a concern and problem.
“Stuart Lancaster (former England RU coach) was happy to face the media and answered all the questions and didn’t shirk away from his responsibilities that maybe he had caused.
“Roy clearly didn’t want to be in that press conference and said more than once: ‘I don’t know why I am here.’ People wanted answers and after a display like that, you have to justify your decisions or ones that you don’t make.
“I do n0t think those questions were answered by Roy. Ultimately, it came down to him.”