Early Doors

England need to get real for Euros

Early Doors

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Joe Hart

Joe Hart

Joe Hart talks as good a game as he plays, but his belief that England can win the European Championships is as dangerous as it is misguided.

Manchester City goalkeeper Hart is one of the few English players who can lay stakes to the claim of being World Class (put any club rivalries to one side and ask a German — he is one of the top five keepers in the world, probably top three).

He is also one of the few senior England players capable of opening his mouth and saying something interesting without inserting a size 13 in it. But in a typically forthright interview with Sky Sports, Hart insisted that a successful Euros this summer would be to wrest the title from Spain, and that England need not bother turning up if they do not believe they can win every game.

ED admires Hart — his talent, competence and sheer bloody-mindedness have been lacking in all English goalkeepers since David Seaman — and is fully aware that a team's last line of defence should probably be a shade insane.

But, while his confidence is justified on a personal level, it is very much misplaced collectively; it is precisely this sense of expectation that has weighed so heavy on the shoulders of men who have never won anything at international level, of a football culture that has failed to deliver on the world stage for almost 50 years.

A sense of entitlement that is not even felt by teams who have won things in recent memory — Germany went into the last World Cup with incredibly low expectations, despite having reached the previous two semi-finals and the 2002 final, and despite their now famous young team being packed with players who had won the 2009 European U21 Championships. And they had a manager in place in the build-up to the tournament - England look set to be rudderless until the end of May.

Hart missed England's thrashing to Germany in final of that underage tournament, suspended after picking up a yellow card for gamesmanship during a penalty shoot-out against Sweden, a shoot-out in which he scored the winning kick. Nutter.

Stuart Pearce's Hart-less side were calamitous; the seniors are equally reliant on him, with catch-shy duo Robert Green and Scott Carson his deputies.

Hart would do well to listen to erstwhile England playmaker Joe Cole, who paints a far more realistic picture of their hopes in a similarly frank interview, with the Telegraph this time:

"In international football you've got to have a system where you can keep the ball. England play some country ranked miles below and they always end up having more possession than we do. How many times have you seen England die a death in second half? We've run around like lunatics for fifty minutes and now suddenly we can't get the ball and we don't know why."

After just under a season at Lille — where, incidentally, he has been superb working in tandem with Eden Hazard, his younger Belgian body-double — Cole has worked it out. And until England stop treating the ball like a hot potato it will continue thus in perpetuity.

It's a London thing...

The myopic, parochial nature of football has never been lost on ED so it is quite delighted that this weekend's big matches are London derbies (of a sort).

From its industrial estate toilet near Heathrow Airport, ED's wandering eye usually flits from the kooky but strangely attractive Fulham to pashmina-sporting glamour-puss Chelsea; occasionally its dirty thoughts lead it to QPR, the pram-pushing single mum all fixed up after winning a oner on Euromillions.

This weekend all ED's dreams come true, as the Kings Road luvvies get all dizzy with a trip oop North to Arsenal, where its French-speaking Islington sophisticates host what could be a season-defining match for both sides.

The stakes are much higher for Chelsea — defeat would severely dent their hopes of Champions League qualification, as their run-in boasts unstoppable top-four chasers Newcastle United, local rivals and basement scrappers QPR, and a trip to Liverpool, who only turn up against the big teams. Not to mention a second leg against Barcelona, which promises to be traumatic at best.

Arsenal, meanwhile, just need to avoid defeat to all-but ensure third place, with a kind run-in that includes a home match against Norwich City and trips to Stoke and West Brom. Not to be sniffed at, but Channel Five does not beckon.

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Didier Drogba

Likely outcome? It depends which Didier Drogba turns up, but ED can see Arsenal responding from that shock defeat to Wigan with a result, Chelsea suitably distracted by their midweek Spanish holiday to let their guard slip.

QPR, meanwhile, host the horrorshow that has become Tottenham Hotspur. Ever since Harry Redknapp was anointed England manager by a combination of the media, fans and any cockney remotely associated with the game (but not, crucially, by the FA), the wheels have slid off Spurs' season, bouncing south through the home counties and off the white cliffs of Dover into the channel.

The Redknapp situation has spread into a gaping wound, infected and quite possibly gangrenous: if he isn't named England boss for the European Championships, one wonders how on earth they will recover next season. The Hoops, meanwhile, know that this match — against a wounded Spurs, at Loftus Road, represents their second-best chance of three vital points ahead of a rotten final trio that includes trips to Chelsea and Manchester City.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "Not sure you need some sports science graduate just qualified from Keele University telling you that if you jump over this box 15 times you'll be a better player. I feel like saying, no, I've been in the game 20 years, I know what I need." — Renaissance man Joe Cole on English football's obsession with matter over mind.

QUOTE OF THE DAY PT II: "When I went to Liverpool, I admit it was more of a culture shock than coming to France. Unless you're going to fancy dan places where you know you're going to be photographed, you can go around London and you get left alone. In Liverpool the football club is the main thing in city, so there's no escape. The people are great, don't get me wrong, lovely people, but they are at you all the time." — yes, it's Joe Cole again.

FOREIGN VIEW: "John Terry for me is the best defender technically I've ever seen. I used to say to him: come out with the ball. But English football always encouraged him to be more aggressive, play on his power and determination. We should have tapped into his technical ability. He could control a game in same way Beckenbauer could. But that wasn't the English way." — Joe 'Platini' Cole.

COMING UP: Fans of the smaller yellow ball will be pleased to know that we have live coverage of Andy Murray and Tomas Berdych's Monte Carlo Masters quarter-final clash later this morning. Also, Paul Parker and Jim White will file their previews of the weekend action, while at 3pm we have a webchat where you can ask questions about this weekend's Fantasy Football selections.

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