A new dawn? No, England will always be England until they stop burying their heads in the sand

Ben Burrows
The Independent
Gareth Southgate is being tasked with an impossible job - just like all of his England predecessors: Getty
Gareth Southgate is being tasked with an impossible job - just like all of his England predecessors: Getty

England lost last night, you know? I know, you wouldn’t know it. I’m as surprised as you.

Manager Gareth Southgate was “very pleased” with what he called a number of “excellent individual” performances as master of ceremonies Lukas Podolski played his role to a tee thumping in a brilliant winning goal as Germany ran out victors in Dortmund.

The new boss wasn’t the only one impressed, either. Pundits lined up to lavish praise on the Three Lions’ display.

There was possession. There was creativity. There was THREE AT THE BACK, as though using one more central defender is tantamount to reinventing the wheel. Next they’ll be playing the ball out from the back and deploying someone “in the hole”.

(As well as possession and creativity and three at the back there were of course no goals either but we’ll gloss over that.)

This has been coming, however. Even before last night the green shoots of revival line was being peddled far and wide by those whose memories clearly don’t stretch back even as far as last summer.

Maybe it’s that we’re a nation of hopeless optimists. Maybe we’re all naïve. Maybe it’s just that we all still feel sorry for poor Gareth after that penalty miss all those years ago.

“This feels like a new dawn,” Lee Dixon pondered pre-match without even a hint of self-awareness.

There has been the unmistakable whiff of fresh optimism ever since Southgate took permanent ownership of the impossible job after Sam Allardyce’s blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flirtation with it last year.

Except this isn’t fresh, is it? It’s the same story every time around the managerial merry-go-round.

Southgate's side showed promise but ultimately went down to defeat (Getty)
Southgate's side showed promise but ultimately went down to defeat (Getty)

“[Insert manager name]really is going to change it, you know. You see he’s different to [insert previous manager name] and won’t be as stupid as to make those mistakes again. The FA’s new [insert generic buzzword acronym] programme will revolutionise the game in this country and end the [insert amount of years since 1966] years of hurt. Football’s coming home.”

What’s that phrase about madness and doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Yeah, that.

Now I like Southgate. He seems a thoroughly decent chap who has worked his way up and earned his stripes. He is saying all the right things, too, and really does seem to believe he can be the man to save English football or, at the very least, improve it just a little.

Except he can’t, can he? No one person can. We’ve been doing this too long and fallen too far for that.

“We should build around Dele Alli,” claimed Ian Wright. That’ll be the same Dele Alli who played all four games at Euro 2016 as England crashed out of a tournament designed from its very infancy to keep them in.

Now I’m not suggesting that Alli or any of the other sprinkling of young hopefuls aren’t fine players, nor that we shouldn’t try and bring out the best in them, but to believe things will magically change just because there’s a new manager with the same ideas wrapped in a different bow is foolhardy at best. At worst, downright stupid.

English football is inherently flawed. We know it, Southgate knows it, the FA know it. A 1-0 defeat to the world champions’ second string doesn’t change that. The awakening of Jake Livermore and Michael Keane as international mainstays doesn’t change that. Southgate and his altogether decentness doesn’t change that.

“We should follow the German model,” are the oft-heard words of wisdom. That’ll be after “Spain are the real example” or “France have shown us the way forward”, each philosophy and counter-philosophy more far-fetched than the last. Anyone got the number for the Moldovan FA? Maybe they know what to do.

There is no quick fix, that’s the hard truth. The Premier League rules all. Money rules them. International football in this country is secondary and the power and influence all lies at the other end of the scale.

For all the positivity England still lost to Germany's second-string (Getty)
For all the positivity England still lost to Germany's second-string (Getty)

Roy Hodgson didn’t have the answer just as Fabio Capello didn’t before him. McClaren. Eriksson. Taylor. Keegan. The list goes on.

Why do we think Southgate will be different now when the problems that his fallen predecessors faced still remain? The sooner those involved get their heads out of the sand the better for English football and everyone in it. This isn’t a new dawn, it’s Groundhog Day.

Or we can stay as we are and bask in the infinite glory of not getting thrashed by Germany. Cancel the root and branch review after all. See you in four years.

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