1) The manager
Ultimately the responsibility is with Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff. I’ve seen some people questioning why he didn’t take Andy Carroll as a Plan B. Forget about Plan B, what was Plan A?! I still have no idea what the team was trying to do, particularly in the second half. I note that a few people on here attacked me for criticising the team after the Wales game. We may have won that day but what I saw concerned me and that concern was vindicated last night. It was a repeat of the Wales game, where he threw strikers on with no coherent or formulated strategy on how they were going to gel into a functioning attacking unit. The tactics and team selection were muddled from the first friendly against Turkey all the way through (7 games later) to last night’s debacle against Iceland. Roy has now managed us in three major tournaments and in that time presided over our earliest ever exit (after two games in 2014) and our most embarrassing ever tournament defeat. To put the defeat into perspective, Iceland is a country with no professional football teams and a population of just 300,000 – the smallest ever to qualify for a major football tournament – whose climate only allows them to play outdoors for 4-5 months of the year. The Icelandic national team is co-managed by a part time dentist. Roy Hodgson on the other hand, was the highest paid manager at the tournament, on a salary of £3.5 million per year. It’s not even like he had a track record of success to justify that salary. He did a reasonably average job managing Fulham (bar one decent run in the UEFA Cup) and West Brom, and was an abject failure at Liverpool. His best tournament performance turned out to be the first in 2012, a couple of months after being appointed, by which time he hadn’t had been able to shape the team in his style. Any impact he made subsequently was to the detriment of the team, certainly in terms of tournament performances.
2) The players
Yes, the players were truly awful last night. As a group they underperformed at a major tournament again. Hart made another mistake but we also looked toothless up front. Kane’s set pieces were hopeless. No idea why Roy persevered with him on free kicks. It just put extra pressure on Kane and I think his repeated failure at delivering decent set pieces probably affected his confidence and overall performance. In truth, only Rashford came out of the game with any credit and he was only on the pitch for 4 minutes. However, let’s not vilify another generation of players. We thought that this largely new and young group, with little previous tournament experience, might not be tainted by the failures of the past. We hoped. Now they will have to carry the burden of this ignominious defeat for the rest of their lives. And they deserve that. But I’m sure they care. There was a lack of direction and a lack of leaders to steady the ship when things went awry. Blame the manager. He’s rightly gone. But let’s not now look for scapegoats amongst the players and perpetuate this endless cycle of blame, fear and failure. We all want a successful national football team and we will only hinder that ambition by rounding on them and destroying another generation of young English footballers.
3) The tactics and team selection
As stated above, I have no idea what the game plan even was. We played almost the entire tournament with two wingers supporting a lone centre forward, yet Hodgson only picked one winger in the entire squad (Sterling, who is evidently very low on confidence). Conversely we had five centre forwards with only one space in the team to fill so he ended up playing the likes of Vardy, Sturridge and Rashford out of position in the wide areas. Why not take some more wingers (e.g. Townsend) when you’re planning to play with two? On top of that we played “inverted wingers” last night – a right footer (Sterling) on the left and a left footer (Sturridge) on the right. It was evident after the first 30 mins that this was not working. Both players kept getting into promising positions but then kept having to cut back onto their stronger foot rather than delivering crosses early into the box. Why did he not try to switch them? Wilshere was unfit and shouldn’t have travelled despite his obvious talent. Dier had been our best player in the group stages and I think withdrawing him yesterday at half time was a mistake. Similarly, Lallana had been our best attacking player in the group stages and for some reason was benched last night. His movement off the ball was ideally suited to this system. It seemed that Roy was intent on just trying every possible combination of players until one hopefully clicked, as if he was trying to crack a padlock code by trial and error. Team selection decisions seemed to give no consideration to the evidence of previous individual and collective performances in prior matches. In addition, the constant tinkering hindered players forming any sort of meaningful understanding with each other on the pitch. Put simply, it was a complete shambles.