If you’ve watched the movie (500) Days of Summer, you’ll remember an iconic scene where the screen splits into two, highlighting the difference between reality and expectation. The main character, Tom Hansen, goes up to the apartment of his ex-girlfriend, Summer Finn, for a party. In the “expectations” half of the screen, it shows how Tom hopes the both of them can rekindle their relationship. In the “reality” half, it shows that what unfolds is anything but.
If Tom Hansen was a football team, he would be England. Summer Finn would be the World Cup trophy. Tom could dream of lifting Summer triumphantly up into the air and holding her in a warm, tearful embrace, but it just won’t happen. Similarly, England have been expecting the return of a lost love since 1966.
While the rest of the world has revelled in tactical innovation after tactical innovation, from catenaccio to Total Football to tiki taka, England have always – until recently – seemed to be stuck in some sort of time warp, sticking stubbornly to the old formula of hoofing long balls into the penalty box. Like a jilted lover, England need a new perspective. Summer Finn isn’t coming back.
Every four years since that fateful Wembley afternoon 48 years ago, England have faltered at the quarter-final stage six times, with only a semi-final finish at Italia ’90 disrupting that cycle of mediocrity. The quadrennial expression of “England Expects” has become as tired and annoying as Gangnam Style.
From Beckham’s broken metatarsal to Rooney’s twisted ankle, every major international tournament for England, let alone a World Cup, seems to run on a continuous loop of the same old farcical song. When an early exit does ensue, there’s always the convenience of a scapegoat to fall back on. In 2006 it was the red card that shouldn’t have been. In 2010 it was the goal that should’ve been.
However, there are encouraging signs. As difficult as it is to believe, Roy Hodgson is one of the better managers England have had in a while. The team has traded the long ball for a more continental passing game, something that good old Roy has honed after long coaching spells across Europe. The emergence of youth, plus the strong core of Southampton and Liverpool talent in the squad, is extremely welcome.
Perhaps the greatest compliment for this new direction comes from the man who just dented their hopes in Brazil – Cesare Prandelli. After masterminding Italy’s 2-1 defeat of England on Saturday night, he said: “They used to play with long balls and headers. Now England are very good playing in triangles and one on one. They really have one the strongest attacks in the World Cup. I’ve been really consistent in what I’ve been saying: we played against a great team.”
From Beckham’s broken metatarsal to Rooney’s twisted ankle, every major international tournament for England, let alone a World Cup, seems to run on a continuous loop of the same old farcical song.
England might be coming off a defeat when they face Uruguay next, but they can take heart from a rare performance where they actually lived up to their “Three Lions” tag. Young guns Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Raheem Sterling were the only ones who emerged with considerable credit. Hodgson has a decision to make – should he even play Rooney?
I’ve had some friends come up to me and say “Hey, Rooney provided the cross for Sturridge!”, but that’s a little like getting only a single question correct in an entire test. Rooney was terrible. It is important to note that the pass that made the entire goal possible was provided by England’s youngest, and best player that night – Sterling. He swivelled and drifted in the sweltering heat of Manaus. Rooney toiled in the Amazon. Should there be a changing of the guard?
If the Rooney conundrum is solved, or if Wazza suddenly gets in the mood to turn back the clock to 2004, expectation might just become reality. If England can navigate past Uruguay and Costa Rica, there could be a meeting with more illustrious opponents. If – and I repeat, IF – England get past that, who knows what could happen? Hodgson would do well to remind Steven “Jinx” Gerrard not to mention anything along the lines of “we do not let this slip”, They could go all the way to the final and repeat the heroics of ’66 against Germany. The best part is just simply imagining what will happen when said scenario really comes true.
Roy and the boys will leave Brazil, reach Heathrow Airport, leave their plane and be greeted by an electrifying crowd made up of a mixture of excited young girls hoping to catch Luke Shaw’s attention, disbelieving beer-wielding middle-aged football hooligans with St. George’s Cross painted on their faces, and an army of liberated journalists who can’t wait to churn out the same “England is back!” articles for the entirety of the next month or two.
Gerrard will atone for his “nearly there” season with Liverpool. Phil Jagielka will be hailed as the next Bobby Moore and might even receive a knighthood from the Queen. He would then be lovingly referred to as “Sir Jags”. Yes, this could all be a reality.
The final scene of (500) Days of Summer shows Tom meeting a new girl. It has been around a year since his break-up with Summer, and he is ready to start afresh. He asks her out for coffee, and then asks for her name, to which she replies “I’m Autumn”. Tom then breaks out into a triumphant smile, as the dawn of a new era takes shape. Can England finally meet their Autumn?
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