If Vedran Corluka had scored an own goal and put England into the Euro finals then the shifting narrative taking shape in coaching circles which singles out foreign players as doing untold damage to English soccer would have most likely ended.
But even if Corluka by happenstance scored that goal what would have prevented England from chucking it all away if today's match was any indication? Or for that matter any amount of own goals because England would have found yet another way of defeating itself. It would have been best if Russia had ended England's Euro debacle in Ramat Gan a few days ago because we would not have had to hear another story of how England controlled its fate.
England's problems are the result of a number of fallacies:
English Premier league quality and the performance of the national squad are correlated
The problem is that too often players and the English public equate the quality of the Premier League with the English national team. These distinctions almost always get blurred. Yes, you get the best talent and unbelievable match play. The marketing and the saturation TV coverage make it the most watched league. And the pay off is tremendous enough to keep clubs affording those world class players. It leads to a simple minded belief that somehow all of this translates into a superior national squad. How many times do we hear whether this foreign player will be able to keep up with the pace and the intensity of the English league. We always belittle the Bundesliga and its relatively low level intensity but the pace at which the new look German team performs shocks us. As it is a jet lagged English squad barely rose above itself to defeat Ecuador and labored to beat T&T in the 2006 World Cup. Only to see it fall to Portugal. But that enervated performance was not an exception, it seems to have become a rule.
A crowded midfield gives better options
The Steve McLaren thinking is to bottle up the midfield with players who are perceived to bring something to the table. What remains unclear is what exactly do they bring? There are distinctions of course but Barry, Gerrard, and Lampard to a large extent are iterations. Barry might have a more withdrawn role but they all clog up the middle.
At this point England lacks a true number 10. I have seen pundits touting Lampard as a playmaker but it really does not say much for his abilities when his own club manager and the owner are thinking of bringing Luka Modric on a winter transfer. Gerrard has been a shadow of himself since the CL final against AC Milan and has done no favours with his captaincy either. And if Beckham is an option then this does not augur well for the future of the English game.
In a level playing field the only player who would merit a place in the starting squads of Italy, France, and Germany would be Joe Cole. This talented player with his quick feet and great passing ability in the hands of a coach like Marcelo Lippi would have been transformed into a quality holding player. The other way to do this is to develop a midfield that is parallel and consensual and does not depend on just one player as witnessed in Arsenal's game. There is no hierarchy. Unfortunately in England player development becomes subservient to club interests.
Steve McLaren is all to blame
Steve McLaren is complicit as any in making muddled and poor choices and playing players not suited to a team fit. But he is not the only one who is responsible for England's mess.
The FA seems to have become this special interest organization whose primary responsibility seems to be acting as the chief apologist of some special coaches. Or giving credence to yet another fallacy that foreign players are responsible for the decline of the English game on the recommendation of those special coaches. But Brian Barwick has proven to be quite the clown. The FA screwed up with Big Phil and Guus Hiddink last year and in the end bowed to the pressure of pundits who wanted an 'English manager', by making a disastrous choice in Steve McLaren, a middling manager, who never took Boro out of the doldrums.
In the end unreal expectations, mediocrity in the national squad (with a few exceptions), the FA's shortsightedness, and McLaren's blunders cost England dear.