Change is needed to avoid more misery

First published in Sport The Bolton News: Photograph of the Author by , chief football writer

MONDAY morning, tattered bunting, a few sore heads, and a general feeling of acceptance.

This time there was no foreign referee to slate or FIFA president to harangue. Even the dreaded penalty shootout only dished out a punishment our average performance against the Italians deserved.

We weren’t bad at Euro 2012, we just weren’t all that good.

When the Germans beat us at Italia 90, I remember sulking in my room for weeks afterwards. It was the same when we got knocked out by Brazil in 2002 – where my depression was so acute I actually bought an Alanis Morrisette album.

Even more recently, as Cristiano Ronaldo sent us tumbling from the last Euros with a wink and a smile, I was in a foul mood for days.

Not so this time, though. Even though I’d allowed my hopes to raise briefly, I never believed Roy Hodgson had enough quality players to win the whole thing and, as many people have pointed out to me, it’s better losing to Italy than going through the mincer against Germany again.

It would be nice to think that having seen our technical deficiencies highlighted in glorious technicolour, this competition would act as a wake-up call to the higher authorities to invest more in the game at grass roots level.

There have been a few tentative steps taken in that direction, and I’m led to believe our own Bolton and Bury Junior Football League are showing the way things should be done.

But let’s not kid ourselves, we’re not going to cure the nation’s ill simply by playing smaller sided games. Investment has to come at government level and go into facilities, greater provision and a more streamlined structure of youth football right the way up to academy level.

And then there’s the near-impossible task of changing a nation’s mentality.

We’ve all sat in the stands at the Reebok and heard someone roar “get it forward” when Wanderers have the audacity to play a few passes in their own half.

It’s probably the same thought process that prompted Adrian Chiles to call Spain “a bit boring” the other night to a rather bemused Roberto Martinez. We either go one way or the other. You either embrace a system like Spain, or hope for a generation of well-schooled, gifted footballers to come through at the same time, as Germany have managed in the last four or five years. It’s all in the planning.

Some 23 million of us tuned in to watch Sunday night’s game, so it’s clear there is no shortage of passion. You just wonder whether there really is a shortage of knowledge where we need it most.

Marc's player ratings for the tournament:

GOALKEEPER

JOE HART 6

Although his positioning was questioned for France’s goal in the group stages, Hart’s bravado made sure he got through the rest of the tournament without any major problems.

DEFENDERS

GLEN JOHNSON 5

Put in an improved performance against Italy but a real weak link at times during the first three games. Seemed to be singled out for punishment against Sweden and France.

JOLEON LESCOTT 7 Scored a fine header against France and rarely put a foot wrong after that. Made sure that neither Rio Ferdinand nor Gary Cahill were missed by forging a good partnership with Terry.

JOHN TERRY 7 A lack of pace caused a few flutters in the group stages but the former skipper showed guts against a constant barrage in the quarter-final. No problems here.

ASHLEY COLE 7 Regarded by many as the world’s best left-back and you can’t really argue with his displays at Euro 2012. Pace, technique, tenacity – it’s just a shame he can’t take penalties.

MIDFIELDERS

JAMES MILNER 5

Used to cover Johnson’s defensive frailties, Milner was a sacrificial lamb from the start. Hardly a conventional wide man, the City midfielder simply didn’t provide enough width or quality in possession.

SCOTT PARKER 6 Does exactly what it says on the tin. Parker ran his heart out but you can’t get around the fact that his lack of proficiency with ball at feet cost England at times.

STEVEN GERRARD 8 The captain was fantastic, although his chasing and filling in for others came at a considerable cost to his attacking threat. His set pieces were great too.

ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN 6 Showed he belonged in this kind of company on his only start, and gained some crucial tournament experience. The Arsenal starlet will definitely get another chance.

JORDAN HENDERSON 6 Hard to really criticise the Liverpool man based on 38 minutes of football but did little to calm things down when he came off the bench against Italy.

THEO WALCOTT 6 Electric against Sweden but charge quickly ran down after that. Failed to impose himself at all against Ukraine or Italy, when his pace should have been such an asset.

ASHLEY YOUNG 5 Came into the Euros as England’s in-form front man but looked nothing of the sort when moved out to the wing. Lost the ball too often and then failed miserably in the penalty shootout.

STRIKERS

WAYNE ROONEY 5

Couldn’t miss on his comeback against Ukraine but never looked fit or on form. This wasn’t anything like Rooney at his rampaging United best.

DANNY WELLBECK 6 Even though he didn’t have the guile to break down the Italians, Wellbeck showed with a special finish against Sweden that he can hack it at this level.

ANDY CARROLL 6 Came out of the tournament with credit after a terrible season with Liverpool. May be an impact player but proved to be a refreshing change at times.

JERMAIN DEFOE 6 Breifly returned home after the death of his father and played just 13 minutes of football. Hard to assess, but possibly his last crack at a major tournament.

Did not take part: Green, Butland, Jagielka, Baines, Jones, Kelly, Downing.

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