Watching England isnâ€™t fun any more, is it. There is no excited anticipation in the build-up to the game. No arranging days in advance where you will be watching the game, getting there three hours before kick-off to get a seat in the pub, not going to the gents for fear of losing your spot, and still somehow end up watching the game coiled around a pillar with one side of the TV blocked by someoneâ€™s enormous head.
I can still clearly remember England matches from the 1990s (including qualifiers and friendlies), where I watched them, and how the whole pub would be straining towards the TV. That doesnâ€™t happen any more. England games in this decade have passed by in a blur of stalemates and substitutions. During Saturdayâ€™s game against Israel you could have walked into my local after kick-off and still got a prime viewing seat. People were chatting and occasionally glancing up at the screen and tutting. It might as well have been golf on the box, not a vital qualifier for the England football team.
Things need to change. Iâ€™m all in favour of sacking McClaren and dropping Lampard for the reasons many of you have already given on CaughtOffside. But I think the malaise goes deeper than that and consequently more fundamental changes are needed.
Fans wonâ€™t care about England again until the players and management do. To begin with, the manager must ensure that all England matches are taken seriously. Eriksson transformed friendlies into testimonials: slow, passionless, and a second half made farcical by wholesale substitutions. And they were optional. Eriksson would politely ask Premiership club managers if he could borrow their players for a few days and would promise to only play them for 45-60 minutes. Hang on, club managers are not doing national teams a favour in releasing players for internationals, they have to according to FIFA rules. I donâ€™t want an England manager to plead with Ferguson, I want a manager who will tell him to â€œf*ck offâ€ and spam him. If England does not take practice matches seriously the players will continue to play like 11 individuals instead of a team.
This lacklustre approach to friendlies has gradually seeped into competitive matches too, so now all England games are dull. Many England players are over-rated, but the national teamâ€™s dire performances are due more to a lack of effort than talent and they are capable of giving any team a game when they go for it. Englandâ€™s best performance and most exciting game in the last few years came in a friendly against Argentina and it was because the team played like they cared. Nobody picked up a mysterious injury just before the game only to magically recover in time for his next club game. Nobody happily trotted off after 60 minutes. Everyone wanted desperately to be part of an England win. But players should not only be motivated against one of the worldâ€™s top teams; they should be bursting to do well every time they represent their country. And if they are not, they should not be picked.
Unfortunately the money and hype surrounding English footballers, especially those playing in the Champions League, has inflated the egos of some of our best players and sapped their hunger. The gap between the image they have of themselves and the reality of what we are all seeing in their performances on the pitch has grown so wide that something has to give. I hope that it is just these swaggering players who suffer the consequences by being dropped by a new manager; a manager who is not paralysed by cautious tactics and a fear of upsetting club managers, big name players and the tabloid press.
A manager with balls and players with pride. That would make people care about England again.