“It’s unique to this country to attempt to destroy our players’ morale before a major tournament. It’s weird, unpatriotic and sad” said Gary Lineker, on the topic of the media’s treatment of Raheem Sterling over the past month. It has certainly been a challenging period for the England starlet, who faced large amounts of criticism over ‘that’ tattoo – but it isn’t something that Sterling isn’t used to, nor is it unique to this country (sorry, Gary).
In the more expectant countries, journalists heap pressure on their respective players, not just going into major tournaments, but all-year round. It is to be expected by now. Just look at the ongoing feud between Lionel Messi and the Argentina media, where the greatest player to have ever taken to a pitch has spent his career being constantly criticised by his own people. Messi was even the figurehead of a campaign constructed by the national team to boycott the Argentinian press back in 2016, after numerous allegations were made against the players whilst they were on international duty. It has been a rocky relationship to say the least.
In Brazil, the expectations placed on the players heading into the 2014 World Cup (of which they were hosts), were astronomical. Neymar & Co. had no choice – they had to win the tournament, or face national humiliation. When they crashed out in the semi-finals, after the infamous 7-1 defeat to eventual winners Germany, the Brazilian press slaughtered its team. One newspaper’s front page featured a gravestone that read “Here Lies The Dream Of The Sixth Championship In 2014…Dead Of Embarrassment”. Manager Luis Felipe Scolari was told to “go to hell” by another publication. Others simply opted to lead with the word ‘HUMILHAÇÃO’ – which requires no translation.
Here in England however, no dramatic semi-final knockout is needed for the national press to target its players. Whether it be a new tattoo, a visit to Greggs, a purchase from Poundland or even driving a slightly dirtied car, England’s newspapers will seize upon any opportunity they can to demonise the actions of their players. A recent BBC study into this very matter found the English media to be the most negative of a sample of worldwide sources that were followed during the build up to this summer’s World Cup. But just why exactly is this the case?
Well, that is where the issue lies. There seems to be no logical explanation for it whatsoever. If it is all in angered reply to a continued lack of success by the national team, which seems to be the most evident reason, then this makes it all the more confusing in my opinion. For this young England side, the undivided backing of a nation could be what makes the difference going into future tournaments.
England had a golden generation going into the 21st century. The England squads for both the 2002 World Cup and the 2004 European Championships are littered with some of the finest players our country has ever produced. Beckham, Rooney, Scholes, Lampard, Gerrard and Ferdinand were just some of the names that featured in those competitions, but as we all know, England typically came home empty-handed on both occasions. Fast-forward to 2018 however, and it seems another era of great English talent could well be on the horizon, given the successes achieved in recent years at various youth levels.
It seems therefore, that to give this new batch of players what we have never given to those before them, could be what makes the difference. Should we rid ourselves of our toxic reporting and general criticisms, then perhaps we could be rewarded with our first piece of international silverware since ’66. It is time for change within the England setup. We have seen a change in attitude regarding the first team, so it is time for a change from the people, too. Together, who knows what could be achieved.