The Psychological Pressure of Playing for England

Fast back to the evening of the 27th June 2016 and the football world was in shock. England had just lost to minnows Iceland in the last 16 of Euro 2016. Again England had bottled it.

England humiliated as they lose to Iceland in Euro 2016

To most people this came as a surprise and a shock, but it should not have. England have been disappointing in Championships since they lost to Brazil in the 2002 World Cup in Japan. We have not made it past the quarter finals in either the European Championships or the World Cup since 2002.

Every year we boast one of the most star filled squads, but every year we continuously underperform.

The strange thing is that the English youth sides (U21s and below) can perform at major Championships unlike the senior side. This is evident from England’s excellent display in the youth competitions this Summer. England made it to the final of the U17s European Championships in May, the U20s won both the World Championship and the Toulon Tournament, the U21s were runners up in this Summer’s European Championships and a few hours ago the U19s won the European Championships.

England U19s defeat Portugal to become European Champions

Pundits and fans have argued that the main reason England’s senior side consistently underperforms at Championship Finals is because there is no Winter Break during the Premier League season unlike other top divisions in Europe. The pundits argue English players get to major Championships with nothing left in the tank and thus struggle to progress further than the quarter finals.

However, even though I do agree that this could be a partial reason for our constant failure, I believe that the problem is far more psychological and deeper rooted.

Repetitive Failures Are The Norm?  

15 years of underperforming and constant criticism. The media always looks to take a dig at the national side and crush any sense of belief within the squad. There is no winning mentality in the squad and none of the players in the squad have ever seen England win a major piece of silverware. Every year the public ask ‘I wonder what round England will be knocked out this year?’ There is no belief in the squad and it is as though the negativity amongst the fans has transmitted itself and deep routed itself in the England side itself over the last two decades.

No one ever talks about England winning a major competition and I feel that psychologically the England players expect defeat and don’t even picture themselves going past the last eight of any major championship.

The England side that went to Euro 2016 was one of the youngest in history and yes some people argued that meant they would have no fear, but it also meant that they had never really seen a successful England side. For example Marcus Rashford is only 19 years old and he will not be able to remember a time in his lifetime when England were a force to be reckoned with. Dele Alli is only 22 years old and again is another example of a young player were underperforming at the national level will be the norm and what he has been used to since being a young child.

The Build Up and Social Media?

Senior international football over the last two decades has become bigger and bigger, with nearly every major championship game televised. International matches are talked about on social media and attendances at major championships never fail to impress. According to UEFA on average 47,594 spectators watched each game at Euro 2016. With the total attendance reaching just shy of 2.5 million people. I argue that the coverage on social media of championships and the sheer number of fans watching games on televisions could be a reason why England continuously struggle at major finals.

Euro 2016 in Numbers

Yes, some people may call me absurd and foolish, but if you look at the lack of coverage and following our youth teams received over their respective competitions this Summer and how they all fared, perhaps there is a psychological link between success and a lack of media coverage.

Yes I accept that Germany have been very successful in both their senior and youth sides over the last decade with a huge social media following. However, everyone in the world labels England as a national side that underachieves and bottles every competition and I am to the belief that the mix of harsh criticism from fans and social media leaves senior English players with a psychological nightmare. The players know that the media is waiting to crucify their mistakes and label them as ‘flops’, and thus the sheer pressure of the large following mixed with an audience waiting to capture any minor mistake is proving to be a psychological problem for England’s senior side.

The youth sides are not scrutinised for their mistakes and are not crucified by the press if they underperform, instead the fans just let the youth sides get on with the job.

It is it to no doubt that the England players don’t lack quality, as we know they possess it, but it is about finding the right atmosphere to allow the players to play their natural game. We need to break the psychological pressure that is rooted to the core of the side.

It is very hard to suggest how we can cut out this cancer that is entwined in our senior side. However, who knows what would happen if the senior side played Germany or Argentina behind closed doors in a major championship with no social media coverage. Would we win? It is an interesting thought and it is highly unlikely that a game like this would ever happen, but this psychological problem needs to be addressed sooner rather than later, in order to bring pride back to the senior side.

Nicholas Kaba

2 thoughts on “The Psychological Pressure of Playing for England

  1. Winning is not everything it is the only thing , that banishes nerves. The answer Directs to confidence .. how to install belief and confidence . Look st History – how Brian Clough install for Nootingham forest to achieve European cup two years running

    Liked by 1 person

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