I’m finding this England defeat easier to take than previous ones, and I think I know why.
There’s pretty much no worse feeling in football than being cheated. If you apply for a job, and lose out to someone better qualified, you might feel disappointed. But if you lose out to the boss’s son-in-law, who’s less qualified than you, the feeling is likely to be much harder to bear.
At halftime yesterday, after the blind linesman disallowed Lampard’s equalizer, I started to play out in my mind (in between searching frantically for my fiancee who appeared to have been kidnapped from Brooklyn's Chip Shop while ordering breakfast) how this game would take its place alongside all those past England losses that have felt, rightly or wrongly, in some way undeserved – attributable to the fickle footballing Gods through the instrument of bad refereeing (the ‘86 Hand of God game) or the lottery of the penalty shootout (the ’90 semifinal, in which we clearly outplayed Germany, and Waddle hit the inside of the post in extra time; the ‘96 Euro semifinal, a similar story; and the ’98 second-round loss to Argentina, where for a while we played some of the best football of the tournament). The thought of adding another chapter to that harrowing story felt exhausting, even before it had happened. Who wants to walk around carrying that kind of burden?
That’s why in hindsight, Germany’s two second-half goals – and the clear difference in basic footballing proficiency that they demonstrated – feel like something of a relief. OK sure, if the score had been 2-2 at halftime, as it should have been, we wouldn’t have been pressing in the second half, and likely wouldn’t have left ourselves as shockingly exposed to the German counter as we did. But really, who are we kidding? We weren’t cheated by anyone except ourselves . We lost to a better team.
It’s much easier to accept this. To accept that we’re just not capable of performing basic footballing actions -- passing the ball accurately, controlling it, NOT LETTING THE OTHER TEAM SCORE FROM A GOAL KICK UP THE MIDDLE -- at anything like the same level as the Germans, let alone the Argentinians or the Spanish. To accept that this probably exposes a deep dysfunction in the way that we develop football talent in England, which likely won’t improve without fundamental reform. (As Soccernomics suggests, no longer cutting off half our talent pool by writing off middle and upper-middle class kids would be a good place to start.) To accept that the players seemed afraid of Capello, and therefore afraid to make a mistake, throughout the tournament. To accept that the Golden Generation pretty much turned out to be all hype.
None of this is pretty to have to face. But it’s better than having to feel hard done by yet again.