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England must stop settling for ‘Second Best’

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What is it about being English that means that we hype up the ability and chances of our team and players until the expectation is much more than they are actually capable of, criticise them remorselessly when they achieve what they are able to achieve (nothing) and then happily sit back and accept second best?

It isn’t just football we do it in, it is almost every sport. We won the Rugby Union world cup a few years ago but now we are relieved and relatively pleased if we keep the All Blacks to below fifty points. We really aren’t very good at Cricket and a defeat to New Zealand or Sri Lanka is regarded as acceptable. In that sport, hardly anyone else plays it, but we still can’t be the best! In Athletics we rarely win gold and let’s not talk about Tennis.

So why do we not reach the heights that we all think we should or in some cases seem to believe that we have a divine right to achieve?

Maybe I have answered my own question in the first paragraph of this article. In the end we, as a nation, are all happy to settle for second best. We are thrilled to reach the quarter-finals of anything and anything further than that is regarded as a major triumph. Tennis player Tim Henman became a hero in England despite never getting past the semi-final of Wimbledon. What other country in the world would make a hero out of a man who was basically a confirmed loser?

I would imagine that the mood in Germany at the moment is one of upset, disappointment and frustration. They will be angry that they lost the final and will regard Euro 2008 as a failure. Unlike the English, the Germans regard second place as the first losers spot.

Contrast the disappointment in Germany with the scenes in England after World Cup 1990 and Euro 1996 when the England players were feted around the country and invited to meet the Prime Minister and Queen for losing in the semi-final!

In England we must accept that we are not very good and work hard to strive to become winners. There was a very damning statistic read out on the BBC during the Euro 2008 final. Commentator John Motson was retiring and in his years at the microphone he had covered eleven major finals involving the Germans and none involving England. This has to stop.

In Fabio Capello we have appointed a man who is a winner and who simply doesn’t accept anything other than victory. The problem he may have is in over coming a whole national culture that believes that it isn’t the winning that’s important but the taking part.

In our Premier League it is regarded as a success to finish fourth. Obviously I understand the financial benefits of Champions League qualification but surely it is wholly wrong to have teams striving to be the fourth best in the country?

At Wimbledon at the moment the whole country is going Andy Murray mad. He had a good win the other day but he won’t win the tournament. We are prepared to make another hero who doesn’t win and this one isn’t even English! The Scottish tennis player is adopted by us because when it suits us we are happy to say we are British. Why don’t we go the whole way and call ourselves European and then we can claim Spain to be ours as well!

Until losing is fully regarded as failure we will not have the success that we want. Look at our golfers for example. They earn millions of pounds and praise for being in the worlds top twenty. It is a great achievement but do they all need or strive to be the number one?

It is time for a cultural overhaul in England and for all defeat to be regarded as failure whether it is failure to qualify for a tournament, going out in the group stages or losing in the quarter or semi-finals. Defeat in the final is failure as well, but it is forty-two years since we have had a chance to enjoy that level of failure!

The fact is that English sportspeople are too comfortable with being quite good. They are rewarded with huge salaries and all the trimmings of a fantastic lifestyle without having to get to be the very best. We love hard luck stories and always prefer a gallant loser to a ruthless winner.

Come on England, less gallantry and more ruthlessness, please!

Graham Fisher writes at Soccerlens and Soccer News.

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