Binary media will never allow England to be average
So half a week after "roaring along the road to Rio", Roy's Three Lions are castigated as castrated kittens once again. And the hacks fall over themselves to deliver their monochrome epitaphs for England.
Four days after delight over the demolition of Moldova, we are told by the media that England are hopeless, a disappointment, even an embarrassment: a horrific let-down after sporting events elsewhere. It seems that in the black-and-white world of the back pages, England can only ever be portrayed as brilliant or dreadful, as if there is no emotion other than glee and gloom.
In truth, as opposed to hyperbole, England simply didn't do that badly. There was much to be pleased about in the performance. For long periods before and after the Ukraine goal, England passed the ball with an unhurried thoughtfulness that, had it been in assured Azzurri, would have had the hacks purring over Pirlo's patience.
Sections of the media appear to already have Hodgson in their sights
Depleted, by injury and illness, by almost a full XI Ã¢ÂÂ and denied a legitimate, nerve-settling early goal by typically overfussy refereeing Ã¢ÂÂ England nonetheless had the better of possession and passing, owning 61.6% of the ball-time and making 601 passes to Ukraine's 365 (stats from Opta).
Even when the clocked ticked on, England continued to probe intelligently, reflecting Opta's pre-match tweet that they play a lower percentage of long balls under Hodgson than either of the previous two England managers. Even when Danny Welbeck (aged 21) replaced Tom Cleverly (23), Hodgson didn't throw two up top and hammer long balls at them, instead playing Welbeck wide to face the Ukraine goal and run at the defence; Daniel Sturridge (23) added more youthful impetus and final sub Ryan Bertrand (23) had the desired effect, overlapping from left-back to find Welbeck, who drew the handball from which Frank Lampard scored a well-deserved equaliser.
But like the result, the performance was far from perfect. England had more of the ball but didn't dominate in the manner expected of a side with intentions of breaking the quarter-final barrier. Cleverley had displayed the key weakness in his attacking-midfield armoury Ã¢ÂÂ goalscoring threat; Lampard failed to impose himself on the game for the first hour; Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain struggled to show his pace against a deep defence bolstered by a smothering midfield. And for all England's dedication to the short ball, Hodgson would surely have sent on Andy Carroll had the Gateshead wrecking-ball been available.
DIGITAL AGE, BINARY VIEWPOINTS
Measured reflection has never been a popular way to fill the back (or home) page. Since days of yore, print deadlines mean evening match reports are largely written during the game, and only changed by dramatic late events; even then, the general drift will be left as the writer simply changes the first few paragraphs (and possibly the last for closure).
The digital age hasn't made the procedure any better. Having followed the game on a minute-by-minute jabbed out by a different writer, internet readers want the chief scribe's report within half an hour of the whistle, so even if the paper's principal wordsmith wanted to suck his virtual pencil awhile for a less rushed viewpoint, there's no way it would be allowed.
Such considered cogitation is usually left to the elder statesmen, on whom we rely to put things into perspective. Sadly, it rarely happens. After Friday's win in Moldova, one broadsheet blowhard with nearly half a century of journalism behind him went all the way back to the lodestone, Alf Ramsey, in praising England's new generation; the Ukraine game had him collapsing back into facile sneering.
A rampant win over mighty Moldova had many pundits purring
You'd think the nation's journalists would recognise that not everything is black and white, considering the "fun" they had (along with every other Twitter wise-acre) riffing on the title of clit-lit hit 50 Shades Of Grey. You would also like to imagine that they would credit their readers Ã¢ÂÂ us Ã¢ÂÂ with a bit more imagination and depth than making the England team oscillate between being the pin-cushion for the nation's hopes and the voodoo doll for its self-loathing.
Take Euro 2012. Thrown into pre-tournament disarray by the Terry/Ferdinand fracas and Fabio Capello's resignation, England were widely expected to be a disaster. But they got through their group and were suddenly deemed contenders, before the narrowest of defeats to Italy brought the usual post-mortems and told-you-sos from those who had decried the team from the off.
To this writer, England were again a complicated mixture at the Euros. In the opening draw with fancied France, they were disciplined but blunt; beating Sweden, they lost defensive concentration but were triumphantly versatile in attack; beating Ukraine, they mixed fortitude with fortuitousness; and against Italy, they were diligent but limited.
Despite the search for the eye-catching headline, that's usually the case with England: rarely disastrous losers or non-qualifiers, but even more rarely world-beaters. Serial quarter-finalists for a reason, they again displayed last night why they are neither the fearsome force described in Saturday's press nor the embarrassments widely lambasted today.
Maybe, like Pirlo, writers need to think things through rather than hammering out the route-one easy ball to headline hype.