Why We Didn't Really Miss England At Euro 2008

Sing ChenCorrespondent IJuly 12, 2008

So here we are again.

Less than 60 days after the Champions League Final in Moscow, the new season is upon us. Teams are back from their summer holidays, and pre-season friendlies are already underway.

Even the early season competitive matches hold real opportunities for some teams—unfortunately not for Scottish club Hibernian, having roundly lost their Intertoto Cup tie against Elfsborg 4-0 on aggregate.

In between that John Terry miss and Rafa Nadal's epic Wimbledon victory over Roger Federer, there was the small matter of the European Championships. It's been a while since one of the major summer tourneys has taken place with none of the 'home nations' in participation.

For those of you not 'in the know' - the 'home nations' (as they love to call themselves on the other side of the Atlantic) are England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland (both - the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland).

Is it coincidence that there's wide agreement across the football media and fans' world that this summer saw the most exciting European Championships in a long time?

Could England really have been involved in the thrillers that Turkey dished up against Switzerland and then Croatia, only to have the tables turned on them by none other than a very, very average Germany side? While there literally were turkeys (Romania v France anyone), who could possibly forget Holland's dismantling of France and Italy and then their extra time dismantling by Russia?

Going into the tournament without a home nation meant that many of us could watch the sport with our usual passion, but without the emotional roller-coaster of supporting our home country.

I nailed my colours to the Dutch flag (purely on the basis of having family there). Yet, when the Dutch lost to a very well organised Russia side, I felt disappointment of course, but did not sulk about for days like I did following England's dispatching by Portugal in 2004 - and 2006.

I suspect that much of the enjoyment of the quality football played by many teams was the ability to identify with so many players plying their trade on these shores.

You couldn't see the build up to one of Portugal's games without talk of Cristiano Ronaldo's Manchester United future being discussed.

A Liverpool player scored the winning goal in the tournament.

A Chelsea player dropped a clanger to put Turkey through.

The ageing legs of another Chelsea player, Claude Makelele, ran out of steam for France.

Even Thierry Henry was a former Arsenal player.

Manchester United's number one was keeper of the tournament.

But let's not forget the players outside these "fashionable" teams. Niko Kranjcar (Portsmouth) acquitted himself well. The under-rated Marek Matejowsky (Reading) seized his moments.

Even English referee Howard Webb put himself into the headlines with the controversial award of a penalty to Austria in the dying minutes of their game against Poland.

So while England weren't there, the English Premiership was. Do England really have the quality of players to bring genuine belief to it's fans—hankering after a shred of anything that could be labelled as "success"?

The spine, the spine. I hear that all the time, have a good spine and you've got the makings of a good team. Well, you can't really argue with Ferdinand, Gerrard and Rooney. But what about the rest?

You can debate the merits, or otherwise, of England's current crop of goalkeepers—but who is our current David Seaman, Peter Shilton, or Gordon Banks? Paul Robinson, David James, Chris Kirkland, Scott Carson, Joe Hart, or even Ben Foster?

Gary Neville's career can't go on for ever—so step up Glen Johnson. Ashley Cole needs some competition. John Terry needs an extra yard of pace. Frank Lampard needs to warm the bench. Michael Carrick or Owen Hargreaves are good but are they a Michael Ballack or a Claude Makelele? What is Wayne Rooney's best position? And will Michael Owen ever be the player he was prior to injury?

It was right that Steve McClaren went. For me, the England team should be managed by an Englishman, but that's a patriotic thing. Fabio Capello's in the job and we should get behind him. Will he do what so many managers before him fail to do and pick the best team and not the best players? I hope so.

World Cup qualifiers will give everyone an opportunity to see the scope that Capello's had to change things. Croatia, deja vu.

So, while we can all reflect on a great summer tournament with more than the usual helpings of thrills and spills, but less controversy than I remember (no, Ruud Van Nistelrooy really wasn't offside), England fans go into the 2008-2009 season with the hope and expectation that all their fans have: pinning hopes on the 50-60 games our clubs will be playing, and dipping in and out of the marathon of trying to qualify for South Africa 2010.

The benchmark has been set for England. Spain really do have the best football (club and country). They are the number 1 team in the world. They've got a pretty good tennis player as well.

Capello has a tough job on his hands—just remember, getting wet is not that bad. Your job is a high price to pay for a brolly.