If England’s exit is a catastrophe, lets treat it like one

The dust continues to settle around the England football team’s early exit from Euro 2016 at the hands of relative minnows Iceland. The media have been quick to judge, using such terms as ‘catastrophe’, ‘disaster’, ‘failure’ and so on. England’s manager Roy Hodgson resigned immediately after the defeat to Iceland and the search is now on for a replacement.

Of course, being knocked out of a major football tournament bears no resemblance at all to the real catastrophes that blight society; however, viewing England’s exit in the same way that we examine real catastrophes such as airplane crashes, maritime disasters, and nuclear power plant explosions will prove useful in trying to rectify things moving forward.

In particular, there are three key elements of accident causation theory that potentially provide a useful way to view England’s failiure.

The first key characteristic of catastrophes is that they are caused by multiple interacting factors. There is no such thing as a root cause; there is always a web of contributory factors involved. The implication is that England’s failure had multiple contributory factors underpinning it – it is not as simple as just Hodgson being tactically naïve as has been suggested.

The question then is what are these factors that continue to create sub-standard English performances at major tournaments? To find the answers it is important that a thorough investigation examines English football from top to bottom. For example, what is happening at the grass roots level? How are our coaches and players developed? What effect does the high level of foreign imports have on the development of English players? How do the English Premier League’s astronomical wages impact players’ desire to play for their country? There is no doubt that there will be a complex web of interacting contributory factors involved. It is imperative that an appropriate investigation unearths them.

A related and second important feature of catastrophes is that there is almost always a shared responsibility for them. In the case of England, this means that Roy Hodgson cannot be solely to blame. Whilst he has accepted full responsibility for the team’s poor performance, accident theory tell us that there should be a shared responsibility for failure. No one person, group, or thing should be held responsible.

The English football ‘system’ comprises many layers, organisations and people, many of which, according to accident theory, will have played some role in how the team performed in France. This includes the coach, the players, Hodgson’s backroom staff etc. but also others including the FA, the players’ clubs, agents, and the media to name only a few. The key to improving future performance lies in understanding the roles that different people and organisations play in facilitating or hindering the performance of the national side.

The pressure to fix England and make them great again brings about a final important point. Following major catastrophes there is often a strong desire to fix the one thing that is seen as the major cause. In this case Hodgson has gone and the search is on for a new manager.

It is wrong, however, to think that a new manager alone will fix the England team. Rather, the new incoming manager will likely be hamstrung by the very same systemic failures that impacted Hodgson throughout his tenure. Only a proper analysis of the English football system will tell us what needs to be fixed, and these fixes will span all levels of the English football system. They will include fundamental reform, will be hard to make, and will take time, but they are only way to go should England wish to be successful again.



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