England must look to the future after Euro exit

Rhys Howell considers the future of English football in our weekly sports column.

There are lots of points about where we went wrong and what we could have done differently that could be discussed, but with England now out of the competition they are mostly academic.

The only thing that really matters now we have been knocked out is where we go from here.

The important thing is that English football does not hide behind the fact that they once again lost out in a major tournament in a penalty shoot-out.

Self pity at yet another predictably tragic spot-kick failure should not be allowed to mask the fact that one 20 minute-period in the first half aside, England were totally outplayed in their quarter-final tie by an Italian team who apparently only had one decent player.

There is no real disgrace in what England have achieved at this particular tournament – the current side is far from a vintage one, plus they (somehow) remained unbeaten over the course of four games – and so reaching the quarter-finals is probably about a par performance.

However, what has to happen now is that English football ensures that it moves forwards from here.

The FA must look to address our shortcomings, which after Sunday night’s performance, are plain for all to see.

The Italian side that took England apart in Kiev is the weakest Azzuri team in quite some time, yet they were technically far superior to Roy Hodgson’s men.

There really was a big gulf in class on the night and the worst thing is that Italy are not even the best out there.

The Germans and the Spaniards are in a different league entirely and that is just considering the European picture. In terms of being a world force, England are miles off the pace.

As admirable as their dogged resilience and bulldog spirit was in Euro 2012, it is very obvious that those qualities can only take you so far and are not a viable alternative to technical ability.

Perspiration is no substitute for possession, nor is toil a greater virtue in the modern game than technique.

It might sound like a case of easier said than done suggesting that all we need to do is become better at playing football, but just look at the example the Germans have set.

At the 1998 World Cup, Germany were humbled in the quarter-finals by Croatia before an ageing squad did not manage to win a game at Euro 2000 and failed to make it past the group stages of the tournament.

In 2001, the Germans were thrashed 5-1 by England in Munich.

They again failed to make the knock-out stages at Euro 2004 and German football was well and truly at rock-bottom.

However, having reached a nadir, Germany realised where they were going wrong and addressed their failings.

It was not just their ailing team that needed an overhaul but the country’s enitre footballing infrastructure.

The Germans invested heavily in the coaching and development of young players and now they are reaping the rewards.

Ever since Jurgen Klinsmann and Joachim Low took charge of the national team in 2004, Germany have fielded sides full of exciting and talented young players who play fluent attacking football and score lots of goals.

They were the highest scoring team at the 2006 and 2010 World Cups and in their last two tournament appearances have been undone only by the Spanish in the final of Euro 2008 and then the semi-finals of the last World Cup.

In the last few weeks they have impressively negotiated the so-called ‘group of death’ totally unscathed before demolishing Greece in the quarter-finals despite rotating their squad and resting key personnel such as Mario Gomez and Thomas Muller.

The Germans may have exited Euro 2012 on Thursday evening at the hands of Italy but at least it cannot be said that they went out with a whimper.

It did not happen overnight, but having got their house in order, Germany are certainly now heading in the right direction.

In my opinion, the blueprint for improvement is already there.

Admittedly, Germany are yet to win a trophy since Euro 1996 and they are not yet the finished article but I don’t think that their example would be a bad one to follow.

The question is will the FA realise that investing in the development of young players is the best way forward for football in this country?

Having seen them recently spend around £750 million on the new Wembley stadium, one could be forgiven for wondering if their priorities lie elsewhere.