The English football beast claims latest victim in Eriksson

Hope then humiliation. Boundless optimism and crushing disappointment. On Wednesday night, the banality of the Linfield supporters' club bar was a fittingly mediocre venue for Eriksson to take his place in the great uncontrollable history of our national football team. This institution that has grown into a beast without reason, one that has resisted taming save for one summer 39 years ago and has tarnished the reputations and assaulted the sanity of every manager who has taken it on. The scope of defeat to Northern Ireland means that Eriksson joins his predecessors as one more man who has had a perfectly good career broken on the anvil of English football's toughest job.

We are at the end of the empire with Eriksson: the story has run its course, the options have been exhausted, the tale has been told. What remains is nine months of purdah, the anguish of watching a manager bereft of ideas take charge of a team devoid of cohesion as they both hurtle towards what we had previously imagined to be the most crucial international tournament for a generation. Even assuming they take enough points from Austria and Poland to qualify for the World Cup next summer, England seem locked into a failure from which they cannot escape.

It is painful to watch, even more so because Eriksson is no insufferable egotist. He accepted his fate meekly and without bitterness at Windsor Park on Wednesday despite the brainless intervention of one England fan who had made it into the bar and an equally ungracious line of questioning from the pundit Rodney Marsh. What the England manager does not require now are the attacks of bullies and curmudgeons but rather an assertion of his own personality and beliefs upon this team.

It is important to acknowledge what this England team has become - since the last World Cup, at least, it has ceased to develop as a team in the way that every vibrant club side does. There is not the perpetual battle for status and preferment that exists at the most successful Premiership clubs of the last decade, there is no pressure on the hierarchy. This is not a team that is forced to justify itself with every match. Instead, it is one in which the parameters for the ambition of every player seem set for eternity.

In short, Eriksson has established the old British class system to govern a team that can only be run successfully as a meritocracy. Defeat to Northern Ireland was savage in so many ways but not least because their manager, Lawrie Sanchez, has refused to countenance the selection of any player who would not submit himself to the laws of the collective. Even if that meant picking players from Crewe Alexandra or Plymouth Argyle, from Motherwell or Hull City. Or Peterborough United.

There is a delicious irony in the victory of Sanchez's lower league players over the stars who serve Eriksson. But there is also an important distinction to make in the midst of the clamour to sneer at England's failure on Wednesday and exult those more humble men in the green shirts. Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Michael Owen have earned their status and rewards in club football, and one shocking defeat does not make them frauds - it simply means that they are part of an international team that is no longer functioning.

To fix that, Eriksson has to reconcile in his own mind that the 4-5-1 system is dead and Beckham cannot be allowed to emasculate Lampard and Gerrard by claiming every single pass that originates in midfield. His passes out to Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right may look brilliant but they consign Gerrard and Lampard to redundancy. Against Northern Ireland those two were the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of midfield - robbed of power to change the destiny of the match.

These two accomplished internationals were little more than a staging post for the passing game of Beckham who, impressive in his distribution none the less, stretched the play too quickly with 40-yard passes and gave Lampard and Gerrard no chance to support the attacks which Michael Owen and Wright-Phillips could not sustain alone. Beckham is not a bad holding midfielder but he is not good enough at it to justify the elimination of all Gerrard and Lampard's influence.

The suspicion is that Eriksson will not dispense with either Beckham, Lampard or Gerrard ahead of the match against Austria on 8 October but will instead switch back to 4-4-2 thus consigning the 4-5-1 formation to one of the most infamous sub-plots in this team's tactical history. In a briefing later on Wednesday night he talked about Peter Crouch as a possible replacement in that game for the suspended Wayne Rooney.

An unlikely messiah for this England team but then if Eriksson is to effect a complete return to the basics of 4-4-2 he may as well resume his love affair with the notion that every team should have a tall target man. This is, of course, far from the finessing of a side capable of conquering the world - it is too late to expect anything but the most superficial solutions now from the England manager.

"It's very simple," Eriksson said on Wednesday. "The responsibility always lies with the coach, always. What do I have to do? I have to turn it right." It has been the bland hope of all his predecessors, the notion that a simple answer lies just within their grasp, but in the saloon bar of the Linfield supporters' club, a familiar old problem looked as impenetrable as ever.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
people
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices