England: arrogant or merely confident?
Is England as a football nation arrogant? Branko Brnovic, the head coach of the Montenegro team, seems to think so, and he claims to have the evidence.
“I hear England have [organised] friendlies against Germany and Argentina in November,” he said. “Perhaps they did so before the start of the qualifiers, because definitely they believe in themselves. Perhaps after the game with us they will have to cancel them, and they may suffer a penalty. Who knows? We want to take the opportunity ahead of us. I'm not saying we can't lose the game, but England will really have to toil to beat us.”
Brnovic pointed out, however, that if Montenegro defeat England in Podgorica on Tuesday night, and then defeat Ukraine in June, they will likely win the World Cup qualifying group, sending England into a play-off – and ensuring the cancellation of the “friendlies against Germany and Argentina in November”.
Brnovic would never make a diplomat, but he has a point. This is an England in transition, an England that is no longer strong at the back, and an England unsure of themselves. It is true that they defeated Brazil at Wembley recently – and impressive performance, too – but one would caution against reading too much into such a result.
England have been less impressive in their qualifying campaign than they have been in friendly matches. The 1-1 draw away to Poland last October was a disappointment, as was the 1-1 draw against Ukraine at Wembley five weeks before. Since the autumn, there has been improvement up front but deterioration in defence.
There remains, nevertheless, an unwarranted sense of “English exceptionalism”, born not only of historical factors but also of the knowledge that the Premier League is the most popular in the world. However, new nations, such as Montenegro, do not fear England and laugh at such concepts as “England exceptionalism”. Reputations have to be earned, and for the past decade or so, England have not been as good as they think they are.
"We respect and appreciate the English team, but even more so we appreciate our own qualities," Brnovic said. "I'm sure we'll make the most of them. I have read statements from some English players about the way the pitch will look. As far as I know, the English have always favoured long passes, so who should complain about this? Us, with [Mirko] Vucinic, [Stevan] Jovetic, [Marko] Basa, or England? They are also intimidated by our fans. All these stories are coming from their side. That shows they're more scared of this game than we are."
"I would say [they are arrogant] because that's what could be seen, even when they played San Marino, given some of the things they said. But things will certainly be quite different now [as opposed to when Montenegro hosted England in October 2011 in qualification for Euro 2012]. We are the leaders in our group this time. We are not chasing after anything and we have nothing to prove. This will be quite a spectacle.”
Roy Hodgson was encouraged by the state of the pitch, which has suffered from thunderstorms and heavy rain. He has fitness problems concerning Glen Johnson, the Liverpool right back, who missed the match against San Marino in Serravalle on Friday night because of a toe infection. Hodgson also has problems up front, and the head coach will decide between Danny Welbeck and Ashley Young, both of Manchester United, on the left of an attacking trident. If both play, Tom Cleverley, also of United, will be the man to make way.