Chokers!

The Telegraph yesterday had a headline of “Unqualified Failure” above a photo of Steve McClaren, which whilst harsh, seemed to be an accurate representation of what had gone on the previous night.  I still can’t believe it, quite frankly.

So that got me thinking… What on earth has happened to the English team this last year or so?

Well there were certainly some early hiccups in the qualifying campaign – a defeat to Croatia, a draw with Macedonia. However, when it came down to it, what England needed from the last two games was one point, yes just one measley little draw from two games against Russia and Croatia.  Having won the previous five games against varying opposition all by the score 3-0, and having conceded only 2 goals in the entire 10 qualifying games thus far, that didn’t appear to be too much to ask.  Keep it tight at the back and nick the odd goal or two here and there and we’d be fine.

The reality, two shocking performances (particularly against Croatia on Wednesday), sloppy defending, ill-judged tactics, lack of control and responsibility from the senior players and a complete absence of any sense of a game plan.  Now we can blame this on the manager, Steve McClaren, the players or indeed the FA, but what I see it coming down to is that we bottled it. We choked. The team saw the finishing line approaching and, for whatever reason, could not summon the emotional intelligence to develop and action a plan to get over it.

Now that is bad enough, but I think we’ve already seen this once or twice this year from the English sports psyche…

Look at Lewis Hamilton and McLaren.  15 races gone this season, the most amazing debut season of any driver in history, and Lewis is in pole position (sorry) in the championship, a handful of points ahead of his teammate Alonso and 17 points ahead of Raikonnen. He and McLaren just need to develop a well-judged gameplan in the rain in the penultimate race to nudge him over that finishing line.  Take it easy, stay in contention, take no risks, and he’ll be there.  After all, his season has been about consistency – only 3 race wins, but loads of 2nd and 3rd places.  So, what happens, Lewis and the team see glory ahead, chase the race win in those dreadful conditions. His tyres get worn down to ridiculous levels, Lewis takes it too fast into the pits, and the gravel trap beckons…

To a lesser extent you could argue the same of the English rugby team… Amazingly they make it to the Rugby World Cup final, and all credit to them for acheiving that.  But did we really give of our best in that game?  Did we have every eventuality planned for, did we know the opposition well enough, did we truly have the belief that we would win?  If it was the Italians in the football they would, if it was Lance Armstrong in the TdeF he would have, if it was Roger Federer in the tennis, and so on…

So, I think there’s a theme running through…  Have we become a nation of sporting chokers?

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!