England begin to expect the unexpected
They will have to cope with high hopes
June 19 ~ The England football team seem to suffer from a unique problem. It's not that they aren't good enough, but that they don't cope well when they are thought to be better than they are: when expectations go up, they become flustered and don't perform. It is an unusual problem. Other athletes rarely complain about expectations. Characters such as Pete Sampras, Stephen Hendry and Floyd Mayweather, who dominated their sports, used expectations to their advantage. These men thrived on knowing they were favourites. They used their confidence and reputations to intimidate opponents.
The moment Tiger Woods lost his veneer of perfection and proved he was human, his power to scare the opposition disappeared. Perhaps Tim Henman, the most English of sportsmen, suffered from too much public faith at Wimbledon. But he just wasn't good enough.
The new England of 2012 was meant to be different. They had no manager, no captain, an injured midfield and their best player in the stands. Expectations were lower than ever and the tone was kept downbeat. Roy Hodgson went through the build-up to Euro 2012 without being asked if England could win the tournament. Even the excitable football writers kept to the script.
But things are changing. A draw against a good France team and a win over an average Sweden side has applied some gentle pressure on these most fragile of players. Even Hodgson is starting to dream: "You play football at international level to try to get people to get carried away. Dreaming is what football is about and we're happy that people now think we can go a bit further."
With the England manager admitting that he "is on a roll", the press have allowed themselves to enjoy the high spirits. The Independent's Sam Wallace has seen a "keen sense of momentum behind England"; Henry Winter of the Telegraph reports that Hodgson "wants to make dreams some true"; Gabby Logan has written in the Times that the players are becoming "a band of brothers". The back page of today's Mirror urges the nation to: "Dare to Dream."
It is tempting to assume that England are doing well due to the lack of expectations. Perhaps they have benefited from an understated approach at these championships, but as their performances improve, the players, manager, press and public will naturally begin to expect more.
Expectations are a function of a team's performance, so it will be impossible to stay restrained for the whole tournament. England are incapable of winning a single game without totting up the so-called years of hurt, so if they progress to the later stages, they will need to learn to turn higher hopes to their advantage.
Plenty of sportsmen have benefitted from the confidence and aura that comes from winning. If England fail, it will not be because they dreamed they could win, but because, like poor Henman with his followers on his hill, they just don't have it in them. Paul Campbell