THERE have been two major problems with England over the last two decades.
Our ability to handle criticism and our ability to take penalties.
How to deal with both the scrutiny and then the high pressure of those shoot-outs were two of the things I spoke about when I addressed the England team at St George’s Park on Tuesday.
That was before the criticism that came the team’s way on the back of what was a poor performance against Slovenia at Wembley, despite the late 1-0 victory.
Yet the sentiments I expressed ahead of the game to the squad would have remained the same.
I was heading to St George’s Park to do the final piece of filming for my dementia documentary, which will be on the BBC next month.
So I was more than happy to answer Gareth Southgate’s call to pop in and talk to the current players and pass on some of my experiences of playing for England.
I think it is something that should have been done more, in order to learn from our past errors.
Yes, ability is going to take you through the major part of the journey.
But it is those two areas I have highlighted which have ultimately held us back. There is no doubt some players struggle with criticism, even fear it.
You have seen in the last two major tournaments in particular, players almost shrink inside their Three Lions shirt and abdicate responsibility over concerns of getting it wrong and the subsequent reaction.
What I tried to get across to the England players was that there is one person above all who knows whether you have played well or not and that is yourself.
That is the person you should be concerned about.
You should not concern yourself with what other people are saying about you.
Believe me, when you get into your 30s and look back you think to yourself, ‘Why was I worried about what he said?’
The increased scrutiny may make playing for England seem like a burden.
But they are doing what every English footballer out there wants to do and that is representing their country.
They are the lucky ones, so a bit of stick should not really affect you.
Many of the players would not remember Euro 96 but I explained how I had not scored in 12 games, spanning two years, for England ahead of the tournament.
People were questioning whether I should be in the team from the start.
I had to stay single-minded, keep my self-belief and forget what other people were saying.
But I also had the trust of boss Terry Venables, who told me three weeks before the tournament that I would be starting.
That helped and I was determined to repay him, which thankfully I did by finishing the tournament as top scorer.
I refused to let the scrutiny and criticism crush me, you have to stay strong. I could relate my experiences from being both a player and a pundit.
I explained to the players that like when you are playing, if you move into television as your second career you still want to do it to the best of your ability.
So I explained the preparation that went into it and what goes on behind the scenes before Match of the Day on a Saturday. You are there to analyse the game and give your honest opinions and that was something I told them they had to accept if they or their team is being criticised.
The other big thing you have to accept as an England player is that you are going to be involved in a penalty shoot-out at some stage.
Anyone who wins next summer’s World Cup will also be at some stage along the way, that’s almost certain.
We have been involved in them in seven major tournaments and lost six.
The very prospect of them seems to strike fear into players’ hearts long before a tournament starts.
The constant excuse that is trotted out is that you simply cannot replicate the situation and the pressure, so basically it’s all down to luck.
I don’t buy that. There are definitely some things you can do to give yourself a much better chance of glory.
What I emphasised to the players most was that they should all practice.
Not just the designated penalty-takers but everyone, practice, practice, practice. In Euro 96 Gareth himself would not have expected to be taking a penalty, but he had to as it went into sudden-death.
He had not practised and he unfortunately missed.
Yes, he was man enough to take on the responsibility when others weren’t as brave, but he wasn’t prepared as well as he could have been.
You have to practice a drill time and time again.
Then you must trust that, come the moment, your body will overcome what your mind might be telling you.
In that walk from the halfway line to the spot, you must stay focused and not change what you have been doing in practice.
Tough, maybe, but when you are trusted with that England shirt you have to stand up and be tough.
While Thursday night’s match was hardly a classic, at least we are there now.
We are certainly a long way from being the best team going to Russia.
But if we can shake off the shackles and win one of those shootouts, then maybe we can put France 2016 behind us and do well.
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