‘Traumatic’ losses to Germany have left their mark on England and this current crop of Lions will have to deal with that added pressure tonight, insist leading sports psychologists.
Despite England players queueing up in recent days to insist they go into the game with ‘no fear’ and don’t think about what went before, the history is real, say the experts, and it weighs heavily.
The members of the Three Lions squad may not have directly experienced the pain of the semi-final defeats to Germany in the World Cup in 1990 and Euro 96, or the ignominy of England’s 4-1 loss in the 2010 World Cup, but they will still be affected.
Chris Waddle experienced the pain of defeat to Germany after missing a penalty in the FIFA World Cup semi-final in 1990, one of a series of traumatic losses to nation’s old rivals
But England have never done more work with the players to deal with high pressure moments, including matches against the nation’s arch footballing rival, and tonight promises to be the acid test of that preparation.
‘The wise thing to do is to address the issue,’ said sports psychologist Martin Perry, who has worked with Olympians, golfers, snooker players and footballers. ‘You have to address it because it does exist.
‘World Cup 90 and Euro 96, they were traumatic losses because it came down to penalties and they appeared to be clinical and we missed our pens in traumatic fashion.
‘It is the trauma of those defeats and that starts to have a life of its own
‘It is like folklore. It is a story your parents tell; it seeps into the unconscious mind.’
Germany’s Lukas Podolski piled on the pain for the Three Lions in Bloemfontein in the FIFA World Cup round of 16 tie in 2010 when England were dumped out of the tournament 4-1
The day football did not come home… Paul Gascoigne looks on as Germany won the penalty shootout at Wembley in the semi-final of Euro 96 after the game finished 1-1 after extra time
Perry says that first of all the players will have had to reflect on all of the history of England versus Germany, not just the bad bits, and not discount the country’s finest two hours on a football field.
‘To get a perspective on England Germany you go back to 1966,’ said the psychologist, who has helped Aaron Ramsey and Colin Montgomerie achieve their best form.
‘Our greatest ever win was against Germany at Wembley, so what story are we actually telling. Is it only the one about losing penalty shootouts? Or is it the one about beating Germany 5-1 in Munich. You have to tell a proper story.
‘This notion that German are a bogey side – what happened in the World Cup final in 1990 and Euro 96 and one or two other games – but let’s look at 1966, Germany 1 England 5 and other occasions.’
But away from home and outside major tournaments, England have had some big wins, including a 5-1 rout of the Germans in Munich in a World Cup qualifier in 2001
Psychologists say a ‘proper story’ of England-Germany must include the 1966 World Cup win
Even so, there is plenty to cause the staunchest England fan to have a quiver of concern ahead of tonight’s last-16 showdown and that’s before you get to the current crop of Germans, which includes match-winners like, Toni Kroos and Ilkay Gundogan and the flying wing backs, Robin Gosens and Joshua Kimmich.
1975: England 2-0 Germany (Friendly)
1982: England 1-2 Germany (Friendly)
1991: England 0-1 Germany (Friendly)
1996: England 1-1 Germany (5-6 on penalties; semi-final Euro 96)
2000: England 0-1 Germany (FIFA World Cup 2002 qualifier)
2007: England 1-2 Germany (Friendly)
During the knockout rounds of tournament finals since 1966, Germany have beaten England all three times they have played – two of which were on penalties.
Germany’s legendary goalkeeper Manuel Neuer declared last week, ‘Wembley suits us’ and with good reason; Germany’s unbeaten run at the ‘home of football’ stretches back to 1975.
No surprise then that the Bundesliga’s official website has published an article entitled “5 reasons Germany will beat England”.
However, even though recent history looms large, now is the time to change it, says the admirably upbeat Perry, who insists he will be watching without fear.
‘You can rewrite that,’ says Perry. ‘When Stuart Pearce scored against Spain in Euro 96 [in a quarter final penalty shootout], that was redemption for him [having missed a decisive penalty in the World Cup in 1990]. He wrote his own personal history.
‘There is an attitude you have got to have to say, OK, if that is what history is telling us you have got to rewrite it. What is the attitude and mindset you have got to have to help us rewrite it? And this is what brings us to tonight.
‘What does that mean for every player in terms of their responsibilities. If you are going to rewrite history this is what you do Harry Kane, this is what you do Jordan Henderson, so they have very clear tasks.’
The players certainly appear focused and clear.
Jordan Henderson, Marcus Rashford, Jordan Pickford, (who was two when football did not come home in 1996), and Declan Rice have all appeared before the media in the last five days, defiantly declaring the ‘no fear’ mantra of the England camp.
1990: FIFA World Cup Semi-Final, Stadio delle Alpi, Turin
West Germany 1-1 England (4-3 on penalties)
1996: Euro 96 Semi-Final, Wembley
Germany 1-1 England (6-5 on penalties)
2010: FIFA World Cup Round of 16, Free State Stadium, Bloemfontein
Germany 4-1 England
Rice was the most recent to rehearse his lines at a press conference yesterday.
“What’s there to fear really? Obviously, yeah, they’re great players, but it’s a game of football,” Rice reasoned.
And the attitudes of the players reflects the hard work that has been put in behind the scenes to help them cope with these situations, because the Gareth Southgate and the staff know exactly what’s coming.
Southgate, of course, is more than a footnote in the nation’s sad history against the Germans having missed his semi-final penalty at Euro 96.
‘The players are saying the right things,’ said Dr David Fletcher, a sports psychologist at the University of Loughborough, but he believes this match ‘will be a test of the players.
Fletcher says the history of chronic underperformance in tournament football and the unfavourable outcomes of the England-Germany fixture means the fans watching are more nervous,
‘It creates extra pressure and expectations and they are already huge,’ said Fletcher, whose area of expertise includes leadership and performance under pressure. ‘By and large [these players] are very good at performing under pressure but these types of games add an extra level.
‘It is inescapable that these are really pressurised moments in their lives and only come around a few times in their careers. But this is what’s so captivating about sport. It is what makes it so compelling.’
England players have never been better prepared to face pressures of international football
‘The England management will have been preparing the players for years, talking about it, about the culture they want to create and putting certain things into place in training.
‘This is the acid test, can they put it in motion?’
And now with only hours before the kick off, it is all about routines and keeping their nerve.
‘The golden error people make in elite sport is they change their routines,’ said Fletcher. ‘The key is to keep routines and habits the same.
‘Often players or coaches will change in the last 48 hours as nerves start to kick in.’
Jordan Henderson has insisted that he and his team mates are untroubled by the past
Worryingly, as the English wrestle with the demons of the past, the Germans appear as cool as ever.
After Germany secured a dramatic 2-2 draw against Hungary and sealed second place in Group F and a trip to London, the German newspaper, Bild, produced an efficient summary of the situation.
“In our favourite stadium. A classic. But we have to get better. Much better. Otherwise, we will look old against the hitherto harmless English.”