LONDON, March 1 (Reuters) - Little more than three months before England kick off against France at the Euro 2012 finals, the country’s planning for the tournament appear to be at the “blank sheet of paper” stage.
While a 3-2 home defeat against World Cup runners-up Netherlands on Wednesday appears no disgrace, the scoreline papers over the fact that England have rarely appeared less prepared for a major competition.
Fabio Capello’s resignation last month, while cheered by many, has left England looking like a work in progress when the serious contenders for Euro 2012 such as Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands are all-systems go.
The problem is, nobody is quite sure of what England’s finished article will look like, who will create it or who will lead it on to the pitch in Donetsk on June 11.
“Get on With it” was the Daily Mail’s headline on Thursday in response to the uncertainty.
While Stuart Pearce, the under 21 manager, proudly took charge of the senior team at Wembley on Wednesday he conceded afterwards he is not a long-term option as England manager.
The team he sent out against the Dutch on Wednesday, surprisingly captained by Tottenham Hotspur’s Scott Parker ahead of obvious candidate Steven Gerrard, displayed plenty of English attributes like running, aggression and chasing lost causes.
It also lacked creativity, rhythm and the kind of nous that wins major tournaments - an all too familiar failing.
Pearce cannot be blamed for that and there were mitigating factors. Wayne Rooney, England’s one world class performer, was unavailable, as were defensive leader John Terry and Rio Ferdinand and injured frontman Darren Bent.
It was a chance for others to stake their claims but in attack, midfield and at the back, England looked short of quality against an experienced Dutch side playing within itself.
Manchester United’s Ashley Young capped an impressive display with a goal and Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck showed flashes of promise while Manchester City’s back in favour Micah Richards offered a muscular outlet at right back.
England’s midfield seemed designed more for damage-limitation and were timid as a creative unit while the defence buckled alarmingly when the visitors moved through the gears with Chris Smalling and Leighton Baines both looking lost against world class opposition.
Pearce remained upbeat despite the defeat.
“We came up against an outstanding side and the exercise will stand our young players in good stead,” said the former England left back, who has offered to take the team to the finals.
However, with just two friendlies, against Norway and Belgium, left to craft a team capable of challenging in the summer, England are running out of time to come up with a coherent tactical plan for the tournament.
Harry Redknapp is the favourite to take charge, but he is still heavily involved in Tottenham Hotspur’s quest for a top-four finish in the Premier League and the FA Cup.
Redknapp may yet take over for the Euro 2012 finals but England are in desperate need of direction and the longer the FA delay over Capello’s replacement the slimmer the hopes of success in Poland and Ukraine become.
The one positive for England is that the normally sky-high expectations before a tournament are not there this time and a quarter-final exit, usually viewed as failure, would be about par for the course. (Editing by Alison Wildey)