A quick post before the agony that comes with watching an England game. The England game tonight against Croatia that, not surprisingly, has been billed as our “most crucial game” for some time.
Our most crucial game since…well, since the last most crucial game.
That was Israel v Russia, wasn’t it? And there was the must win game in Russia before that? In fact, if we were to believe the media, aren't all England games “must win” games? All of them "most crucial"? If we qualify tonight, the next must win game will be in Austria or Switzerland. Once over there it will no doubt be the last group game that will be "the biggest game England have ever had". And then the quarter-final tie will be our "most important game since 1966". And then the semi-final which, of course, we will eventually lose on penalties.
But our most crucial game tonight will load even more pressure on Steve McClaren, if that is at all possible. He looks physically burdened. I don’t envy him, or any England manager, for that matter. Not in the slightest.
The burden of the expectation of a nation must be, at times, unbearable. The pressure must be constant, win or lose. The type of pressure that is always there; it follows you; it chases you; it is waiting for you at every turn. It stalks you in your waking hours; it haunts you in your dreams. There is no let up.
Steve McClaren will be ripped apart tonight if England don’t qualify. He will be damned if we do. How does he cope with the pressure? How does it affect him, his family or his friends?
It takes a particular strength of character to survive immense pressure of this kind. McClaren would not have been my first choice as England manager (not that I was asked, mind) and I, like many others, have never been totally comfortable with his selections or formations.
But just for tonight, for an individual that has the weight of a nation punishing every sinew of his body, I wish him well. And for his sake, I hope England get the result they need.
It is, after all, our most crucial game. Ever.