It is little more than a year since Wembley cheered England on in a major final but when the team return to the stadium on Monday for a Nations League match against Germany there is every chance that Gareth Southgate’s men will be booed.
The knives are out for Southgate after England stumbled into a miserable run of form following the end of last season. Friday’s defeat in Italy made it no wins and just one goal – a penalty – from the five games they have played since June.
It should be no surprise that Southgate is bearing the brunt of the backlash. For some reason – too defensive, too mild-mannered, too woke – England’s most successful manager bar Sir Alf Ramsey has always had his detractors.
For them, England have reached World Cup semi-finals and European Championship finals under Southgate despite him, not because of him. Other important achievements, such as restoring players’ love for the national set-up, are taken for granted.
This mindset is another facet of some England fans’ warped sense of entitlement. Not only should they win trophies – despite only having done so once – they should also do it in swashbuckling, all-out-attacking style – despite very few winners ever doing that.
For all that, though, there are genuine reasons for concern at England’s current slump, which has seen them relegated from the top tier of the Nations League. It’s not simply that they aren’t winning or scoring goals, it’s that they don’t look like doing either any time soon.
To an extent, results and performances in June could be excused. After a gruelling season, players understandably looked tired and like they wanted to be on a beach in the Maldives rather than trudging around Molineux.
The fact that they put in another lethargic display in Milan on Friday – and that Southgate seems to be persisting with a five-man defence that did not work in the summer – is more worrying. The problem is the direction of travel.
Losing Nations League fixtures doesn’t matter a great deal, not really. Southgate will be judged on what happens in Qatar later this year and his position won’t be up for discussion before that tournament, no matter how poor recent matches have been.
Perhaps on some unspoken level the players know that, too, and will raise their game for the World Cup. Getting up for what are seen by some as glorified friendlies can’t be easy, having scaled the heights of international semi-finals and finals.
In that respect there is very little riding on the visit of Germany on Monday. England’s relegation is already assured, and the visitors are too far behind leaders Hungary to win the group.
But for the sake of departing with a measure of optimism, of turning back the tide of negativity threatening to submerge the team, of showing there is a solution to the impotence that has plagued them lately – of not signing off their final game before the World Cup to a chorus on boos – how Southgate and England could do with a win.