Steven Gerrard has talked honestly about the pressure on England players when you are on the verge of failure at a major tournament.
The midfielder – capped 114 times by England – has told the Daily Telegraph that the ‘hysteria’ and the reaction of the press can play a major part in what some see as ‘mental fragility’.
Gerrard has been to six major tournaments with England and retired after they failed to get out of their group at the World Cup in 2014.
‘I have been there on the receiving end of this. It was never to the same extent as a defeat like that against Iceland, but I know exactly how those players will be feeling after disappointing in a major tournament.
‘I can imagine how they were feeling as the second half continued in Nice. They knew what was in store as soon as Iceland scored their second goal.
‘When England went behind, many of those players will have been thinking of the consequences of defeat as much as what to do to get back in the game.
‘I hate to say it, but your mind drifts to what the coverage is going to be like back home and the level of criticism you are going to get. You cannot stop yourself. “What if we don’t get back into this? What will it be like if we go out here?”
‘Panic sets in. The frustration takes over. You freeze and stop doing those things you know you should be. You start forcing the game, making the wrong choices with your passes, shooting from the wrong areas and letting the anxiety prevent you from doing the simple things.
‘Everything you said and prepared for before the game gets forgotten. I hear people say that is a sign of mental fragility. Maybe it is, but that is what we have got with the England team created by 50 years without winning a major tournament. It’s what happens.
‘We are not a side or nation with a culture of winning at the European Championship and the World Cup and the psychological impact of that is there to see at the first hint of trouble.
‘There is no environment of calm around the national team. There never has been. It is always hysteria. There is a culture of fear within and it has not been addressed.
‘It is all very well for the media to shake their heads at that and say we should be stronger and more level-headed in those situations but there is a weight of history to contend with.
‘It has become a massive burden. When calm heads were needed out there, everyone was looking at each other hoping someone was going to pull something out the bag for us. Very few were capable of taking on the responsibility.
‘This is not a defence of the players, but having been in this situation, made mistakes of my own and been part of disappointing England performances at tournaments I can only tell you what it is like to feel so powerless on a football pitch.
‘It is a different level to club football, where if you lose a big game there is usually never too long to get out there and make amends.
‘You can refocus quickly. With England, you know your chance is gone for another two years and the criticism will be ferocious. You know the eyes of the world are on you. The pressure is another level.’