Wearsider Jordan Henderson says England suffered with '˜mental block'
Wearsider Jordan Henderson still winces when Iceland is mentioned, but he hopes the pain of letting the country down at Euro 2016 can fuel a brighter future for England.
An exciting, attack-minded squad headed to France in the summer backed to the hilt by a country yearning for a successful tournament after too many recent disappointments.
Once more, though, promise failed to translate into results, with an undercooked and overwhelmed England bowing out to Iceland at the last-16 stage.
Roy Hodgson resigned as manager immediately and Henderson, an unused substitute in the 2-1 loss, vividly remembers the dressing room that night in Nice.
“It was a horrible place to be,” said the Sunderland-born former Black Cats star.
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“We felt we had let ourselves down, we had let the country down, the manager – everyone, really. People were emotional.
“I think the manager was emotional with the talk that he gave afterwards. It wasn’t nice to see. Everyone is human. Sometimes people think we are machines and they can just chuck everything at whoever the manager is and criticise.
“But, at the end of the day, I can tell you we do care. In that dressing room afterwards, it wasn’t a nice place to be.
“But there is only us who can turn that around. We have got to use that in the future as a positive to turn it around. Hopefully we can look back at that one day after a lot of better things have happened.”
The Iceland loss will stay with Henderson forever and while he accepts talk is cheap, he says it is up to the team to now show they are “good enough to do something special”.
After mulling it over in the summer, the 26-year-old believes the defeat was due to a lack of positivity and patience rather than belief.
The Liverpool midfielder also rejected the theory that a mental block hinders England’ in knock-out football.
“I think mentality is big in football,” Henderson said.
“I wouldn’t say there was a mental block in the team. I feel very much that the team is together, a very close group and we do a lot of things outside of training, all together, which I think helps that.
“I do believe in training and in games we all believe we can do something special but, as I said before, it’s no good me sitting here and telling you that.
“It’s up to us to go out there on the pitch and prove to people that we are good enough to play for England and hopefully make people proud of us.”
Beating the side 176th in the world rankings is not likely to bring much fulfilment tonight (5pm), yet a full house is expected when Malta visit for England’s first home game since Euro 2016.
A lot has changed in the four months since they last played at Wembley and beat eventual Euro 2016 champions Portugal. Hodgson’s post-Iceland exit was followed by Sam Allardyce’s brief reign and Gareth Southgate’s interim appointment.
“As professional footballers, you are going to get things like that,” Henderson said ahead of the World Cup qualifier.
“You have to deal with that. Managers come and go at club level quickly at certain clubs.
“As professionals, you have to stay focused on what is important, which is staying together as a group and working together on the training field to get positive performances.”