‘This is a huge problem’

As England’s players digested their failure to qualify for Euro 2008, the more experienced among them were braced for the backlash to come. “There must be something wrong with English football,” said David Beckham . “We’re a nation with some of the best players in the world and we should be qualifying, no matter what. There can be no excuses.”

Beckham, who has 99 caps, has endured numerous disappointments with the national team but he cut a bemused figure after England’s 3-2 defeat to Croatia.

“It’s difficult to say (what changes should be made) because I’ve lost games before, I’ve been knocked out of competitions before, but I’ve never failed to qualify for a major tournament before,” he said. “This is a big one. For our nation, our players and the talent we have in this country, not to be involved in the European Championship is a huge, huge problem. It’s devastating, for the players as well as the fans. There’ll be a backlash now, but it’s how we deal with that backlash that counts.

“If you’re going to play at this level and perform, you’ve got to take the good with the bad. To play in front of so many people for your country requires mental strength, but when you look at the people we have in our dressing room, the characters we’ve got, these players should be able to cope. They’re used to playing in big games, for big teams. We should have lifted ourselves and believed in ourselves after being given a second chance at the weekend. But, in the end, we just didn’t perform.”

There have been accusations that England’s players are pampered and, with the majority competing regularly in high-profile competitions such as the Champions League, they may struggle to motivate themselves for international football.

“It doesn’t matter how many cars or houses you’ve got,” said Beckham, “when you lose a game like this, you hurt as a player. People always throw the amount of money players earn at us when things go badly, because they want results. And we’ve not got those results. But we are committed and, without a doubt, we want to succeed. I’ve captained many of those players in the past and I know how much it hurts them to just lose a tackle, let alone a game and be knocked out. There will be a lot of players hurting.”

He added: “People talk about the number of foreign players coming to the Premier League, but I’ve always believed that they have improved the quality of the home-grown players.”

Asked for his view on the best manager to replace the sacked Steve McClaren, Beckham said: “There are not many English managers out there that haven’t got jobs already. There are also a lot of talented foreign managers.”

Dominic Fifield © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007