Emile Heskey says it is inevitable England come under too much pressure at major tournaments and hopes Roy Hodgson’s side will be allowed to play with freedom at Euro 2016.
England bowed out of the 2014 World Cup in the group stage, losing to Italy and Uruguay and then drawing with Costa Rica, having already been eliminated.
But they qualified for the European Championship unbeaten and are listed by many bookmakers as fourth favourites to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy, behind hosts France, world champions Germany and holders Spain.
Heskey, who played for England at the World Cup in 2002 and 2010, as well as Euro 2004, is well acquainted with the huge burden of expectation regularly placed upon the team.
“It’s inevitable … we put pressure on ourselves,” he told Omnisport.
“Every tournament we go to, we want to win. No-one goes to a tournament wanting to lose. You want to get to the semi-final, you want to get to the final – you want to win it. [It’s] inevitable we put too much pressure on ourselves as a nation.”
Heskey believes England’s performance in a 3-2 friendly win away to Germany in March is evidence of what they can do in the right circumstances.
“We want to take [the] pressure off them as much as possible so they can play the football that they’re capable of playing,” he said.
“Because you’ve seen … in the Germany game, they actually played some fantastic football in that game.
“You’ve got to allow them to express themselves that way. And play the football we know they’re capable of doing.”
It remains to be seen if Hodgson is retained by the Football Association after the tournament, but Heskey at least believes the manager has done well to fulfil his remit of redeveloping the team.
“He’s been given a lot more time because … we looked at the team, at an ageing squad and we needed to go down the route like Germany did, where you have to have time to build a good core [of a] young team … and peak at a certain time to get you the results you want,” he said.
“That’s why we’ve gone through qualification unbeaten with a fairly young side. It’s all a matter of time whether they actually take the next step of winning certain things, but they’ve got a pretty good chance of doing it to be honest.”
England’s Euro 2016 campaign begins against Russia in Marseille on Saturday.