Time for massive changes in the English game
June 27, 2010
OK, this is unusual for me: I’m at a loss for words. Never in all my time watching England have I witnessed such a limp performance in a major competition. Never have I seen a display lacking the basic ingredients of heart and desire that any International side must possess in order to progress. Never have I seen a team of the supposed quality of England’s ripped apart without breaking sweat. And never have I seen a manager of such experience demonstrate such tactical naivety on the grandest stage of all. Quite simply, England were outclassed.
So where did it go wrong? Firstly, I’d suggest there was a problem within the England squad from the moment they arrived in South Africa. There was a clear unease at some of Fabio Capello’s ideas, such as keeping the side “resting” in their rooms from 3-8pm every evening. There’s an argument for keeping the squad refreshed, but creating boredom is never a worthwhile tactic.
Then you can point your finger at the tactics of Capello over the competition. Indeed, I have already done this on this very blog. I felt some of Capello’s ideas were just plain wrong. However, to point the finger of blame at the manager lets the players off the hook. It is easy to question the manager’s future, and his very ability, but this is deeply flawed. After all, before the tournament began, Capello could do no wrong. England qualified in great style, did they not? No, it is not the fault of the Italian, no matter who he picked. Quite simply, the England squad who arrived in South Africa were a shadow of the squad who qualified. Same players, very different team.
However, I think there is a bigger debate to have here. It is time to debate the entirety of the English game. Time to discuss the lack of young talent coming through the “greatest league in the World”, and a time to assess what the priorities of the FA, Premier League and Football League are (for the record, this argument also applies in Scotland.) Is the priority British club sides, or the national teams?
Now, my good friend Mr Mantle has already beaten me to the punch after final whistle, and has stated he would not be behind any rule to limit foreigners in the British game. (I couldn’t help but smile at that considering if this debate was about politics and not football, our positions would be a mirror image to where they are in sport!) However, I have to disagree with him.
I appreciate EU legislation makes it difficult for the football bodies to implement specialist laws limiting foreign players. That said, there is an argument that sport is a different scenario, that multi-millionaire footballers are not “just workers” and that perhaps the laws that help protect migrants in other industries should be dissolved for sport. I am no expert in the field of law, but I am firmly in the camp of limiting foreign players. Unfortunately, FIFA recently accepted defeat in their infamous “6+5” idea, but this is something that needs investigating once again.
The danger of continuing with current trends is that British players become rarer and rarer in the game. Much like the price of gold, this rarity simply pushes prices up for the best “home-grown” players, which in turn feeds their already giant egos. Indeed, this is something which is already happening. Some of England’s “world class” players consider themselves to be the best in business, yet cannot function as a team. Now I don’t know about you, but when I first started playing football my coach instilled the idea that “football is first and foremost a team game. You win as a team, you lose as a team”. So if these players are unable to exist as a team, the idea they are “world class” is deeply flawed as they fail the very fundamental of the game.
But it is no wonder we get so excited about young British players when they are so few and far between. The reality is many of these players are never going to be who we hope and expect them to be (Franny Jeffers, anybody?). Instead, we need to consider how we bring more young players through, and the only way to give them the experience they will need before stepping into the International side is for them to be playing in the top leagues.
If things stay as they are, this will simply not happen. The inflation of transfer fees is quite simply ridiculous (which is why Aston Villa are demanding £30m for James Milner, a player who does not even have Champions League experience). It is no wonder that managers like Arsene Wenger look to the continent for their youngsters as these players can be picked up for tiny amounts. Having more home-grown talent in Britain will force transfer prices down, and as a result, home based players will become far more attractive once again. As a result, the pool of players for the managers of the home nations will dramatically increase, providing more chance of success at coming tournaments.
OK, so that’s long-term. “What happens now?” I hear you ask. Well, since I began typing, I’ve heard Capello is reconsidering his position. This would be very short-sighted, in my opinion. However, there does need to be a refreshment within the squad. At 32, time is up for Frank Lampard. Emile Heskey should never get near another England squad. Michael Dawson should become a regular within the squad. Shaun Wright-Phillips should be dropped indefinitely. The list goes on. There are plenty of players out there who are hungrier and more willing to fight for the cause than some of the overpaid egotistical primadonas currently on display.
It is also time to consider the tactics England use. Many have been crying out for a 4-4-1-1 system, with Gerrard in behind Rooney. I think a better option is a 4-2-3-1 myself, with Barry and another sat in front of the defence, allowing the full-backs to bomb forwards, a runner from the midfield and two natural wingers. One of which has to be Adam Johnson.
One thing that is for sure, though. The time has come for the biggest club-v-country argument we have ever seen. If any of you want to see England achieve success within your lifetime, I’d suggest you join me in the ‘country’ corner. After all, without fundamental change England will just become another Wales. And with that, the demise of a once-great football nation will be complete.