Have The FA The Guts To Make The Necessary Changes?
So England’s dismal World Cup campaign came crashing to a halt with a crushing defeat to Gerrmany. The players and coaches may cling to the view that their cause was fatally wounded by the horrific decision of the officials to disallow Frank Lampard’s “goal” seconds after Upson had reduced the deficit. To do so though masks the flaws in the squad, the manager and the English game generally.
But we have been here before. And like before, much navel gazing will take place. And like before, good intentions will be submerged in the pursuit of profit. And like before, neither profit or progress will be made. This was England’s self-proclaimed “Golden Generation“. They turned out to be the footballing equivalent of Pyrite.
For decades, English players were known to be technically deficient compared to the rest of the world. That was hidden with spirit and energy, compensating with little achieved. When these ‘assets’ were missing, the cupboard was bare and Germany humiliated them accordingly.
The players such as Gerrard, Rooney and Lampard do not, and have not, become bad overnight. Capello’s managerial skills have not deserted him. Yet there was little sign of squad togetherness save for the aftermath of Rooney being rightly lambasted for his arrogance. To enter a competition of this magnitude with a squad not pulling together is a recipe for disaster; it was duly delivered.
The over-riding sense of this campaign is of disharmony, disorganisation and disinterest. Given that it is the last World Cup some will play in, such a shambolic affair is unbelievable. The John Terry Rebellion summed it all up: driven by ego, shabbily played out in front of the media, half-hearted and disinterestingly organised.
As well as the players, Capello must shoulder blame. He chose the squad, he set the rules and the tactics. It was a horrible mess. Instead of instilling awareness, ball retention, he chose to play as a mid-table Premier League team. The limitations of the Bolton style are exposed on a weekly basis; they were exposed by the equally limited Americans and the Algerians should have beaten England rather than drawing.
Failure to focus on technique, substituting ability with the ball for ability to run forever has not brought forward any international improvement since 1970. Two semi-final appearances in that time, both ending in defeat to Germany, are scant reward for one of the World’s ‘biggest’ footballing nations. England are ranked eighth in the World at the moment by Fifa; of the top ten, Croatia are the only other country not to have reached a final since 1966. At least they have a good reason in their youthfulness as a nation.
The Premier League is touted as the best in the world. In respect of competitiveness that may be true but it is subjective and masks the fact that the technique is not comparable with elsewhere, from English players at least. No doubt that arguments will be put forward that foreign players are suppressing natural talent. This is vacuous; it is impossible to suppress what is not there.
Arsenal are frequently held to be a key example of this yet Wenger is doing more than other managers to prepare English youngsters for international football. The technique they require at that level has to be drilled into them from a young age. This is part of education they get at Arsenal, to treat the ball as a friend and to move it accurately, quickly. As opposed to the lumpen advances of the current national squad.
Wenger is not on his own. If you look at the current squad, none of the younger players have been developed by the ‘big four’. The apparent cyclical nature of youth development hinders the national team. That Crewe Alexandra are the only club in the country to consistently provide young players in quantity over the past two decades indicates the problems which beset the English game.
Arsenal are the most advanced Premier League club in terms of replicating that success; others are following but even so, we are behind our continental counterparts. To emphasise the problem, a decade and a half has passed since Euro96 and the National Football Centre still does not exist.
There are some very good youngsters, not just at Arsenal. The ‘now’ mentality of clubs prevents all but the elite coming through and gaining experience. Successive England managers have made a complete pig’s ear of promoting youth, Theo Walcott being the prime example. That he was not deemed good enough this time reflects his club form, impeded by injuries which were in part as a result of being called on by the Under-21s and full squad last summer.
Will English football change? A change of manager is required. The squad which went to South Africa needs to be rebuilt with a core of experience supporting youth promoted from the Under-21s. The Germans proved that this is possible; the media will not allow the Football Association to do so yet they know as well as anyone that there is no magic wand to be waved. The next England manager needs to be prepared to take journalists on and present the case for rebuilding.