If you’re an England fan, then I will be telling you what you already know, England are in a crisis.
I don’t use the c word very often because in modern day media, a crisis can be anything from a full blown terrorist attack to the local store selling out of bread. The word is used without regard and with no quality control. In fact, in many ways, the only way for anyone to ever get their point of view into the press and on TV is to claim that whatever it is they’re concerned with is ‘in crisis,’; that some kind of imminent calamity is about to befall them.
Usually, this is just not true. For example, in the UK we are routinely told the National Health Service is ‘in crisis.’ You’d think this would mean that there are dead people strewn in the corridors of hospitals and surgeons are performing operations using rusty scissors and a bread knife. But no. Go into any hospital and it looks surprisingly modern and not a corpse rotting anywhere. The crisis, such as it is, is usually the cry of those who want more funding, whether rightly and wrongly. But it’s not a crisis in the true meaning of that word.
However with England’s national team, as you would have seen on Wednesday, it is not too strong a word to use. Why? Because England, a country of 60 million people and almost as many football clubs, has so few international quality players available that its pitiful manager feels it necessary to field players who have not even played a full game yet this season. He feels it necessary to play a man with jet leg and a painful ankle. He plays people out of position because there is no one to naturally play that position.
A few injuries and withdrawals quickly reduce England to a pile of impotent ashes; burnt out and unable to catch fire, they are a mess.
Although I question McClaren’s abilities at this level, I do feel sorry for him. He has so little resources to draw upon. However, there’s no point in pretending, as McClaren does, that somehow, we are still a world power in football. That if we can, by some stroke of luck, get out best 11 on the pitch at the same time, we can achieve great things. Not only is this setting a standard we will always fail to deliver, it is delusional and allows some in the game to continue to put their heads in the sand; to continue to just hope it will all be alright somehow. It won’t.
With less than 70 Englishman to choose from playing in the Premiership regularly, and with many of those players woefully short of basic skills – yes I am thinking of Titus Bramble, there has to be some fearless and revolutionary thinking about England by everyone concerned.
On the radio in recent weeks, many experienced football men have voiced their fears for the future. The likes of Graham Taylor have said clearly there is little or no young talent coming through the academies. Benitez has also confirmed this. Why this is happening is a discussion for another day, but I firmly believe McClaren needs to stand up and grasp this nettle, not pretend that somehow it will all be alright somehow if he just keeps picking the same players. Palpably, it won’t.
He also needs to cast of the yoke of our history and accept we are a second or third rank nation in world football who struggle to beat small east European sides that are drawing on a pool of talent as small as or smaller than our own. If he could do that and if the fans could accept it as the truth, it would free us all up to be more experimental, to try new systems and new players.
England inhibition and conservatism and fear are all borne out of unreasonable expectations. Casting off the notion that we should be really good would remove that expectation. We could take new directions without fear. If they fail to work, at least we’d have learned something but maybe they wouldn’t fail. Maybe we’d unearth new quality players who can play at international level. We simply don’t give enough players a chance. Why wasn’t Derbyshire given a chance on Wednesday for instance?
Maybe we’d develop an ability to play any system, not just 4-4-2. Maybe we’d feel free to play creative football for a change and not just end every game hoofing it long and losing possession which has been our default mode of playing now for at least 35 years.
England is in crisis. You have to say that when we have such a small pool of talent to choose from and no end in sight of that reality. You have to say that when we are beaten at home by a second string German side who themselves at not at any kind of peak of form. We need to accept that reality and start realigning our expectations and ambitions accordingly. It’s time for revolution not consolidation. That old ways don’t work for England any more and until we free ourselves from those shackles, we will not make progress.
John Nicholson writes each week for Football 365 and EPL Talk. You can listen to John’s wonderful stories on episode 30 and 45 of the EPL Talk Podcast, as well as purchase his excellent Footy Rocks book and order one of his unique rock’n roll T-shirts.