English Football suffered an embarrassing home defeat to a good Croatia side Wednesday night. While I believe Croatia is as good if not better than England at the moment, losing to the Croats at Wembley when they have already qualified for the Euro 2008 finals and the Three Lions had everything to play for is unacceptable from the perspective of those of us who believe International Football and the growth of the game here in the US need a strong England side fighting for trophies and honors.
The signs of decline have been unmistakable for sometime now in English Football even if the somewhat jingoistic and shallow British media had failed to recognize it. The reality is England has long seized to be an international footballing power: even the hiring of a superb club manager like Sven Goran Eriksson could not stifle the decline. While the English league is as good as it gets on the planet, the national team was much better off in the days when English football wasn’t awash with cash and many of the best English players played their club football for Rangers or AC Milan. In addition, England’s clubs seem to have little interest in developing good English talent from a young stage instead in many cases opting to buy finished articles from abroad. In other words the English Premier League has not helped English national team football.
This is a harsh lesson that needs to be learned by US Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer. The continued desire to over expand, over commercialize and add more foreign players in MLS is the beginning of the slippery slope for the United States that England has now found itself on. With a nation like the USA, with only a fraction of the footballing history of culture of England, the consequences of making these sort of mistakes could be catastrophic. Simply put football in the United States may never recover.
“Soccer’s time has come,” reads the advertisement from MLS that blares on television screens throughout the US. MLS clever advertising slogan is part true and part fantasy. Soccer’s time has come in the sense that a dedicated cadre of supporters line MLS stadiums each week but is fantasy in believing that MLS has made a dent in the mainstream American sport consciousness. Nonetheless, the dedicated cadre of soccer fans creates a base from which to build from and with the continued improvement of the US National Team on the international level the future is very bright.
But like England, the U.S. has a potential major pitfall coming in the way of over expansion of the domestic league due to love of money, and the breaking of levee of foreign players storming over the gates to play in the U.S. I am not of the opinion that England’s decline as a soccer power is due solely to the foreign influence in the premier league both in terms of ownership and players. I am however of the opinion that that sort of dynamic in the United States considering we don’t have the footballing culture England has could stifle any long term success the United States National Team may have.
MLS has spoken in the past week of an idea to increase the number of senior international allotments per club to seven on an eighteen man roster. This from my perspective is unacceptable. While MLS hasn’t broken through the glass ceiling needed to become a mainstream sport in the U.S., the league has developed a deep and technically skilled player pool for the US National Team because every team in the league has been forced to invest in developing and honing American talent. Much of this talent has been sold to teams in Europe, which both helps to further develop the skills and international pedigree of the players in question and helps to sustain the league and clubs through securing large transfer fees for the player. From my perspective the fact that England’s players almost all play in the domestic league and seem to only know one style to play is something the U.S. needs to avoid at all costs. U.S. Manager Bob Bradley is a breathe of fresh air as he seems more tactically flexible and astute than his predecessor Bruce Arena. But Bradley’s good work could be threatened if MLS makes the wrong choice and doesn’t heed the obvious warnings coming from our friends across the pond.