What England accomplished in 1966 so few nations on the globe can claim to equal in a major international team sporting competition. Ridiculed at home by an over zealous press and negative fans, the Three Lions entered the annals of history with their unbelievable World Cup winning run. As we enter a new Premier League season, the Spirit of 1966 appears to be dying among today’s footballers. This spirit is dying because of over commercialization and the unwillingness of club teams to focus on developing local talent.
I live in a nation, the United States who has never accomplished in any internationally competitive team sport what England did that wonderful summer forty two years ago. Americans prefer team sports they can dominate or manipulate the rules to their advantage. Moreover in the rugged individualistic culture that is Americana, Tiger Woods is hailed as a national hero while our footballers are anonymous to most. Even this past week with far superior talent to the opposition in Group B, the USA bowed out of the Olympic Football competition because of a lack of team discipline, not a lack or talent. The United States of course is a bad example: our domestic first division football league, Major League Soccer actually has a marketing agreement with our biggest national rivals, the Federation of Mexican Football! For all the complaints about the Premier League not helping the England National side, can you imagine the Premier League actively promoting the French Football Federation on English soil?
So the Premier League isn’t as bad as what we have in the United States but it’s not helping recapture the Spirit of 66 either. Last week, Rio Ferdinand one of the few current English players who does exemplify what 1966 is all about made a bold statement: he does not believe the players developed with him at West Ham United in the late 1990s including Frank Lampard, Joe Cole and Jermain DeFoe would be afforded the same opportunity today. While international football has existed for many years, much of that clubs and domestic leagues kept their indigenous nature. British football represented the purest most honest form of the game on the planet. Uncorrupted by those who flaunted the rules to gain their own advantage and by those foreigners who used big money to fundamentally change the style and spirit of the game. Club academies which were for years the key to developing localized talent are now specializing in developing foreign talent or sadly no talent at all. England despite having the best league in the world has quite possibly the worst development system of any traditional footballing nation.
Much like the setup we have here in the United States, England needs a national football academy. Sadly when we develop players in our national academy often times they are then ruined by clubs and coaches in our domestic league. (As this Olympics demonstrated, our national academy has produced amazingly technical players who can compete with anyone, but our domestic league has neutered them so greatly that our players make fundamental mistakes at the end of matches when trying to close them out.) But currently, the top club academies in England aren’t even producing good players let alone good English ones. In addition today’s footballer is mentally weaker than those of the 1966 England Team and rather than brushing off the criticism from a Football media whose understanding of the international game is minimal at best they allow these pundits to manipulate and destroy the England team. This same media has hounded Sepp Blatter’s reasonable proposals to reign in the foreign player addiction that ails the English domestic game: while FIFA is typically shortsighted about such matters with the resources and interest in the game that England has, another World Cup triumph is within grasp if the Premier League changes its ways or FIFA forces the issue.
Perhaps today’s footballers want it this way. Maybe they are less interested in country and national pride than club and money. But that is not what Football is about. League like the Premier League maybe global brands but they have an obligation to their local communities to hone and develop footballing talent. Rio Ferdinand knows differently and for that he demonstrates that the Spirit of 1966 is not dead just yet.