In all actuality, shouldn’t we have seen this coming like some run away freight down the frozen road of Precedence St. set by all those England players before? A capitulation of the highest order, a failing against those we least want to fail against and lastly, an outcome that was so sure to happen, we all seemed to pull the wool over our very eyes and convince ourselves through sheer self fulfilling prophecy that it was somehow going to end different this time. Only it didn’t, and who knows how long it could actually be until it does.
How was it ever going to end differently and why didn’t I see this coming? A pizza is still made to taste like a pizza does with dough, cheese, sauce and toppings, regardless of who does the mixing. Fancy Italians and three piece suits do not a gourmet chef or World Cup winning side make.
This England fan was wrong all along. And as I sit trying to convince myself that a 2-2 halftime situation somehow leads to an England victory against superior athletes, superior tactics and superior planning, I’m left only with the realization that my heart felt passion for a football team originating for a home country other than my own is equally as odd in thinking a new chef can somehow make the same old ingredients somehow taste differently.
Yes England failed in the 2010 World Cup because they weren’t good enough, we get that, and we’ve read it over and over again since the match drawn with the US. But deeper and darker questions must now be asked by the footballing community and answered by the FA if England are to ever renew their stamp on the world’s game that has whittled with age and expired all those years ago. Tough questions that will need serious answers specifically concerning youth development, home grown managers and the bloated Premier League.
The core of the England national team now float away into international waters of regret and unfulfilled promise. Forever a generation that was pipped for glory, if not in 2006, then surely in 2010, the tired old English squad with their Premier League dreams of glory set sail for a much deserved vacation with pockets full of gold seemingly happy they’ll now have time for some much needed rest before the so called “best league in the world” resumes.
What many fail to realize is that as TV contracts are won, parachute payments are paid and transfer fees are negotiated, the next generation of English millionaires sit aside, waiting in the Premier League wings planning their futures before they’ve planned how they’ll break down a midfield with one less player, pass the ball out of trouble, link play to strikers or compete in a World Cup without getting “bored”. In a nation where the majority of footballers choice of club v country is an easier choice than which football boots to wear, one can easily start to see the origins of a mindset and mentality inspired more by bling than by basics spreading like a cancer across the hearts and minds of young footballers the country over.
Before qualification for Euro 2012 starts this September, here are a few reasons why I think my (still, maybe now more than ever) beloved England just aren’t good enough to compete against the World’s best. Think of it as therapy.
- The lack of quality English managers – When we get it wrong, let’s bring in someone else, a big name, a foreigner, that’ll fix everything. I’ve been a pretty big proponent of Fabio Capello for the last year and a half. How can you not be? With a CV a mile long, a strict, glaring stare to put even the wildest of England players in their place coupled with the ability and guile to ban WAGS and ketchup in one swift stroke, Mr. Capello sure as hell got his England tenure started off on the right path in 2008. But his inability to adapt tactically to those set out in front of him in addition to his communication skills or lack thereof, were the prop fellers to Capello’s once sea worthy vessel. The England players need an English manager, someone who gets the England mindset, but whom? Since an Englishman has yet to win England’s Premier League, the list of suitable replacements stand about as long as England’s Shaun Wright-Phillips is tall. In his mumbling, broken English, did Capello ever possess the ability to inspire the troops the way other British managers like Bill Shankly or Brian Clough could? For England to emerge out of this international football desert, they’ll need to appoint an English manager soon who can inspire and instill a sense of pride in playing for England that this current squad lacks.
- England needs to change their footballing culture –We’re tired, Mom, when are we gonna be there? We’re bored. England fans and players always seem to come up with a myriad of excuses as to why they under perform. Whether it’s the long domestic season, a ball, being bored at a World Cup – which let’s face it, is one of the best ever – the mentality of the English player is weak and pampered. For England to break through their 44 year slump, the culture surrounding the England team needs to change to one of a focused, fit, smart and thinking player. Hey, kind of like the Germans. Although it’s gotten better in recent years, the WAG and tabloid culture and the insanity of Premier League wages have all done their part in corrupting the mentality of the English player. England fans and the media are also to blame with the lofty expectations they impose upon the players who are nothing more than a third tier international side. Think of England as League One representatives while Argentina, Spain, Germany and Brazil occupy the traditional big 4 of the Premier League.
- England players have to want it– You might think this is common sense, that of course the JT’s, the Stevie G’s, the Lamp’s, the Wazza’s and the Crouchie’s want to win, but do they really? This tournament more than any other has shown England fans some incredibly scared and ultimately tired looking performances that I don’t recollect seeing from any other national team competing in the World Cup. And yes, a World Cup where so many other players compete in top European leagues with equally as insane schedules. But maybe these boys do have a case for being burnt out and reaching levels of exhaustion. Will the FA ever look into a winter break like the German Bundesliga has? As the first two group stage games played out to a relatively boring and lackluster draw, it was clear to me that England lacked what the US was so full of this tournament. Heart and desire. I saw it on Sunday in sections when England were eventually eliminated, but it’s something that has to be infectious and on display throughout. In a tournament this competitive, ability and skill alone will never be enough to progress past the round of 16. Pride, passion and desire – three traits many of these English players lacked – must compliment natural footballing talent for success to be achieved.
- England must catch up tactically to that of the rest of the world – 4-4-2, surely the best way to catch up with the rest of the evolving football world. In a tournament that has seen Chile and Algeria play 3 at the back with moderate to good success, and a tournament that has seen many teams play a preferred 4-2-3-1, England have reverted to the classic old 4-4-2 formation that saw their midfield struggle all tournament and all day against Germany in servicing the 2 central strikers because of their man disadvantage in the midfield. Overlooked by many to their own detriment, tactics are so important especially in international football these days and also especially for England. England seem to have the personnel, but rarely understand or know how to get the best out of the players on offer. In Sunday’s match v Germany, the more tactically astute Germans played a continental style 4-2-3-1 which gifted Germany the man advantage in midfield while England chased and chased. The formation was half the battle, Germany also possessed the ability to exploit the weakness presented in front of them with the advantage they had. Time after time, Mesut Ozil and the German attacking front drew out England’s center backs which created gaps for others to run into. These attacking movements created Germany’s second goal which allowed them to then sit back and pick off England on the counter attack. England left again in the stone age of football tactics.
- The Youth are starting to change – so sang MGMT, but the lack of a strong youth presence at this World Cup was devoid like that of a strong tactical plan to serve Rooney up front. England’s U21 in fact made an impressive run to last summer’s Euro 2009 Championship before losing in emphatic fashion to Germany, 4-0. On that side of impressive young Englishmen, only James Milner made the plane to South Africa while 4 Germans – a respectable balance between young and old – started the game on Sunday that earned Germany a trip to the quarter finals. The list of potentially good young English players runs a mile long, but if these players aren’t brought in and nurtured on an international level thus gaining valuable experience, then the gap between England and the rest of the world will widen. And what of the next generation of potential England players? The 9, 10, and 11 year old kids currently focusing their talents in the youth development leagues of England. Will these players come good on their potential in a fledgling youth system? Certainly more questions than answers as the pain of elimination is still so fresh.
England have a serious mountain to climb if they’re to reach the summit of international football again in mine or anyone else’s lifetime. The FA need a clear and concise plan, a date set for accomplishment and a restructuring of their organization in order for England to move forward. If they revert to more of the same, England fans can expect the same results for years to come.