The British press are in a tizzy about who should replace Fabio Capello as the next England manager, or whether the Italian should remain in charge. Harry Redknapp? Roy Hodgson? Martin O’Neill? I’ve even read David Beckham’s name mentioned as a potential candidate.
But let’s face the bitter reality. Whoever is England’s coach for the beginning of the Euro 2012 qualification campaign doesn’t matter one bit. England’s problems are far greater.
In the past few years when people would ask me why England were so poor, my answer was that they never had a good manager in charge of the team in the past decade. That’s before Fabio Capello arrived. When the Italian took charge, I wrote on EPL Talk a few years ago that we would finally see whether England was a soccer power or not. And after a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, the proof was apparent as the Italian seemingly turned the team around completely after the lows of missing out on qualification for Euro 2008. All was right in the world.
But the 2010 World Cup qualification campaign was a hoax. Despite a couple of tricky matches, England was rarely tested so we never got a chance to see what the real England looked like. They didn’t sweep us off our feet, but they did seem consistently good. The true test would come when the 2010 World Cup arrived.
Now that we’ve dealt with the disaster that was England’s 2010 World Cup campaign, the dream is over. The evidence is now in black and white. There is perfect clarity. I can see it perfectly now. And that is that England is no longer a soccer power. They’re terrible. Inept. Weak. Hopeless. Technically inferior. Hapless. Embarrassing.
This past weekend was one of the most depressing ones for me in a very long time. I’m a very positive person, but I felt very down on Sunday after not only the realization that England and the United States had been knocked out of the World Cup, but also what the England loss meant not only to me but to the state of the game in that country. Sunday was a low for English football. A watershed moment that people will look back and discuss how England’s 4-1 loss to Germany was a turning point, sadly in the wrong direction.
Being optimistic, it’s going to be a good eight years before England has any hope of having a good run in a World Cup again. The next four years will be a transitional period where the team needs to be completely overhauled as well as the youth development system in England. The England team, even if they qualify, will look completely different four years from now. The “golden generation,” which was a fallacy, will have retired or will be way past their prime. In their places will be fresh, young England side that will have a lot of spark but very little experience. Eight years from now, that England squad may, and I stress may, be good enough to at least provide a decent performance at a World Cup.
So, when the British press gets all riled up about who should be the next England manager, it doesn’t really matter to me. Sure, I’d love to see an Englishman such as Redknapp or Hodgson in charge, but the British media is asking the wrong questions and focusing on the wrong issues. Who the next England manager should be is the last thing the English should be thinking about right now.
Trevor Brooking was interviewed today by the Press Association regarding what he thought should change in England. He said, “We need to invest in specialised younger-age group coaching. The old days when I played informally around the corner with my mates, developing my skills base, are not going happen anymore. An 11-year-old youngster in this country isn’t good enough technically so we have to play more short-sided games and do more ball work. The way the game is going is pretty clear. Teams are keeping the ball on the floor more. In the back four, you want all players to be technically comfortable. It all starts at the back and we want to encourage the grass roots this is the way to play.”
The Press Association article continued and mentioned that Brooking estimates it will be five years before the Under-17 side that won this summer’s European Championships will be challenging for full England honours, which means some dark days might be approaching. “World Cup 2014 will be difficult for England,” Brooking said.
These are some very dark days in English football at the international level. All of the warning signs have been evident for a long time. How the Premier League is ruining the development of English youngsters. How so few Premier League clubs have decent youth academies that are bringing through bright English talent. But now that we’re still recovering from the whiplash of an emphatic 4-1 win by Germany, and after the side effects have worn off of how England was cheated out of a goal, the stark reality stares us in the face. And that is, that the England national team is light years behind other nations.
Watching Brazil play on Monday was a surreal experience for me. It’s incredible how the Brazilians are so much greater than any other team in this World Cup tournament other than perhaps Argentina. The gulf between how good Brazil is and where the other teams are is immense. Brazil was so good Monday that it appeared they were like robots. Every move was so perfect that I almost wished they would make a mistake so they looked more human. The ball seemed to glide so naturally across the pitch from player to player. It was a wonderful game to watch and it showed to me how so far behind England is from the world’s best team.
England will probably never be as good as Brazil. But they, and countries such as Germany, provide so much great evidence of systems that work and how things should be done. The next 12-24 months in England will be one of the most crucial periods in the past 50 years of this game. It’s imperative that England makes the right decisions and completely changes the entire structure of the English game from top to bottom in order to ensure that the international game is a priority. That may not be possible, and there’ll be a lot of forces that will oppose it, but something has to be done. And that something needs to start now.