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England's Problem Is Not Capello And Why Redknapp Isn't The Cure

England's James Milner (R) challenges France's Samir Nasri during their international friendly soccer match at Wembley Stadium in London November 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Eddie Keogh   (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER IMAGES OF THE DAY)

Another England game and another torrent of outrage from much of the English press at how poor England is. Surprise surprise. There is a very vocal majority in the press who want to blame all this on Capello because it’s easier than thinking deeply about it and much more preferable than stating that players who you laud week-in week-out are actually, at a decent international level, well below par. There is also a crude desire by almost all of Fleet Street to get their mate Harry Redknapp installed as manager, as though this will make any significant difference.

All of us who have witnessed this ‘debate’ time and again across decades know what the problem is. Everyone with a brain in football knows what the problem is. It was painfully clear in the contrast between our play and France’s. We do not have a culture of patient nurturing of the ball; we simply cannot pass well enough to retain possession and we default to aimless hoofing all too quickly. Our first touch is often humiliatingly poor.

The fallacy that the players perform better for their clubs than for England would be exposed if anyone bothered to look closely. Their touch doesn’t disappear at international level, its not there domestically, it’s just less exposed most weeks so is ignored or not noticed by critics.

After last month’s international which brought the exact same reaction from the press and public, I wrote that the only surprising thing about such performances is that it surprises anyone. We would do better as a nation to stop feeling sorry for ourselves, stop assuming we have some entitlement to be good at international football, stop the cyclical scape-goating of managers or specific players. This isn’t going to get better with a change of manager or playing personnel, the problem is endemic and profound. It goes back to the roots of the English game which are wedded to physicality and not skill.

England are a decent second tier side; the international equivalent of say Nottingham Forest. We could beat a struggling Premier League side on a good day, we won’t lose to many sides below us, but we haven’t a chance against the best sides in the top tier. We must accept this. We don’t have to like it but it’s vital that we know it is true because until we accept our true position in world football, we can’t begin to hope to change our fortunes. We will continue to be crippled emotionally by our losses if we continually think they are an aberration caused by squad selection, tactics or managerial decisions.

Just thinking if only we had an English manager it would somehow transform our players’ ability to pass the ball is blatant nonsense, as it was thinking that a whole team of new caps would somehow outperform the old guard. With England it’s always a case of meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Every new generation of players has been inculcated into the same football culture and while it’s possible to tweak and improve that, by the time they get into the England team their basic skill set is established and immovable. So each generation is fated, by and large, to repeat the failures of the past as more and more international sides skill-up and move forwards, we slip backwards and backwards and backwards.

This French side was rotten at the World Cup but unlike England this wasn’t due to a lack of talent but a lack of temperament, so it was inevitable that they would re-establish themselves sooner rather than later. England has a much, much longer journey to undertake.

However, we cannot make he first steps on that journey until we accept our true position in the scheme of things; to stop the self-loathing and begin to accept reality. The berating of England, its players and its managers is now a national sport in itself. I often think people enjoy it in some kind of masochistic way.

But it’s inappropriate in the same way that shouting at a dyslexic child who can’t spell properly is inappropriate, until media, fans, players and everyone else in the game realises that, we will not improve. It’s all in our hands to change. But does anyone really want to?

Editor’s Note: Johnny’s new book: “We Ate All The Pies: How Foot ball Swal lowed Britain Whole” is avail able via Ama zon US or Ama zon UK.

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  1. thack07

    November 19, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Dave C – we had an excellent def midfielder in Owen Hargreaves, the problem was indeed the left side. Overall i disagree with the argument that a better mgr cant make an average team better. just look at Jose Mourinho with Inter – Won champs league with an average to good side that are now useless under Benitez (pretty much same side). Also no team managed by say..Sam Allerdyce would ever get relegated. If Paul Ince retook over Blackburn now, they would be a certainty for relegation even though the team would remain exactly the same.

  2. Smokey Bacon

    November 18, 2010 at 8:51 pm

    I’m so f*cking tired of this England team. Where to start? Jagielka at right back when Lescott can’t get a game at Man City. Gareth Barry is one-paced and offers neither a defensive shield, a decent pass or any attacking option. Hopefully Wilshire will displace him before too long. Caroll looks like he could be useful but it will take more than flick-ons from long-balls to be successful at international level. Henderson was a Barry clone and offered little. Walcott was one again totally ineffective – isn’t it time Johnson starts ahead of him? And on current form Joey Barton should be starting ahead of Milner but he will never get a look-in for England. Capello is a massive disappointment and I’m sure I’m not the only one who can’t wait for him to f*ck off.

  3. Jason

    November 18, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Agreed that the England players aren’t that good. But they are not being helped with Capello in charge. If you’re going to lose then at least play attacking, attractive soccer. Will never happen with Capello in charge. And the Gerard injury in a meaningless friendly just shows are arrogant Capello is when he had an agreement with Liverpool to not play him for more than an hour.

  4. Thack07

    November 18, 2010 at 6:21 pm

    I agree that things need to change but around the time of 2004/2006 we had on paper the best international team in the world. A midfield that consisted on beckham, scholes, lampard and gerrard cannot be ignored. Also Micheal Owen (say what u want always scored goals against BIG teams) and the fact that this team failed WAS due to bad management and not the ability of the team.

    • Dave C

      November 19, 2010 at 10:17 am

      I wouldn’t quite say we had “on paper, the best international team in the world”, but it certainly was pretty good (in theory) – especially when you remember Terry & Ferdinand were good and fit back then, and Rooney emerged during this period.

      The problem with that midfield though is that despite the big names, they simply don’t fit together. There is no defensive midfielder, no left sided midfielder, and no pace in any position. The bad management did not lie in England’s failure to get the best out of this group of players, but in the selection of such a combination of players in the first place.

  5. Shakira

    November 18, 2010 at 4:42 pm

    Until England change the way they teach their youngsters they will continue to be a mediocre International Side. The emphasis on winning needs to end, they need to teach the young kids technical skills like other countries. It also doesn’t help that the English media hypes a squad that will never achieve anything then Quarterfinals at best. On whole, the entire mentality of English football needs to change.

  6. Bill

    November 18, 2010 at 3:31 pm

    Most of you have missed the point of this article. Stop blathering on about what league is the best and focus on the fact that England needs to change it’s whole system of player development if it ever wants to win a world cup again.

    France made them look foolish by forcing them to chase for almost the entire game. England can’t possess the ball because they lack the players with the skill to do so. You have a systemic player development problem that needs to be corrected if you ever want to have any success on the world stage. The game isn’t all about physicality anymore, it’s time to wake up England!

  7. soonerscotty

    November 18, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    All of England’s problems can be cured by one man and one man only…Roy Hodgson!

    Hodgson for England!! The Three Lions can have him…today…within the hour. hahaha, seriously though, you can have him.

  8. Dust in the Wind

    November 18, 2010 at 1:54 pm


    Perhaps I wasn’t clear? Perhaps the link to winners wasn’t clear to the point I was making.

    let me explain my post.

    “Well Noted sir! — Acknowledging AOL’s Assertions that you can’t completely compare the state of the england national football to the quality of the EPL

    This fascination with claiming La ligas superiority over the Premiership based on how good 2 teams are is ludicrous.

    —- this is again recognizing AOL’s Point that depth in quality of football teams is not exactly La liga or bundasliga’s strong point.

    All leagues offer something to football thats it’s beauty, but if epl talk wants to assist it readership and rate leagues then do it objectively.”

    — This is me pointing out that each european league offers something of interest and that variety is a good thing.

    Another thought… — this is where I expand my thoughts to the larger critique of the article and responses to to it.

    It could be argued that the quality of european football suffered during the ban of english clubs and upon the premier league formation and its clubs re-instatement to european competition that the European Cup/Champions league is the best it has ever been. Look at who many different clubs from england have won the highest prize in euro football, compared to spain, germany and italy? here is the link if anyone is interested.

    —my point if you look is that there is a larger number of clubs from england that have one than in other leagues, if you look at the link it shows that 4 english clubs have WON the highest prize in europe’s club football, not as runners up WON. this is only 1 more than Italy and Germany, but still more. I do agree that statistics can mislead in instances, this reference was just to reinforce a point not as a basis for one.

    when looking at the link, look at when and who won it should address your take on your pint of addressing the modern game.

    Again this was to point out that for all the bitching and negativity over the epl on this epl site, the english league has provided the most diverse amount of winners for this competition. (admittedly I do not refer to the other euro cups.)

    Marketing despite your belief doesn’t achieve sustained viewership, evidence of this is all around in modern media and culture. People do turn off, if it sucks, if it isn’t good football, if it isn’t exciting. — this is also evident in other sports. NFL, MLB and NBA.

    And thats with 5 years of being out all euro competitions — here I was pointing out that this is inspite of years of exile.

    I hope that helps clarify my position.

    • bradjmoore48

      November 18, 2010 at 2:58 pm

      Dust – I understand what you’re getting at, and I agree with your problem with the article how the quality of a national team does not completely reflect domestic league quality. The Dutch are a great example, a good but not amazing domestic league but ranked 2nd in the world on the international level. I can also include examples from South America, Africa, Eastern Europe, but you understand.

      All I’m saying is that the idea of comparing leagues these Big 4 leagues objectively is basically inane, and it really shouldn’t matter. All I was suggesting with the Spain sending 12 teams to CL was that you can come up with a lot of objective facts and the argument can still be debatable. So whoever started this argument of the EPL not being better than La Liga/Bundesliga, and the counters, it’s just opinion and I think that’s all it could ever really be.

      And yes, I do think if the quality of EPL play was terrible, it wouldn’t matter how much marketing was done, people wouldn’t watch it. But the EPL was really the first European football league (ManU being the first club) that made it a goal of bringing in a global TV audience, and they benefitted from it immensely. But, if Rupert Murdoch decided he wanted the Bundesliga or La Liga to be his global football cashcow, and those leagues collectivized their TV revenues, whats to say they wouldn’t be “the best league in the world” right now over EPL? Marketing does play a part in the EPL’s success story, which is fine. The only issue I have is that I feel a lot of people have drank the Kool-Aid and don’t give the other Big 4 leagues their fair due (not calling out on you personally, just a generalization). Personally, I think the EPL has the best organized teams, La Liga the best individual talent (there are great players outside of Barca and Real, just not necessarily great teams), and Bundesliga the best balance of financial stability and fan support and a competitive league (as in, Bayern doesn’t win every year). But that’s merely my opinion. So long as the EPL is garnering large TV revenues and performing well in Champion’s League, and can attract and develop great talent, the league is in fine shape.

  9. Ivan

    November 18, 2010 at 11:04 am

    Look, the England national team is just not that good. It is comprised of media-hyped “superstars” who hide when it matters at big tournaments (Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, etc.)

    The last time England had a very good team that arguably should have played at a World cup final was back in 1990 w/ Gazza, Platt, Lineker, Beardsley, etc.

    The Prem is exciting thanks to top level foreign players and a fantastic atmosphere at the stadiums…but England doesn’t really have good players to compete for tropheys at the european and world level. Andy Carroll? The guy has the first touch of an elephant…if you rely on him to get to a Euro Cup semi-final, there’s a bigger chance that Martians will come to earth in our lifetime than England making it far in a tournament that matters…

    • Dust in the Wind

      November 18, 2010 at 11:31 am


      Even if your assertions of Andy Carroll were correct (which in MHO they are not) Did Andy Carroll select himself? who selected the squad?

      The Hoddle Squad was also pretty damn good, a 10 man England should have won the quarter all but for a shady ref to deny sol Campbell’s goal, with no foul committed. (thats a whole different thread, look at the countless analysis on the video for that).

      Answer me this, does Defoe have a great touch? Does Johnson? Does Rooney? does Walcot? Ahsley Cole? there are more and there is ample video eveidence to counter your assertions.

      As much as you understand sports psychology, Rooney’s form from the world cup on has had many influences on the most important real estate for a player or person (the real estate between his ears) to just ignore all the well documented video evidence of Rooney’s ability is like still arguing the earth really is Flat.

      • Forest for life

        November 19, 2010 at 10:09 am

        Dust- youre the type that still thinks if Lampards goal had gone in it would have been a different game. True-ish, but over looks the fact that Germany was capable of tearing us apart at half speed. Im English through and through- still think Sven did a good job- mainly because ive come out of my own delusional fog to realize that we are not really that good- Quarterfinal team at best, with the chance to get further if a few lucky decisions go our way- which they normally dont. Andy Carroll’s touch was horrendous in the FRA game. He will get better, but unless we learn a different way of playing we will always rely on luck to get us past the quarters.

    • Lyle

      November 18, 2010 at 3:11 pm

      Amen, sock it to Jehovah!

  10. Matt

    November 18, 2010 at 7:39 am

    You make a good argument but I don’t agree entirely. The FA has lots to do but Capello is exacerbating the issue. Overpaid and underperforming.

    I hope you don’t mind but I’ve written a response to this article on my blog:

    Interested to hear your thoughts.

  11. Joe

    November 18, 2010 at 7:29 am

    In the face of all this, why do people continue to insist that the EPL is the best league in the world? It seems to me that the World Cup was dominated by players from the Bundesliga (Robben, Schweistiger, Muller, Podolski, Lahm, Klose) and La Liga (Forlan, Casillas, Xabi Alonso, pretty much all of Barcelona).

    The England national team (and to a lesser extent, EPL) kind of remind me of Big Ten college football in America. Fine tradition, great atmosphere on game days, but when it comes to the big show (World Cup for England, Bowl Games against SEC teams for Big Ten), they are exposed as second class citizens.

    I’m beginning to think the EPL is considered the best because of marketing. The growing American market for soccer has been gobbling up Premier League because that’s what ESPN and Fox Soccer Channel show the most. I definitely watch the Premier League more than any other European action, but I do wonder if I’m actually seeing the best football in the world or if I’m just being sold that as part of a marketing strategy.

    • aol

      November 18, 2010 at 8:53 am

      Are you serious? Because the EPL is completely different from the England National Team. You listed top players from Germany…who all play for one team (Bayern Munich). You listed a bunch of players in Spain who all play for one of two teams (Barcelona, Real Madrid) other than Diego Forlan. If you want to watch the best players, I guess you could watch Barcelona play Real Madrid in two weeks, but then what?

      Meanwhile, take a closer look at some of the players in the Premier League. You will find that it is an international league, which attracts some of the top players from a ton of different countries. So you get the top player from the Ivory Coast (Drogba) playing with the best midfielder from Ghana (Essien) who are supported by one of the best left backs in the world (A. Cole). They play against an Arsenal that features a few French players that looked highly impressive in beating England yesterday (Nasri, Sagna) as well as a ton of other highly rated internationals (Arshavin from Russia, Fabregas from Spain, and so on).

      The list goes on, with players like Van der Vaart (Netherlands) plying their trade for Spurs along with Bale (Wales), Modric (Croatia), Pavlyuchenko (Russia) and a contingent of England players (Crouch, Defoe, Lennon).

      Even the midtable teams feature plenty of excellent talent. Gyan (Sunderland) was a star this summer for Ghana, Cahill (Australia) is strong for Everton, and you even have some of the top players from their respective countries that are solid role players for teams in the EPL (Lee at Bolton and Park at Man United) serve as perfect examples.

      I left out a lot of players and teams in my examples. Go down the United and City rosters and see how many top players from all over the world play in the Premier League. You should be able to quickly realize how wrong your assumption is.

      Chelsea (Drogba, Kalou-Ivory Coast, Malouda, Anelka-France, Cech-Czech, Essien-Ghana, Mikel-Nigeria, Terry, Lampard, Cole-England, Ivanovich-Serbia)

      Arsenal (Chamakh, Clichy Nasri, Sagna-France, Arshavin-Russia,

      Man U (

      Man City (

      Liverpool (Torres, Reina-Spain,

      Other notables:

      • Nick

        November 18, 2010 at 9:39 am

        Cheers, so true, Bundesliga is like an entire league stuck at mid-table and La Liga is dominated by two powerhouses. England’s failure as a national side doesn’t change the quality of their domestic league, it’s the internatonal league of the world and the most competitive, look at the table now who’d have expected when the season started we’d be seeing Newcastle and Bolton just on the verge of a Champions League spot and Arsenal possibly returning to win the title (Though I’ll keep fingers crossed for a United win) it’s unpredictable, it’s often thrilling, it’s the Premier League, not just in England but in the World.

        • Joe

          November 18, 2010 at 10:23 am

          Bundesliga is an “entire league stuck at mid-table”? So if a league is at all competitive, if there’s any doubt about who the top teams will be at the end of the season, you interpret that as a negative?

          Talk about an EPL fanboy. Wake me when Chelsea, Arsenal, or Manchester United are not in the top three. I assume I’ll be asleep for a few decades…

          And I love watching EPL! But to praise it for lack of parity and think less of leagues where lower teams actually have a chance of winning is completely ludicrous.

          • Fred

            November 18, 2010 at 11:26 am

            Do you concede aol’s point?

        • dust in the wind

          November 18, 2010 at 10:34 am

          Any reference to the world Fallacy between this article and the quality of english football domestic or international should be for its validity and initial conception. For those of us that have watched English football as club season ticket holders and been to international competitions to see all teams be it a euro championship or world cup and are objective, we would not take this article seriously–I can help the urge I have to call its poor contents out.

          “English players just run and have no skill” or “Their touch doesn’t disappear at international level, its not there domestically, it’s just less exposed most weeks so is ignored or not noticed by critics.”

          You don’t have to as this is your column/blog post, but when writing in the future please back up your opinions and view with evidence, some evidence or examples that make it absolutely clear to the rest of us, that are clearly delusional in thinking that a manager (responsible for Squad selection, formation, tactics and training) have a substantial influence on a team.

          There are many factors that influence a game of football, the ultimate “team” sport, and management is one of them “The Chosen One” a good example of that, as is Alex Ferguson. Bobby Robson did a good job with players He selected some ok players, Paul Gascoigne, someone called Gary Liniker or maybe John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, that when turned over to Graham Taylor did an equally wait there,even Sven did a reasonable job and handed the squad over to Steve McClaren who did a really great jo….oh no wait a minute. hmm I must be crazy

          If I wanted observational wonder and enlightenment and superb insight delivered with ignorance complete factual blindness I would go straight to the source and watch Alexi Lalas on espn not to epltalk. Sub Par, maybe save it for the pub during the game 🙂

      • Dust in the Wind

        November 18, 2010 at 11:54 am

        Well Noted sir!

        This fascination with claiming La ligas superiority over the Premiership based on how good 2 teams are is ludicrous.

        All leagues offer something to football thats it’s beauty, but if epl talk wants to assist it readership and rate leagues then do it objectively.

        Another thought…

        It could be argued that the quality of european football suffered during the ban of english clubs and upon the premier league formation and its clubs re-instatement to european competition that the European Cup/Champions league is the best it has ever been. Look at who many different clubs from england have won the highest prize in euro football, compared to spain, germany and italy? here is the link if anyone is interested.

        And thats with 5 years of being out all euro competitions.

        • bradjmoore48

          November 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm

          If you are going to use objective facts to base how good a league is compared to others, I think a better determinant is not how many different clubs have won the top prize over the entire duration of Euro championship/CL era (dating back to the 1950s), but what has happened recently (just the CL era). The link Dust provided has another chart of how many different teams have made the champions league proper in the CL era. Spain has the most with 12 different teams, Germany with 10, England is 4th with 8 different teams (Spurs being the newbie this year). So in spite of being a “2 team league” Spain has put more teams in the Champions League than England.

          What does this prove? Ultimately the old saying “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure” i.e. statistics can go in any direction for any argument like this. It doesn’t mean anything in the end. I don’t think La Liga is any better a league than the EPL, and vice versa. EPL has won it’s “best league in the world” title due to marketing, but that title can be argued as completely earned on the pitch as well. Dust was right that each league offers something, and it should stand as that. Using objectivity in this case only stirs up unwanted vitriol. Just enjoy the game, whatever team/league/player you happen to like.

      • Scott Alexander

        November 18, 2010 at 3:40 pm

        I agree with everything except the characterization of Chung Yong Lee as a role player in the way that Park is a role player. Lee was one of Bolton’s best players last year and has been vital to their current form this year. They could be off 6-10 points without him this year

  12. RobG4

    November 18, 2010 at 6:29 am

    During the first 75 minutes of the game I kept thinking “When France has the ball, they play in England’s half, and when England has the ball they play in England’s half”.

    England just couldn’t get through the mid-field with any control. It was all, back pass, back pass, followed by a hopeful lob to Andy Carroll or bad pass by Gerrard.

    France easily regained possession and moved through the England midfield with almost no opposition.

    It was startling. England sucked.

    • patrick

      November 18, 2010 at 8:31 am

      I felt like I was watching West Ham play, not England.

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