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The England Dilemma: How to Fix What Is Broken

England's Steven Gerrard reacts during the international friendly soccer match against France at Wembley Stadium in London November 17, 2010.  REUTERS/Eddie Keogh   (BRITAIN - Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

John Nicholson’s interesting article on “England’s Problem” raises more than one perplexing question. If England’s difficulties on the world stage are indeed a result of the historic, endemic mindset of the English game, what can or should be done about it?

Do England just keep on doing their thing and hope through some weird alignment of the stars that they will one day catch lightning in a bottle? Does inserting Harry Redknapp as manager somehow increase the possibility of that happening……England playing like Spurs?

If not, is it possible to change the mindset of an entire league? Should you even try? After all, playing in the Prem is about winning that title. So teams play the style of football that seems to give them the best chance of doing that……the English game.

It’s not as if we don’t see highly skilled players in the EPL. They are everywhere. Unfortunately, when you go to pick a national squad most of those truly gifted players seem to be from another country. England is left with, well, English players. Back to square one.

I realize I have created a circular argument here and that is my point. It does seem like the world game may have passed England by, but I’m not sure what you do about it, even if it’s true. Or is it all down to the manager? Is it just that simple? In any event, scurrying around and mouthing off like Chicken Little every time England “fail” accomplishes nothing. As John pointed out in his article, given their style of play, why should anyone be surprised?

Is there really a “solution” or are we just a bunch of dogs chasing our tails?

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  1. Smokey Bacon

    November 19, 2010 at 5:57 pm

    Capello is the Italian Don Revie. Great club manager but absolutely useless at international level. Only thing he has done is instill the discipline that went missing under McLaren. Has no affinity for the English game; makes consistently poor team selections that ignore inform players in favour of established under achievers; and whose tactical inflexibility has been found out at international level. Get rid of him and start building for 2014 around a nucleus of young players hungry to win something. As much as he’s struggled at Liverpool, Roy Hodgson might be a Ron Greenwood clone who could get the best out of a young team.

  2. aol

    November 19, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    In my opinion, talent isn’t the problem. But a consistent lineup with a team constructed to be just that, a team, is what is most important. You can’t throw Lampard, Gerrard, Barry, and Milner into the midfield and expect them to succeed at the World Cup. You can’t put Glen Johnson and Ashley Cole on opposite sides on defense and try to have them play up on the wings at the same time. And you sure as hell can’t expect Robert Green and Emile Heskey to play prominent roles.

    Instead, the obvious way to approach things can be summed up perfectly with the Joe Hart situation. He was not only the most in-form goalie going into the World Cup, but he was also a player who could be between the posts for possibly the next two World Cups…but instead he was the third string keeper behind Green and David James. That decision was bad for both the present and the future and to me, really sums up the England teams problems.

    I laughed when Peter Crouch was brought on with less than ten minutes left in the game. Mainly because he was like a forgotten man even though the team was without most of its’ strikers. Sure seemed fitting that his first touch would result in a great goal and again summed up many of the problematic decisions of this regime.

  3. Gaz Hunt

    November 19, 2010 at 11:22 am

    The problem with England is not the team but the media and fans.

    It was one game. We played poorly. Even Spain does sometimes (4-0 to Portugal). But that doesn’t mean we’re crap.

    In another game we may win. We may play well. But that doesn’t mean we’re World Cup contenders.

    We played poorly in this game and everyone calls for heads. These same people will be doing the team just as much a disservice when they announce that England are serious contenders for the Euro trophy when they play well and win.

    Calm down, people.

    • Gaz Hunt

      November 19, 2010 at 11:31 am

      “Either way, whomever the manager is, England are a team whos ranking and history suggests that we are at worst a World Cup Round of 16 team and at best a Quarter Final (6 exits at this level) team with the occasional brilliant generation that will take us to a Semi-Final or Final (2 exits at this level).”

      Exactly. As the writer above said, we’re a consistent round of 16 team that can muster up a quarter final every once in a while. Once every blue moon, the stars may align and get us to a semi.

      To say England are absolutely rubbish is silly. Similarly, to say England are a top team is also silly.

      Why can’t we just accept that England are what they are (a consistent round of 16 team that is not in the top 10 but close) without calling them crap for an occasional, inevitable poor performance or trophy contenders for good performances?

  4. Dave C

    November 19, 2010 at 10:35 am

    To say “the England team is broken and needs fixing” is like seeing a pile of loose bricks and timber and saying “that house is broken and needs fixing”, even if there was no fully constructed house in the first place. My point is that the England team was never a “fully constructed house” in the first place. We’ve never been more than a pile of loose bricks and timber.

    Sure, we’ve had some moderate success (or near-success) in the past, but England’s general position in the football hierarchy has generally remained the same – we have some decent players, we’ll give most teams a good game, but we’re not really in the same caliber as the top teams. I think this has always been the case, and unfortunately I think it always will be.

    The question shouldn’t be “can we fix this broken house”, but “can we build a house (from scratch) out of this pile of bricks and timber? Do we even have the adequate raw materials? Is our timber strong enough? Do we even have roofing tiles? etc etc”

    Sorry for the metaphorical flight of fancy.

    • Guy Robert

      November 19, 2010 at 12:50 pm

      Ahh, the vagaries of being a “writer”. The headline isn’t mine. The working headline I sent in was, “The English Dilemma”. The Gaffer giveth and The Gaffer taketh away. As a former part-time stringer for a city paper I can tell you that simply comes with the territory. Whenever one of my working titles was actually used I felt like I had won the lottery! Editors are a fickle bunch.

      Be that as it may, I liked your flight of fancy and agree completely.

      • Dave C

        November 22, 2010 at 11:56 am

        No problemo – I didn’t mean to sound like I was criticizing the headline. I just think it’s a common belief that England need to somehow “get back to the good old days*”, whereas I think the first step to getting better is to realize that the good old days were not all that good, or that many. Apart from the 66 WC and a couple of very fortuitous runs (Italia 90 and Euro 96), we’ve been average ever since the 50s.

        *even my wife has the knowledge and the humor to refer to it not as “the good old days” but “that good old day [singular]”.

  5. Reality bites

    November 19, 2010 at 7:23 am

    The problem is quality. As much as we love English players, they just aren’t as good as the worlds top teams.

    It’s just so easy to see. Thin at striker, loaded at midfield, yet a 20 year old starts against France, who was out of his league. The defense is shockingly thin. And keeper is filled with average stoppers.

    Mandated numbers of home grown players won’t help. More coaches in every level won’t help..

    You can’t get blood out of a stone.

    It is what it is…

    England is a top ten team, but not top 4. It will take luck and another England hosted world cup for them to ever reach those heights again.

  6. mintox

    November 19, 2010 at 12:14 am

    It’s an interesting point you’ve brought up, I now live in Australia and in the last 5 years they’ve spent time and money overhauling the way they develop their players and the style of football they play. Out the door went the largely British footballing style and in came the Dutch style, a change from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3 at all youth levels and a focus technique rather than results at junior and youth levels. No longer do you see youth teams filled with big strong lads who are great at imposing themselves and making a tackle or the athletes that can run all day long. The results are starting to show after only 5 years with their showings at International Youth level being a stark improvement on the last 20 years.

    However they were able to do this as the expectation on them is low, the supporters want them to do well but they realise where they stand on the international footballing stage.

    Englands problem is that supporters expect us to win every game and entertain at the same time without realising that whilst English players are no less skilled than their international counterparts, they sometimes don’t have the footballing brains to play or counter the styles of their opponents.

    Capello is part of the problem in that he is trying to impose a more technical style of play on players that aren’t as used to playing that way. Some would say that this is the way forward and I agree but only partly. You can play that way when you are producing players that are used to it, until we do so we should not be trying to emulate these styles of play. In which case a manager like Redknapp IS a good choice because he would allow the players to do what they do best.

    Either way, whomever the manager is, England are a team whos ranking and history suggests that we are at worst a World Cup Round of 16 team and at best a Quarter Final (6 exits at this level) team with the occasional brilliant generation that will take us to a Semi-Final or Final (2 exits at this level). The chance of winning the world cup is small but currently if we want the best chance we have to let the players do what they do best until such time as our players are taught to play a different style from a young age.

  7. EPL Matches Talk

    November 19, 2010 at 12:02 am

    The problem with England is that their 1st 11 squad members always changes. They need to fix their 1st team squad or else the 1st eleven will have problem working together.

  8. jon sharp

    November 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Back in the 1970’s and early 80’s I couldn’t understand why England performed so poorly on the international stage whilst Liverpool were the best team in Europe. It seemed an anachronism with an easy solution – why not have Liverpool simply be the England team? Of course I was too young to appreciate that Toshack, Souness, Dalglish etc might object to pulling on an England shirt, but the principle has stuck with me. Football is a team game with the best teams developing an intuitive style of play with partnerships forged week in week out in training and league fixtures. Conversely the international game is an All-Star event with players coming together infrequently and often asked to perform roles different from those in their league club. Is it possible that the “continental” (apologies for my archaic description) style of game with an emphasis on quick passing and ball control in slower build ups lends itself better to the plug and play situation of the international arena than the English style of play? Having seen Tottenham see off Inter at the Lane with Gareth Bale playing what looked to me like a good old fashioned English (sorry Welsh folks) winger style of play, leads me to conclude that both styles can be effective at the club level. So Guy, maybe the solution is for the English manager to look down the English league table until he/she finds the highest ranked all-English team and then make that the English team. If we had a British football team then we wouldn’t have to look so far down the list – but speaking personally I like following the exploits of Scotland, Wales, N Ireland and Ireland so I think combining would be a net loss as far as I am concerned.

    • Guy Robert

      November 19, 2010 at 9:11 am

      Good insight, Jon. Just out of curiosity, somebody help me with Jon’s idea: “…maybe the solution is for the English manager to look down the English league table until he/she finds the highest ranked all-English team and then make that the English team.”

      Does such a team exist? If not, which EPL team comes closest?

      • Guy Robert

        November 19, 2010 at 5:40 pm

        You’re not helping here, guys. I hate it when I have to do my own research. I know we have stat-boys are out there. Someone gimme a break!

        • The Gaffer

          November 19, 2010 at 7:34 pm

          That’s not an easy one. But we know it’s not in the Premier League. So it must be one of the 72 teams in the Football League. My guess is that it would be a team in League Two.

          The Gaffer

          • Guy Robert

            November 19, 2010 at 7:41 pm

            So, which EPL team comes closest? I know you know this, Gaffer! 🙂

            • The Gaffer

              November 19, 2010 at 7:50 pm

              Blackpool, without a doubt. A couple of weeks I posted a comparison between them and Arsenal. The Gunners fielded a team with no British players. Blackpool fielded a team with all Brits. Four or five of the players were from Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, but the rest were from England.

              Ian Holloway for England manager!

              The Gaffer

              • jon sharp

                November 19, 2010 at 8:26 pm

                I’d take Blackpool and Holloway any day for the England team – but Charlie Adam would need to change his nationality. The whole team revolves around him. We might not win the world cup but we would be elevated to the most entertaining team on the circuit!

              • Guy Robert

                November 19, 2010 at 9:31 pm

                Thanks, Gaffer. I just needed to know since Jon raised the question. 🙂

                Ian Holloway as England manager. Imagine the interviews, the newspaper headlines…..the fun! Maybe that’s what’s missing.

                • Guy Robert

                  November 19, 2010 at 9:41 pm

                  Thanks, also, to all the posters today and any yet to come. As usual, I find the commentary interesting.

                  I have only been following the EPL for four years so I frequently have questions, but seldom have answers. At least I’m smart enough to know that. 😉

  9. OC

    November 18, 2010 at 11:56 pm

    Guy, forget England, they are done. PERIOD. USA is the team we should be focusing on, not England.

  10. Dust in the Wind

    November 18, 2010 at 11:43 pm

    With all due respect, it wasn’t interesting as much as it was infuriating.

    A couple of points/thoughts

    The English National Squad and its tactics take on that of it’s manager, this is not unique to the english national squad it is evident at all professional levels football.

    Jose “the chosen one” is not exactly riveting, he bases his whole team around his 4-4-2 and sturdy defense, Didn’t Italy win the world cup in 2006 with a physical and defensive based team? didn’t they beat the skillful holders of the prize, the fantastic French and its mighty cast (of players mainly in the premiership) and the mighty Zidane?

    A Spanish National team finally overcame the football gods and got that monkey off their back, and they did it beating a more physical dutch team, With attractive football. This however, doesn’t mean its no longer about stamina or being physical. In any cup competition the knock out stages are one game, one at a time i, anything can happen, one team has an off day and doesn’t win the world cup. (England’s qualifying campaign was impressive)

    All this garbage about it not being a physical game anymore and its all about skill etc.. its has never been all about anything, it has always ebbed and flowed with different styles of play contributing to exciting games all over the world.

    The Italian manager is managing England in his style as have done before him, unfortunately he has lost the players, press and nations confidence after the disappointing world cup.

    To those of you that think the English press to blame for hyping them up or panicking, and asking for the coaches head to early has clearly never read any other press from around the world in any of the English football Association loving countries–they all react the same.

    This game insights passion in most of the world because of its simplicity and diversity. Unfortunately it’s that same simple passion that stops most of us from ever understanding the true complexities of it all, and the recipe for success required to conquer the highest level of the game.

    My posts earlier we supposed to illustrate to the people that bash the EPL or accuse the England national squad and it’s game of blindly being out of touch are unfounded and contrary to fact.

    Will it or can it be fixed? For us england fans lets hope! for all that is unknown and the unfortunate never ending spat against the EPL, one thing I do know is that at 4:45 am pst on espn2HD you will see a fantastic game of football. Stirring all the simple passions nice and early, ultimately leading to a surprising but well played tottenham win for the first time in a while at Farce-enal. “audere est facere”, “audere est facere”

    • Guy Robert

      November 19, 2010 at 8:56 am

      Dust—I read your comments on John Nicholson’s story and found them interesting, also (I’m easily pleased). Just to be clear (and I’m not being argumentative) are you saying that England’s problems are simply a matter of coaching?

      • Dust in the Wind

        November 19, 2010 at 1:01 pm

        Hey Guy,

        I think the immediate issue with the team is the coaching, in mho. This isn’t a popular observation but talent level is available for selection.

        There clearly are broader issues however, players schedules in the regular season and how that sets up the tournaments in the summer months, being one of them.

        His management/use (or lack there of) of Peter Crouch alone is baffling. Here is a player who’s scores for England, plain and simple, but he doesn’t play him for reasons that I’m sure have more to do with locker room relationships between players than anything else (allowing Rooney to run the selections are part of that mis management).

        The German manager was faced with a similar situation with M.Klose. He was in terrible form in the regular season, and the manager was under pressure to not play him, to play more younger new players, but he went with Klose because of his record in internationals and on the big stage, and it payed off.

        You can’t look at Crouch’s success and ignore it on the international stage. The above is just one example of an impact player that the manager is responsible for not getting right. especially when he plays players like Heskey who’s contributions were always very over rated on my opinion.

        His inability to read players and develop the right kind of relationship with them is i’m sure a factor in him allowing Rooney to continue playing in-spite of obvious issues between the ears.

        These are all management issues, I could go on but will spare you the pain.


        • Guy Robert

          November 19, 2010 at 2:06 pm

          After Crouch scored one of the commentators said, “He just can’t stop scoring for England.” Did he then say 22 goals?

          I agree with you. Regardless of what he does for his team, if he somehow “scores for England” then a coach is not to wonder why, but to put his lanky frame in there from the start and sub him out later if need be….not the other way around. But then I’m a Crouch fan, so there’s no objectivity in that comment. 🙂

          Do you think that ‘arry is a viable coaching alternative?

    • Robert

      November 19, 2010 at 11:43 am

      “Didn’t Italy win the world cup in 2006 with a physical and defensive based team? didn’t they beat the skillful holders of the prize, the fantastic French and its mighty cast (of players mainly in the premiership) and the mighty Zidane?”

      Yeah, that sturdy 4-4-2 really stopped France from hitting their penalty shots.

  11. Andrei

    November 18, 2010 at 11:36 pm

    Why is it so much attention given to English National team? I thought it was EPL Talk blog. “News & Analysis of English Premier League” as it is stated in the blog header.

    • The Gaffer

      November 19, 2010 at 7:11 am

      Andrei, because it’s the *English* Premier League. Same with our sister site, MLS Talk, which also covers the US national team.

      The Gaffer

      • Andrei

        November 19, 2010 at 6:23 pm

        You may see some connection here I quite honestly don’t. Yes, there is word *English* in both and EPL is an enterprise headquartered and operating on the English(rather British) soil. And this is where similarities end. EPL is global business, employing global workforce and selling to a global audience. EPL Talk site itself is riding the global demand generated by EPL (no disrespect to talent and hard work of EPL Talk contributors).

        I don’t mind occasional national team angle but only if it is related to EPL. E.g. how EPL players are doing at the national level or relationship between EPL and national federations. And not limited to English National Team only. How about Ireland, Wales or France for that matter all well represented in EPL?

        • The Gaffer

          November 19, 2010 at 7:32 pm

          Andrei, we’ve always been heavily focused on England, especially during this past World Cup. I understand that the Premier League has a global audience, but the Premier League and England national team are closely tied together. France, Wales and Ireland are covered on our sister site

          The Gaffer

        • Guy Robert

          November 19, 2010 at 7:38 pm

          Andrei—I’m afraid you’ll just have to grin and bear it…..or stop visiting EPLTalk.

          Were you reading the site before the World Cup? Endless stories and discussion about England’s team. It is simply a natural connection, at least to many of us who frequently visit the site. If you don’t “get” it, that’s OK, but it isn’t going to go away.

          • Andrei

            November 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm

            I guess I can put up with this. And I’m not suggesting any changes just genuinely curious about the connection. Though I would prefer to see a bit different angle in the discussion around England’s team. For example, I was surprised how well Nasri and Sagna did against England. One of their top performances this season. I’m not saying that they struggle against EPL opposition but they match this level not that often. Does it mean that English midfield and backline is not as good as a typical EPL side? Is it the way English team plays? Or does the matter lies in how their talents are utilized in Arsenal?

  12. Taylor

    November 18, 2010 at 11:09 pm

    Perhaps it’s time that you all put to rest the old notion that you all need to have four different teams representing one country the size of Alabama. I don’t know of any other nation which divides itself more than the British Isles in sport. Why not have a soccer team similar to the British Lions that incorporates all of them? (Though I’ll concede the Scots would HATE that.) Or, at least, like Irish Rugby, field an English/Welsh team to stay competitive. There is something to be said of “out of many, one.” Or in this case “won.””

    • Dave C

      November 19, 2010 at 10:22 am

      I would be tempted to say that merging the four countries would make zero difference, since at best only maybe two non-English players would make it into the combined team. However, given that those players are a left winger (Bale) and a defensive midfielder (Fletcher) it might actually be a pretty good bet.

      However, I’d still be against it for the simple reason that it’s just not right. In football terms, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are seperate countries, and it just seems unsporting to change that just in the desperate hope of forming a better team.

      • Dave C

        November 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

        Also, you should re-think your comparison with Alabama. Alabama has a population of about 4million people. The UK has a population of about 60m people.

        I assume you were probably talking about geographical square mileage, rather than population, but the square mileage of a country doesn’t really have any relevance.

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