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Are England Simply Not Good Enough?

The failure of the next generation of English talent in the recent Under 21 European Championships has again led for a need to discover the root of the problem, and just why it’s still going wrong.

On Sunday, Stuart Pearce’s England side crashed out of the Championships in Denmark at the group stage, having failed to win a single one of their three group games. Pearce looked to defend himself and his youngsters by claiming England had been unlucky to come up against one of the best Under 21 teams in the world in Spain, a team who set out purely to defend – Ukraine, and a very well organized Czech Republic side. Is this a valid excuse? Or should his team have been capable of adjusting their game in accordance to their opposition?

Much in keeping with the senior side’s performances in big tournaments, Pearce’s team looked distinctly flat and jaded. Often appearing short of ideas, and showing signs of technical deficiencies. But where does the blame lie? Are too many English players incapable of following instructions under the pressure of a tournament? Is the coaching and development of players in England failing, and if so why? Is too much importance placed on club football in England? Or are England simply not as good as they (fans and media included) think? All of these aspects certainly seem to carry some weight.

The English media is arguably the most invasive around, even more so around the time of a football tournament. Players are micro-analyzed and have their every move followed by journalists hoping to stumble across the next story or revelation, often obliviously at the detriment to the squad’s preparation and stability. The recent World Cup in South Africa provides a fitting example. The amount of non-football related media attention surrounding the squad was un-paralleled, and eventually reached the stage where the squad struggled to train and prepare for games in a manner they would have liked. The media hype becomes inescapable and as such it becomes abundantly clear to the players that anything short of winning the tournament is deemed failure. The weight of expectation increased further by the media appointed title of the ‘Golden Generation’, apparently signifying to the players that a country’s main hopes for years to come are placed firmly on their shoulders.

An excuse that has become popular in recent years is the fatigue of players due to the Premier League (PL) season being too demanding. The league is arguably the most physical around, and the schedule when coupled with two domestic cup competitions, European football, and the lack of a winter break is demanding. However, the league is very cosmopolitan, and indeed had more representatives at the last World Cup than any other league – yet no excuse of fatigue is used from any other nation with players playing in the PL.

With the evolution of the PL into one of the biggest leagues in the world, and by far the most financially lucrative, the importance of the top clubs players being fit for their clubs has begun to outweigh that of playing for England. Whilst players still claim that it is a real honor to play for their country, unfortunately their clubs feel differently. PL clubs are reluctant to release players for international games (particularly friendlies) as they feel it may hinder their own chances of success – a risk they feel is unwarranted when it’s them paying big fees and wages for the players.

It is this English desire for success at all levels of club football can be deemed another potential reason why England falls short. Such is the demand for glory that other important aspects are neglected in an attempt to fast track players for success. This mantra is deep-rooted in the English system and is noticeable even at grass-roots level.

Whilst all countries recognize the importance for success, at youth level, most countries also appreciate the value of training players the fundamentals of the game. Take Spain as an example. At a young age importance is placed on improving player’s technique, ball control, basic skills etc – all aspects that will provide a player a solid basis with which to develop within the game. Compare this to England, where from a young age players are thrown into matches with league systems in place, the focus of priority shifting towards winning matches at the cost of improving a player through proper coaching. Not all blame should be placed at these local run clubs however. The English FA’s lack of adequate funding for decades has left the grass-roots football in tatters, with facilities and coaching schemes not being able to match up to that of most of their neighbours in western Europe.

Thankfully in recent years the need to change this grass-roots philosophy has been identified, and the addition of foreign youth coaches at professional clubs has helped speed the process along – although a hangover period is still present. Clubs changing coaching styles at youth level was implemented in a fairly short space of time, however with the talent pool from England not up to scratch immediately an influx of young foreign players arrived to bridge the gap. So whilst the current generation may struggle, there are promising signs for the future.

At present, the bottom line, and something that English fans widely refuse to acknowledge or entertain, is the fact that the current batch of England players (and their processors) may simply not be as good as people think. The rarity of a talented English player often leads to an initial period of hysteria surrounding the individual, who often can be subject to a degree of bias praise. English fans hold their players in high esteem; they are heroes to millions of people. The masses are unable to live out their own dreams of playing for England and as such look to the players to live out their dreams for them. With thinking like this it’s easy to see why people can become blinkered, believing the players to be better than they in order to fuel their hopes of success.

England gave the game to the world – but there is still plenty of work to be done before it ‘comes home.’

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  1. Gaz Hunt

    June 27, 2011 at 9:30 am

    I hate this argument.

    England are simply not good enough to do what? Win the World Cup? Yup.

    We are, however, good enough to consistently make the round of 16 stage (sometimes easily and sometimes by luck), usually make the quarter-final stage, and once in a blue-moon make a run into the semi-finals. That ranks them somewhere around 10th or above. What’s wrong with that?

    As far as the US, they may not have the individuals but are inching and inching towards a team that could outperform many sides in the future. While not quite there, they are very close to a consistent round of 16 stage squad as well and will only get better from there.

  2. Shakira

    June 24, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Wow yet another insecure Englishman covering up the problems w/in the FA by bashing on the US. I mean how can a mere Yank know anything about football. Perhaps if the English follow the Dutch or Spanish way of training youth then the English will truly compete, until them its most likely Quarterfinals at best. The way the England teams are coached from the youth up are what is to blame, but what do I know I’m a simple Yank, right Pete?

  3. R2Dad

    June 24, 2011 at 3:09 pm

    U17’s don’t seem to be getting better, either:

  4. Che

    June 24, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Pete for england!

  5. David

    June 24, 2011 at 9:32 am

    England are simply not good. End of.

  6. Gillian

    June 24, 2011 at 1:47 am

    In word, yes.

  7. dempsey'sjock

    June 24, 2011 at 1:26 am

    hey pete,

    let’s call a spade a spade. you just want to suck on dempsey’s ball sack and your pissed you lost his number.

  8. Kyle

    June 23, 2011 at 7:00 pm

    English soccer players are the most over-hyped players in the world. They lack skills and creativity. They tackle hard, pass long and kick the ball into the penalty area hoping for someone to get a touch to goal. There are no intricate moves to try and break down defences or create scoring opportunities from creative play. The English are just not smart enough.

  9. Gary

    June 23, 2011 at 6:54 pm

    England are simply not good enough. It’s that simple. How many English players are comfortable with the ball at their feet, can keep the ball and have the technical skills to go past opponents? Very few, if any. Pass and run won’t cut it in this day and age.

    Watching the England U-21 team showed how much theese players lacked technical skills. The only U-21 player in England that has any technical ability is Jack Wilshere and he wasn’t at the tournament.

  10. Mr M

    June 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    When i think of the irish national team & what they have been able to do with the talent available to them, it is much more than what england have been able to do. With barely any “world class” talent, ireland have punched above their weight consistently and nearly made the world cup last yr. out of a group that included italy, and were a handball away from beating france. England undeniably has much talent, but have not been able to do what they should be able to do (challenge to win world cup/european championships).

  11. Taylor

    June 23, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Talking about U-17, U-21: how many of them translate to the next level. Looks at the rostersL how many end up playing at the high level. This also happens in other countries: there’s no guarantee that a success at previous level will translate at the next level.

    Take these examples: Spain 1992 Olympics gold-winning team: out of 20 players, probably only 11 ended up making appearances at the national team level (and I’ve counted players making 3-4 apps). FIFA U-20 (Youth Championship): look at the winners’ roster (Spain): how many of them ended up playing at the highest level at the highest competition ? 1988 Olympics: winner: Soviet Union. How did they do ? How did the 1991 Youth World Champions (Portugal) do – did they win the world cup or Euro ?

    Point is: there’s no guarantee. Things can happen: injuries, players didn’t develop with age, can’t adapt to the development of the game, etc.

    and I’m not American but I’ve been following football since 1986.

  12. brn442

    June 23, 2011 at 4:36 pm

    England has not been good enough at a lot of things, for decades – but wonder if Wilshere, Carroll, and others were in the side what difference that would have made.

  13. Dave C

    June 23, 2011 at 4:30 pm

    Oh god, is it the summer of 2010 all over again?

    Seriously, after having to suffer through the whole of last summer with dozens of identikit EPL Talk articles on “Are England not good enough”, “Are England a top team”, “Are England players x/y/z really world class”, “Are England fans deluded”, “Are England as good as they think they are” etc etc, I thought that well must have run dry by now. Obviously I was wrong.

    At present, the bottom line, and something that English fans widely refuse to acknowledge or entertain, is the fact that the current batch of England players (and their processors) may simply not be as good as people think.

    This is not the case. Sure, some England fans may be head-in-the-sand believers that “our boys” are among the best, and only cruel luck, individual scapegoats or dodgy refs can deny us our rightful place on the podium. But a signficant number (probably even a majority) accept the obvious truth that we’re simply not one of the favourites to win anything.

  14. Brian

    June 23, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    I would highly recommend everyone pick up a copy of the excellent book Soccernomics, which devotes a chapter to the ‘failings’ of the English team over the years, and based on their statistical evidence that takes into account certain parameters about a country, England performs at a level that should be expected and I believe even slightly above average for them. The problem is there is a reality vs. expectations game, with fans expecting the squad to be at the level of a Germany or Brazil, when the evidence suggests otherwise. I may have butchered an explanation or two in this, but check out the book it is well worth the read

    • Clampdown

      June 23, 2011 at 4:29 pm

      Yes. That was Kuper’s conclusion.

      • pete

        June 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm

        Perhaps we should be asking him Brazil is in decline and Germany’s youth didn’t even qualify for this youth tournament.
        Any 5yr old can look up world cup wins over the last 100 yrs and make up reasons reasons to why these teams did what they did.

        Two of Germany’s great wins on the world cup stage came about by beating England in the semi’s on pen’s. (1990 World Cup, 1996 Euro Championship) in other words by chance. I’m old enough to remeber watching both and depite being bias England deserved to win on both occasions. Football is not science, the best team does not always win. If it did Wolves would never beat Man Utd, Bolton would never beat Arsenal

        Most books on football are rubbish, watch the game, learn the game and come to your own conclusions, there are too many sheep in this world as it is

        • Dave C

          June 23, 2011 at 4:54 pm

          Winning on penalties is not “chance”. This is a common misconception amongst English people, and explains why we always loose on PKs.

          If it was a simple matter of chance, how come German players have only ever missed one PK in a shootout since 1974?

          If it was a simple matter of chance, how come specialist penalty takers (who practice their PKs regularly) score so consistently, whereas those who don’t fail? Are the specialists simply “consistently lucky”?

          It’s the foolhardy belief that PKs are a “lottery” that leads to guys like David Batty being nominated to take a PK in a world cup quarter final, having never taken one previously since the age of 12. Remember how that worked out?

          • pete

            June 23, 2011 at 5:34 pm

            pen’s are chance, of course there are better pen takers than others but a very good pen can be saved just like a poor pen can go in. Luck, as in the way the keeper decided to dive, the CHANCE he takes when he decides to dive to the left or right or whether he thinks the pen taker might try and smash it down the middle.
            Germans seem to be good at them because they are confident, they usually do well in them. This is one reason why they have a far better record than I personally think they should have on the world stage
            England does very poor in them as they usually do, it’s almost like they expect to lose them because they have been doing so for so long.

            self fulfilling prophecy at both ends of the scale

          • Dave C

            June 23, 2011 at 6:08 pm

            Maybe England players should practice PKs as rigorously as the Germans do, and then they too could have that sense of confidence?

            A PK massively favours the taker, not the goalie – if you hit it well, it is extremely unlikely that the keeper will save it, even if he “guesses” the right way. If you practice and have guts, there’s really no excuse for missing.

  15. IanCransonsKnees

    June 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    They’re sh*t.

    The problem’s only going to get worse when the likes of Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones who are sold for £20m each based on little more than a seasons worth of top flight football.

    Really cannot be bothered with the England football team, there’s just no connection there for me. Now Rugby on the other hand I’ve really got into and cannot wait for the World Cup in NZ this autumn.

  16. Dan

    June 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    I just think it’s down to youth coaching. Fallen behind for too long, pushing out talented kids either because of their small size or just fatigue. I know good kids who quit because the joy of the game got sucked out of them.

    An excellent example of this was shown in a recent documentary ‘blue heaven’ showing Rangers youth system and following some of the players. Jan Derks made some excellent points, and the same story is repeated all over the country, not just Scotland.

  17. pete

    June 23, 2011 at 2:57 pm

    Alot of chat and not many answers to my post. Not one out-field American would get in this England side and that is a fact. Not one American plays for a top 6 Pre team and that is a fact.

    If someone is going to talk about the U21 tournament and mention England not perfoming, they should also comment on England being The European u17 champions and the lack of Germany, France, Italy, Holland and Portugal having worse talent as they didn’t even qualify.

    These are the facts, whether you like to read them or not.

    • Fernando

      June 23, 2011 at 3:04 pm

      Who won the WC group last year? Go on then…

      • pete

        June 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm

        You actually finished top by goals scored. You finished on the same points with the same goal difference, this meant thay had to go for goals scored to decide the group. England played poor and Capello picked a poor side. He could have picked the side I did but no, 7 of these players did not play against the U.S and lets face it, you were damn lucky to get anything out of that game, even with England playing a load of rubbish and capello’s poor tactics and team selection.

        I will put this to you, when was the last time the U.S beat England? It might have been before you were born

        • Jeff

          June 23, 2011 at 3:31 pm

          Didnt we beat you in the last World Cup? We tied the game and won the group.. At the end of the group stage, US finished first, England finished second. We were the better team. We win.

          I would argue that how a team performs over several games is more important than one game. Switzerland is not better than Spain because they beat them. Spain is the better team because they had a better performance over the course of the tournament.

          Pete, your taking too much offense to a columnists opinion. The point is England not living up to it’s expectations. England vs USA is a different argument all together. Look beyond your allegiance to your birth country and try to relect on the content of the article.

          • pete

            June 23, 2011 at 3:36 pm

            No, the game finishing 1-1 means neither team has won. I don’t know much about American sports or the education system in America but this is how it works in the rest of the world.

        • Fernando

          June 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm

          So you would agree that England simply weren’t good enough then?

          What does the last time the US beating England have to do with England not winning the group last summer?

          Why don’t you write an article about the failure of American football since you seem so passionate about it?

          • pete

            June 23, 2011 at 3:55 pm

            I would need to write about 20 pages to talk about the failing of american football. I would start out being very unhappy about the walk they get into the world cup, it is a disgace that you get teams going to the world cup when not one is ranked in the top 20 in the world

          • NoOneLikesUsWeDontCare

            June 23, 2011 at 3:57 pm


            There is a reason Europe gets 13 bids compared to our 3.5

          • Fernando

            June 23, 2011 at 4:03 pm

            Pete that’s a FIFA/CONCACAFissue not an American one.

            20 pages? That’s it? How long would England’s be?

    • Stacy RIchardson

      June 23, 2011 at 3:06 pm

      Pete, just explain to us how your comment about Americans has anything to do with the original article you were supposedly referring to. Can you accomplish that? Hmmm?

      • pete

        June 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

        If an American is going to point out the so called talent of English youth, he should firstly get the facts right and give a complete picture, second it should give me as an english man the right to point out some of the many problems with U.S football

        Only fair wouldn’t you say?

        • Clampdown

          June 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm

          Actually, you haven’t pointed out any problems with US football. There are many, and I could fill a book with them. But as has been pointed out to you, this post wasn’t about Americans, it was about English players and the perception of fans versus reality.

          Care to comment on the actual content of the post? What is the complete picture? Also, how do you know the author is an American? There are several Englishmen who contribute to the site.

          • pete

            June 23, 2011 at 3:48 pm

            The reality is that it is no worse than a lot of countries. Is it the best in the world? No, but we are ranked 6th in the world, the u17’s won the Euro competition last time, the previous U21 team reached the final of the Euro competition. The senior side normally gets to the last 8 which is where they should reach given their world ranking. They still have most of their players playing at top clubs in the world, This is the real situation of English football bases on facts, not bull

            These are the facts about English football. With so many so called top sides not even making this tourament, how can you point out the problem with English youth and not mention the obvious lack of youth talent in these countries?

          • Robin

            June 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm

            Pete, I am English but you must admit that even though the US has its problems it is still an amazing feat considering how they are now because almost 70% of America does not even like football at all and most kids in America give up football at 14/15. While 95% of England is all passion for football and all kids at 14/15 play football and still cant win the world cup. Imagine if America started getting good foreign coaching and 95% of America was as passionate as England for football, America would maybe win the world cup.

          • Jeff

            June 23, 2011 at 4:39 pm

            Pete, you clearly did not read my entire post. We won the group, we are the better team… right? Or are the Swiss better than the Spanish?

            On one of your posts you mention where England is ranked. So based on rankings… we were ranked 1 from that group, you were ranked 2. I guess we are the better team.

            You want to talk reality, rankings are far from it. Thats the whole point. Rankings are expectations, not reality. England are ranked high but yet somehow come up short. We have sports like that here and they are completely flawed. See american college football. See american college basketball. USA soccer had some great ranking in 2006 and shit the bed. At the end of the day its the scoreboard, its the table, its how you finish. You are what you are. And thats the point. The ranking for England is not translating into the success it is supposed to represent.

        • NoOneLikesUsWeDontCare

          June 23, 2011 at 3:39 pm


          You make valid points about the England side. That 11 you mentioned above is a side capable of competing with nearly every nation in the world. And when a side like that is seen before a major tournament, expectations are sky high. But when your fighting for Euro 2012 qualification with a team that has many players who compete in 2nd and 3rd tier European leagues, something is wrong. Here in America until probably the past year, expectations were to qualify for the World Cup and when we beat Algeria last year the whole country went crazy, which is kinda embarassing but its how “soccer” is here. So expectations make for the title of this article. And just to add in, I remember at the end of that WC game Jozy Altidore missing off the post to put the US ahead, so maybe England got lucky with a draw that day…

          • pete

            June 23, 2011 at 5:26 pm


            Football may not be America’s first sport but the fact is, America has a huge population compared to most. Therefore even if only 10% of it is interested in football, that is still 30 million which is a bigger population than a lot of European countries including Holland who reached the final of the World Cup

        • Dave C

          June 23, 2011 at 4:45 pm

          So write an article about US soccer if you feel that strongly about it.

          To say that an American can’t write an article about English football simply because he is American is dumb in the extreme.

        • Nik Arur

          June 24, 2011 at 4:58 am

          So if someone from some country that’s rubbish at football like Papua New Guinea (worst FIFA-ranked team) were to write an article about anything, you’d say that they have no right because their team is rubbish at football? Is that it? Piss off

    • Dave C

      June 23, 2011 at 4:41 pm

      Not many answers because your question wasn’t relevant to the subject of the article. The article was not about England compared to USA.

  18. Taylor

    June 23, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    A lot of key players in the premiership clubs are not British. This has been a problem for a while, not something new. Remember when Kevin Keegan played Phil Neville as left back in Euro 2000 ?

  19. pete

    June 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm


    G Johnson Ferdinand Terry A Cole

    Parker Wilshere

    A Johnson Rooney A Young


    Show me one outfield American who would get in this team and I’ll start to listen. Mention the lack of Germany, France, Holland, Italy and Portugal in the U21’s and I will start to listen. Name one American who is playing on a top 6 team in the Prem and I will start to listen.

    Americans suck at football, your best player Dempsey plays for a very average team, Bradley can’t even get in the Villa side. If you want to start talking lack of talent, look at america. There is 300 million with a lack of talent

    Otherwise, STFU

    • Fernando

      June 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Hey Pete, who won the World Cup group last year? You remember? You must’ve been wondering how a country that sucks at football could even finish above you. Obviously you’re not an intelligent football fan.

      Regarding England, from WC 1990 on through 2006 it’s been all about England being unlucky and at times being tactically inferior. At last year’s WC they were totally outclassed by Germany. England needs a bold manager capable of fielding a squad that puts players into roles where they will not think of breaking off to do their own thing.

    • Jack

      June 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm


      Methinks you’re betraying a certain sensitivity or inferiority complex considering the original post doesn’t mention America once.

    • Clampdown

      June 23, 2011 at 2:35 pm

      I was wondering how long it would take for a hyper-defensive response that had nothing to do with the content of the actual post. That didn’t take long at all.

    • Dave C

      June 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      What’s America got to do with anything?

      The article isn’t about “Are England as good as America?”

    • Nik Arur

      June 24, 2011 at 4:53 am

      What on earth are you going on about? Did you comment on the wrong article?

    • tony quinn

      June 26, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      im english ive been watching england play for 40 years that team you selected would not win the euro’s or the world cup, infact we are so technically inept we will never win a damn thing until we take our brightest youngest talent and ship them off to brazil or spain and let them learn the trade then bring them back. Thats it, if you dont beleive me well since 1966 we havent won s@#$ we have no clue how to coach or nuture our brightest, we are living in the past, it is our press and our fans who refuse to expect nothing less than success based on what, well our history our league thats not enough, even putting millions into acedemies and facilitys wont work if the technical abilities are not crafted. we need to change, we need help we need to bend our pride and look to the success storys to see why and how they are so much better, until then forget it, we will remain a quarter final team

  20. dan

    June 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm

    The problem with England is the Premiership. You can count on one hand how many great players are English in the Prem league. There are glaring holes in the England formation when they play and the public seems to think they are fantastic since their league is the best. Until the realize they aren’t as good as they think they are and their manager makes the tough decisions of benching guys like Lamps or Gerrard b/c they simply don’t work together, or even more importantly more English players come through the ranks of the top clbus, they will never win major trophies.

    Look at the best team in the world now, Spain. They are literally Barcelona with a few extra players thrown in. Spanish league is a majority of Spanish players and then when they all play together almost every day of the year they will be fantastic.

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