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What’s Going Wrong With The England Football Set-Up?

The writing has been on the wall for Stuart Pearce for some time now. But having already lost the opening two matches of the European U21 tournament, a third defeat led the England manager to blame his players for the team’s shambolic performances. Having already bemoaned the FA for preventing him from utilizing his best players, you sense it was one final swipe at those he has perceived to have let him down from a dead-man walking.

Pearce will vacate his position at the end of this month when his contract expires, but his post-game interview following England’s third defeat in three group games spoke volumes about the country’s national set-up. That being that nobody within the hierarchy (be it players, managers or the higher-ups) seems to be a strong enough character to take responsibility and move things forward in a positive, progressive manner.

Looking forward, it is tough to find anything worth getting excited from an England point of view. The minor fillip of positivity that emerged following the senior side’s respectable 2-2 in the Maracana has been washed away in the light of the U21 shambles, such was the deplorable nature of their showings.

Three defeats from three, in the easiest of the two groups, is remarkably damning. The team failed to score a goal from open play in any of their games, and in the process showcased a dearth of ingenuity, creativity, temperament and organization. Naturally – a somewhat recurrent theme when it comes to England – questions have been asked and concerns have been raised. How has the development of the countries young players been strangled to such an alarming extent?

There seems to be a contrast between the direction the FA want to move things in and the road the Premier League seems to be taking.

The Premier League, perhaps unlike the FA, has moved with the times. Teams have demonstrated a willingness to adopt continental facets of the game and apply the positive features in their own clubs. The FA by comparison, remain pretty set in their ways. Unfortunately, this deviation is having a detrimental effect on the English national team.

It is well documented that the number of overseas players involved in the English game is constantly on the rise and this has often been cited as the main reason for the national teams apparent decline. This is merely a representation of the global brand that the Premier League has become and the league is undeniably better for it. The 25-man squad quota was introduced with a nod towards teams developing from within and was undeniably a step in the right direction.

But for the Premier League sides, is developing young players for the national team really their responsibility, or even in their interest? In a era were managers are sacked on a whim, it is difficult for coaches to take a long term view towards developing British players. Would you take that chance if a couple of results meant losing your job?

The cream will always rise to the top, and a core of local players is important at any club. But in England, for players who are just a tier below those obviously destined for stardom, opportunities are becoming increasing scarce because external factors are seemingly conspiring against them.

Just take a look at the young players at any of the top academies. Once upon a time they would have been stacked with the best local English talent. But clubs have become prone to picking up the brightest talents from abroad, pushing them through their academies before proclaiming them as home grown. By the Premier League’s ruling, they technically are.

Cesc Fabregas moving from Barcelona to Arsenal at just 16-years-old is the most pertinent and probably the first successful example of this. Subsequently, many of the English footballs most illustrious sides have since followed suit.

It’s the easy option, I suppose. Why concentrate on developing you’re own talent when a loophole allows you pinch somebody else’s for a nominal fee?. From Barcelona’s La Masia academy, in the past few months alone, Chelsea have snapped up Josimar Quintero, Liverpool have signed Sergi Canos and Arsenal have picked up Julio Pleguezuelo. All of whom are just 16-years-old.

We’re beginning to see the knock-on effects of this when it comes to the national team, as young English players just aren’t getting enough game time. The Premier League is awash with managers looking to play a continental brand of football and overseas players are often a better fit for their systems. As a result, the typical pattern of a Premier League is moving away from the fast and frantic; foreign players are finding it easier to settle and managers are a lot happier to exploit the world transfer market.

Mix in those young players pinched from across the continent, the window of opportunity for the young English players is getting smaller and smaller. Especially when the FA’s curriculums seem incapable of producing players who are on a similar technical plane to Germany, Spain and Italy.

And it is these nations that are currently streaks ahead of the English. Shifting our focus back to this summers championships, England’s U21 players had less minutes on the pitch than that of any other country taking part. Just 2.2% of Premier League minutes were made up by these players; Manchester City, Stoke City, Wigan, Swansea City and Chelsea failed to field an English player under 21-years-old all season.

Even key men in the England U21 squad were lacking in playing time. Steven Caulker, Jordan Henderson and Connor Wickham, the spine of the team in many respects, were all bit part players for their club sides. Compare this to Spain, who’s key players De Gea, Koke and Isco are all played crucial roles in their sides fruitful campaigns.

In fact, just over a third of the Premier League’s players are eligible to play for the English national team. This is minuscule figure when compared with 45 per cent in Germany’s Bundesliga and Italy’s Serie A, 58 per cent in France’s Ligue 1 and 59 per cent in Spain’s La Liga. That is a remarkable difference, and a figure which is showing no sign of an upturn.

Some clear direction from the FA and the England hierarchy would help too. The friendly in Brazil is a perfect example. It is understandable that they wanted the likes of Jack Rodwell, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Phil Jones to sample the Maracana atmosphere ahead of next summer. But is a friendly game more valuable to their development than three competitive games in a tournament format? Not a chance.

The more you dwell on it, the more ridiculous it becomes. Rodwell in particular, a player besieged by injuries this campaign, could have played three competitive games – games in which he would have no doubt played a key role – and would have given him some impetus at the fall of a frustrating campaign. Instead, he travelled half way across the world for 420 seconds of football in a friendly game.

How, in any way shape or form could this have been beneficial for his development? It makes you wonder who is sanctioning these decisions within English footballs governing body.

There are far more questions than answers when it comes to the England team. The FA will point to the new St George’s Park complex as a sign of progress. But the world-class facilities do not represent a magic wand that is going to conjure up a brighter future for the country. It is merely a starting point.

It is fantastic having some of the best facilities in the world, but if they are not complimented by able players and progressive coaching, then you might as well go for a kick-a-bout in the local park. The development of young players in England needs to be protected and preserved. It’s about time someone made themselves counted and stood up for the future of the England team.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter:  @MattJFootball

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  1. Stephen Bailey

    June 19, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    This is an excellent article by Matt Jones.

    I just finished watching England lose to Uraguay 2-1, in WC ’14, and my question is this; How can a country so instrumental to the history and development of football, under-perform so badly in World Cup play?

    After listening to the panel of “experts” I got to watch, and reading this article, I believe I can tell you what is wrong with English Football.


    That’s your biggest problem. When it comes time to re-evaluate the effectiveness of your FA’s strategies, on things like player development, competitive schema, game day strategies, there’s NO NEED TO RE-EVALUATE !!! You already know everything there is to know about football. Why should you re-evaluate if youre certain, that all you have to do is find the right coach, to make the right game day decisions, and ALL WILL BE WELL ???


    You must make very basic changes! You must change your organization from one which endorses and protects Premier League football as ENTERTAINMENT!!!! To one which endorses and protects FA competitiveness. This means you must change RADICALLY from the INSIDE OUT!

    This must be done in ANY industrial, political, organizational structure which has not BUILT INTO IT’S structure, opportunity for this same organizational change.

    Take the New Englad Patriots, for example. It is NOT that Bill Belichick is an iconic genius, who out coached everyone else in the NFL on his way to winning 3 Superbowls and setting a record for most wins in a decade (121).

    For over a decade the Patriots remained at the very top of the NFL hierarchy, because everyone involved understood that there WILL BE organizational change. Personnel will change. Coaching Strategies will change to fit the personnel, and we will constantly be finding new and better personnel, so if you’re here now…. You Better Play Your Asses Off !

    The same model has begun to work in other NFL locales. Baltimore, San Francisco (though SF HAS a great history-now a new organization), Seattle, for example. It’s in the organization, not the genius player, or coach.

    I will also tell you this. The US will exceed England’s performance this year, and this will continue for some time into the future.

    This is because WE KNOW NOTHING !!! And WE KNOW WE KNOW NOTHING !!! We have had to rebuild every 6 – 8 years from the mid-nineties onward, with different coaches…. and each with a different philosophy. But, one thing the governing body of USA Soccer seems to have understood? WE KNOW NOTHING. BUT WE’RE GOING TO LEARN! We will find out the best methods of player development, coaching, physical training, maturing young players in a healthy manner, and eventually, becomming a WORLD SOCCER (sorry, football) POWER!!!

    This is not rocket science. Every great company builds this kind of systemic change into their DNA. Apple, Microsoft, IBM to name a few. England MUST rebuild the very DNA that comprises the organizations running football in your country (FA, EPL).

    If you doubt what I say, you can wait. And we will destroy you in the next WC competition. Or the next. The MSL is spawning American players now who comprise over half of the US WC team. Ok, we now have the Bundeslegia to thank as well. But THAT IS ALSO Part of our reassessment, re-analysis, and re-energizing American Football (sorry, soccer).

    I love Rooney, and I feel badly for him. He clearly carries the weight of English Football on his shoulders. And this is very clearly…. UNFAIR. The problem is not his. It lies at the feet of the owners, and Boards of Directors, now running the English Football leagues, and clubs, and developmental organizations.

    I am available for a fee, for consultation, and will present an evidence based methodology at your convenience.


    Dr. Stephen D. Bailey
    Licensed Psychologist
    Youth Sports Psychologist

  2. Adrian

    June 13, 2013 at 2:09 pm

    Perhaps the FA could do something like the Generation Adidas program in the US. Subsidize or completely cover the club salary of players identified as possible future stars for the national team. If the FA is worried about them getting playing time, then say the subsidy goes away if they don’t get in X% of the club’s matches.

    • Michael

      June 14, 2013 at 3:42 am

      Don’t forget that a lot of these big clubs are owned by billionaires who wouldn’t care what the FA rules are. I believe the English National team will get better if some of their players are based abroad because the style of play over there is completely different and good. We have a lot of teams like Stoke who do not challenge any team creatively except the old kick and push style of play. Thats why the players do not improve and whenever someone like Walcott runs half of the pitch and score, it is seen as a world class move whereas it is basic in overseas.

      • Dorian Speed

        June 14, 2013 at 2:03 pm

        So it’s “basic” for someone to run “half the pitch and score” when playing for an “in overseas” team? Ha. What a laughable comment. Dude, someone running “half the pitch and scoring” would make the crazy highlight reel for the night, not be considered as “basic”. – – – – – Sure you’re not thinking of Fifa 13? Maybe you have an early copy of 14? Who knows. Lolol

  3. Michael

    June 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I agree with every single comment on here and I would like to add that the English players both senior all the way down, are not good enough. It is time we call a spade a spade. An example will be Rooney, he came out before Ronaldo(Portuguese) and look at where Ronaldo is at the moment. He is always competing to be the best player in the world and Rooney isn’t because Rooney feels like and believes he is a great player. Thats my first point. The second point is that a country like Germany and France who have both homegrown and foreign players in there national team, an example is Mesut Ozil(turkish i believe) and that is what England should learn to do by using the young foreign players who hasn’t represented their mothering country to represent them. I have a lot more but I will save it for my coaching plan.

  4. goatslookshifty

    June 13, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    I think the better English players are in the Championship. As eluded to in the article, I’m tired of seeing EPL subs getting called up to the national side. A good match fit championship player has to be better than a Jack Rodwell, Jordan Henderson etc.

  5. trickybrkn

    June 13, 2013 at 12:20 pm

    Totally agree with you about the likes of Rodwell, Jones and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Yet, I disagree about the problem being the buying of young talent from overseas. Teams are just as likely to suck a player from England who is progressing to the top level. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bale and Walcott where all plucked out of the Southampton Academy. And while Bale isn’t English, the point is there is talent being sucked up by big clubs regardless of where they are from. The present England squad has one player, ONE, that players for the club he was developed by… can you name him? it’s Alex McCarthy. and he even was originally trained at Wycombe. So while the big clubs stuff their rosters with youth from around the world to get around the HG player rule, they would just as quickly buy an Englishman as they would a Spaniard. If you ask me what the issue is with the u21s, it is that all already have the Bentley and the lifestyle. Playing for country just isn’t as important. But that is just an opinion.

    • Matt Jones

      June 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm

      Cheers for your comment.

      I think the difference is that the likes of Bale, Walcott and Ox all cost substantial fees.

      If you’re a Premier League manager, are you going to spend £10m+ to bring in a top young English player? Or go abroad and pick up another bright young prospect for a nominal fee?

      • trickybrkn

        June 14, 2013 at 11:36 am

        It is true that British talent will cost more… But the pay off is bigger. But how many foreign players make it from the academy to the first team. Mikel Arteta was brought into Rangers, grew tired of it back to Spain before he went to Everton, then went to Arsenal. Then take Cesc Fabregas… leaves in his prime to go back to Barca. Ignasi Miquel will be the next Arsenal player they develop only to return to Spain.
        You could look at Man U. It seems that all of the forgone academy players burn out and leave. Their first team has only the di Silva twins that they actually developed. Any of the international youth seem to be eternally loaned out, then are released. Chelsea have had a similar issue.Maybe Oriol Romeu can break that trend, but CFC have always had the issue of a changing door at the top. Man City just seems to load up the reserves, and it might get worse with NYCFC where they can dump these players in America to develop in MLS. The way I see it, big clubs can take a chance on these types of players while what they really want is players that are 1st team ready and don’t mind to splash out the big dollars. That may change with fair play..

  6. Tony Butterworth

    June 13, 2013 at 11:38 am

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently. Firstly it’s important to point out that in the 70’s, when Brazil, Germany and Holland were rampant, England didn’t even qualify for a tournament, so this isn’t directly foreign player related.

    You can’t limit players so my proposal would be to pay team to play English players. This wouldn’t affect larger team but would cause smaller Prem teams to consider English over cheap foreign. You could setup a “pounds per minute” scheme or something.

    The only other thing, that might be hard and useless, is to limit overseas players in younger age brackets.

    There has to be an incentive not a stick for Premier League teams to accept this.

    • Mrmikj

      June 15, 2013 at 11:57 pm

      Not creative, and not feasible enough. This would be against the EU fair trade laws the UK is still very much a part of ..

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