Yesterday I was talking to my friend Bill who totally exists and is not an artificial construct created to assist me in polluting the internet with my opinion.
Bill told me that England are a terrible team full of overpaid prima donnas who should be in the top 5 but lose because they don’t try hard enough. I nodded along like one of those bobble head caricatures that dreary people put in the back of their cars. Anything for a quiet pint of Dalmore 62.
It did get me thinking though, what is going wrong with England?
For three tournaments in a row Spain dominated the world scene. They won the European Cup twice and the World Cup once. They did it with a midfield selection lifted directly from Barcelona. Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Pedro lined the midfield along with Xabi Alonso borrowed from Madrid. These players worked together every week. They knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses. They were a steel and mortar foundation built on the top of a titanium hill. England had a foundation of paper-mache and shuttlecocks built on quicksand. Don’t believe me? Here’s the lineup:
Now I’m not the bloke from the Zonal Marking website but I still know exploitable space when I see it!
Let’s talk about the midfielders in question:
Barry falls into the special class of English players who are ageing yet lack the necessary experience to deal with the world’s best defenders and most potent attacking threats. Milner is a solid midfielder who works hard but scares next to no one.
Gerard and Lampard are great individually. When stuck beside each other they play like San Marino’s postmen players. Both like to surge forward a lot and greatly benefit from holding midfielders backing them up. Lampard played best in front of Chelsea’s Makele and Gerard played best in front of Liverpool’s Alonso. It’s difficult to imagine a universe where they could play well together but I assume that universe is full of airborne swine.
For years pundits like Danny Murphy insisted that the great players will always play well together but that patently isn’t true. To put it frankly, I wouldn’t trust Danny Murphy to manage a pre-school team, never mind an international side.
You need a foundation of players who can work well together. If players can’t work together don’t bloody use them.
Playing in the European Champions League is beneficial for footballers. If you want to succeed as an international team you really need your players to get champions league experience. As it stands only 21 English players have Champions League experience. You can’t even fill a world cup squad with that. On the other hand, why not have a look at Spain? Currently 75 Spanish players have champions league experience. Brazil players outnumber English players in the champions league 3 to 1 even with no Brazilian team present!
Why then are English players not playing in Europe’s top tier? I think it’s because of two traps:
The English Premier League is by far the richest league in the world and it’s likely to extend this lead with the TV revenue increases coming over the next few years.
The top 6 teams have access to huge amounts of money and can easily pick up lots of the world’s best talent. Liverpool (who finished sixth this season) have spent on average £69m per season over the last five years. Compare this with £39m per season spent by Juventus, the Italian champions and the lack of balance is clear. This obviously makes it difficult for English players to break into the top teams in their own country as the competition is so much steeper. Manchester City are a good example of this. They currently have 1 English player (Joe Hart) in their first team. Surely the English players could get champions league football via a less competitive league?
English people tend to speak fewer languages than those in continental Europe. This makes it more challenging for an English player to move to a foreign club. Most of the English footballers playing abroad take part in the less competitive American league. Therefore it’s rare to see an English footballer playing for a foreign champions league team. English footballers are to foreign transfers what Katie Hopkins is to critical thinking.
Goodbye squad of experienced champions league players, hello guys who are only used to playing English league teams!
The premier league has been trying to force English players into teams using homegrown player regulation. Currently teams must include eight homegrown players in their squad. On the surface this looks like a fantastic way to force English players into the upper echelons of their own league. Dig a little deeper and you will see how counter-productive the rule is. The bigger premiership teams have bought young talented players (better resale value) and stuck them on their squad without actually using them. Remember Man City the side with only 1 English first team player? They have a large enough contingent of English youths in the squad so as to evade the rule. It’s useless and increasing the amount to 12 (as suggested by Greg Dyke) might make things even worse as it creates an “English premium price” which the lower premier league clubs cannot afford.
The League Cup is the Rickon Stark of football tournaments. No one cares about it until the fates of the others are decided. No other country in Europe has a second cup tournament because it would be seen as superfluous. English teams (and by extension English players) play more fixtures in a year than the rest. The players are often observed as looking tired and worn out in international competitions. With no winter recuperation time the players are also more likely to find themselves injured in the last few weeks of the season.
Glen Johnson has 54 appearances for the English international team. That is 54 too many. This segment requires no further explanation.
Okay… that’s unfair. Glen Johnson was a fairly promising right back in his early twenties but his performances deteriorated quickly from the 2010-2011 season onwards. Look no further than the stats table below showing his fast decline.
They should have been searching for a replacement years ago, now they will probably throw an inexperienced Clyne into the role. Speaking of…
When England have a solid player in a single position they hold on to them till the bitter end. We all know that Wayne Rooney will probably continue playing for England until he is around 35. It’d be surprising if he wasn’t. The smarter international teams bleed in new players earlier whilst keeping 1 or 2 old foggies around for experience. If you are English you will either be a starlet and let play at 19 or an average player, in which case you won’t get any experience until you are 25. This leaves the players less prepared for the coming fixtures. Case in point – Gary Cahill is one of England’s better defenders and he didn’t get his first cap until he was 25. How is that sane?
Surely this should be something the England camp would have nailed down by now? Surely they understand that the early twenties make or break a player? Here’s a list of over 25 players England have recently added to their squad with little to no experience: Charlie Austin, Jamie Vardy, Fabian Delph, Nathaniel Clyne, Tom Heaton, Ryan Bertrand, Kieran Gibbs.
The British press is to positivity what Wayne Rooney is to follicle retention. They constantly complain if England fail to overcome a top twenty team at that team’s home ground which tends to be rather difficult. I’ve even seen the journalists rant if the team fails to defeat an opponent by an arbitrary amount of goals. Most embarrassingly whinging when England defeated Turkey by 2 goals years back. Occasionally they will take a break from character assassination and remarks about the players’ lifestyles to build England up, but not to a sensible level. No, they make the players and fans think they are the greatest side ever and then things tend to go horribly wrong. After several disappointing international football campaigns the British press didn’t lay into their players with the usual joie de vivre at the last world cup. They held back and showed a surprising level of self-awareness for a bit. They managed to ruin this, of course, by constantly talking about how understanding and graceful they were being. In summary, they are useless.
It’s time to butcher this sacred cow. They are not below average. England are currently ranked 14th out of 209 countries. They rarely stray below the 15 mark.
Fans like Bill (from the start of this diatribe) are definitely the product of the sporting media they consume. They both expect England to blow the world away and, when the team fails that difficult task, join in deriding the players.
The truth is that England has a tiny population and the people with sporting talent are shared out amongst a variety of sports. They have several problems with structure and lack of youth opportunities which hamper things. Yet despite all that they rarely miss a tournament and more often than not make it to the knock out rounds. They will probably continue to be a top 15 team for the foreseeable future so the fans should just chill out as their theatrics are annoying everyone. Peace.