Ever since I can remember England regularly flatter to deceive when competing at the highest level of international football, the World Cup and the European Championship. We qualify for the tournaments on a regular after battering the likes of Liechtenstein and San Marino with their band of merry butchers, bakers and candlestick makers. However, when it comes to playing the bigger boys in either the latter stages or group games we always seem to fall short.
I have come to the conclusion that there are a variety of factors that have contributed to our averageness but also wonder if this is England’s level and we just aren’t very good.
Yes, we invented the game but we have never really been consistently one of the best 4 or 5 teams in the world. We also invented rugby and we aren’t very good at that either. Past tournaments show that we have never truly been one of the most successful or even competitive teams in world football and there are other a tier of teams above us.
We are currently as successful as Spain in terms of the World Cup but we are relying on our performances in 1966 and the 1990 tournament whereas Spain can look back at the 2008 win recently. They are also much more successful than us in the Euros with 3 wins and 1 runner up compared to our best 3rd place finish in 1968 which see’s England not even make the top 10 most successful countries in European competition.
This makes me think that England are genuinely finishing where we should be and we just aren’t as good as the other nations. We will need to rely on a so called ‘Golden Generation’ actually playing well to win a tournament similar to France in 1998-2002 or Spain 2008-2012 as we are clearly not good enough to produce winning teams on a regular basis like Germany, Brazil or Italy.
Population and culture of English sport.
Other than football what are Germany, Brazil, Argentina or Italy good at? I only mean proper sports as well, not skiing, formula 1 or any other fancy-dan bollocks. Nothing is the answer. Like these powerhouses, football is our national sport but we also have mass participation in rugby, cricket, golf, tennis, athletics, which to be honest we are also pretty shit at as well. Unless it is a sport that requires sitting down or can be played in a pub we are pretty average at everything. Can you name me a famous Argentinian athlete or a German rugby player? Of course not. We promote an ethos of inclusivity by pushing as many sports as possible which I am not disagreeing with but these other countries seem to focus all their energy on the biggest sport in the world and possibly as a consequence are very good at it. We have a population of 53 million people which is at least 10 million lower than France, Italy, Germany, Brazil with Argentina and Holland having a distinctly lower population than England. Whilst we have a high number of participants playing football the fact that many of these other countries have more people and less sports to focus on could be a factor as to why we don’t perform well at the highest level.
The media’s influence on English football is massive but that can be said for every country in world football. The issue is that our media constantly expects us to win every single tournament we enter when this is clearly not going to happen when we aren’t that good as shown in the section right at the start. Let the players play and get behind them without stating that they should be beating every team 5-0 and playing like Brazil, then Spain and then Germany.
I get really annoyed when people say that English footballers are not as technically good as other nationalities, you cannot tell me that our top players such as Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Bobby Moore, Paul Gascoigne are not as technically good as the stars of the countries. .
The difference is that these other countries have a clear footballing identify at international level whether its Hollands ‘Total Football’, Spain’s recent ‘Tiki Taka’, Italy’s ‘Catenaccio’ or Brazils ‘Joga bonito’ whereas England at international level currently try to be a bit of everything and end up rather confused. English football was known for its fast, aggressive but negative long ball style which at international level is no longer effective. This culture is still every Saturday and Sunday when Gary and Keith play for the Red Lion after having 12 pints the night before. After seeing the successes of other nations English football has moved to a slow, rigid possession football played with the handbrake on which is distinctly not English. There is nothing wrong with playing fast and aggressive football, utilising fast counter attacks and direct play with a mix of keeping the ball as well. Germany, Argentina and Italy have all won international honours mixing there style whilst maintaining their identity. These countries have a clear football identity but can adapt to the trends and cylindrical nature of football and its changes in tactics and formations but England constantly seem to be lacking in the knowledge of who they are and what they are about and change to copy the latest successful country. Hopefully the FA’s ‘England DNA’ can help address the issue to ensure that the players we produce gone on to achieve at the highest level, which we are yet to do.
The Premier League
The Premier League has done wonders in improving the quality of the football on offer in England. Gone are the days of the likes of Vinnie Jones being dubbed a good player and the quality of football has improved dramatically although the England team doesn’t play Premier League style football at international level. However the money that is now involved in the game has seen the best talent from around the globe take notice and move to England to the detriment of young English talent. The coaching and production of young players is the best it’s ever been until they get to 18-21 years old and are at the behest of a 1st team manager under pressure to deliver instant success.
The biggest thing stopping the development of English players is the lack of playing time available to them at the highest level and this will continue as long as the like of West Ham can sign class like Payet or Newcastle being able to pay more in wages than the likes of Borussia Dortmund or Inter Milan to attract European players due to Rupert Murdoch’s cheque book. Italy are now in a similar situation where they are paying for the 1990’s and early 2000’s when their league attracted the best players to the detriment of young players coming through. The lack of progression of our players is never more abundant when comparing the U21 Euro final teams of England and Germany to see how many players have gone on to play at the highest level both domestically and internationally.
Overall, I am of genuine belief that England will never be a football heavyweight when it comes to winning international tournaments unless the production of the next ‘Golden Generation’ can deliver on the biggest stage which we have failed to do for the last 50 years. We cannot argue with history and we have an average position of 14th in our World Cup history and I don’t see us producing winning teams on a regular basis like the Germans or Brazilians in my lifetime.
We are at the level just below those big nations as the general standard of players other the one or two brilliant player that we have at every tournament is a little better than average. The lack of identity and strength of the Premier League both contribute to the reason we are good but not great. We are performing to the level that we are capable of and unless there is some massive changes I think we will be a Quarter-Final team for the foreseeable future. We just aren’t that good!