Monday, June 28, 2010

Not Looking for a New England

The England team visited an orphanage in Bloemfontein today. “It’s heartbreaking to see their sad little faces with no hope,” said Jamal, aged six.

England is clearly not the best in the world at playing football, but arguably we are the best at writing about football.

Anyone scanning today's newspapers will thus have reviewed a fabulous range of explanations for our demise, most of them quite credible (except for those espousing David Beckham as manager). It's difficult to know what to add.

My favourite adjectives came from the brilliant Simon Kuper in that famous sporting periodical, the Financial Times.

He described John Terry's style as 'outdated', and his pairing with Matthew Upson as well-suited to a centre forward that is virtually 'extinct.'

The self-delusion in this country remains excessive, but it must surely finally have taken a devastating blow.

Even after yesterday's embarrassment, there is still a degree of can such a group of talented players perform so poorly?

Yet on what basis is the presumption of talent based? English club teams perform merely adequately on the European stage, when expectations are adjusted for their extraordinary wealth. And of course they're chock full of foreigners anyhow.

Either way, the excesses of the Premiership have taken much of the flak so far.

Indeed it is possible that we cannot have both the world's most popular league and a successful national side, but perhaps not always for obvious reasons.

Much blame is heaped upon the sheer number of foreign players in the Premiership, but this is frankly an absurd argument. There is ample room for the cream of the homegrown talent to rise to the top.

A bigger problem is the total lack of English players with experience of playing abroad.

There is not a single member of the 2010 World Cup squad with so much as a minute's experience of any other type of domestic football, even Scottish!

Kim Jong Il even allowed a couple of his North Koreans to experience life outside their domestic game.

But who can blame our pampered players? After all, in what other league in the world could the likes of Upson, Barry, and Heskey earn even a fraction of what they earn now?

It's doubtless true that the way we coach our youngsters does not produce great footballers, but again the system is entirely rational for the players (and importantly their parents).

If you are an exceptionally gifted player, then you will make a great living playing football anywhere (but will almost certainly choose to make it in England).

But if you are merely average why learn to pass and move, when knowing how to win headers and make crunching tackles will enable you to earn £250k per annum merely playing Championship football?

England thus possesses the richest team in the world, which in its supreme lack of self-deprecation, thus presumes that ergo it must also be the best team.

The tabloid media in the pre-tournament build-up make little attempt to convince them otherwise, with headlines like "E.A.S.Y." (England; Algeria; Slovenia; Yanks).

It would be like claiming that American actors are the best in the world, because they are the richest (when infact it's merely the ubiquity of Hollywood that explains the phenomenon).

Yet if there was a World Cup for acting, my money would be on the French (unless Raymond Domenech was in charge of course).

But one needs to take a step back and ask why the Premiership has become the richest league in the world.

In short, it's because its high-tempo style is seemingly unique in regularly producing outstanding football matches.

The mild weather helps too of course, as does the historical legacy of Manchester United and Liverpool.

The Premiership produces matches akin to basketball, with teams alternating the right to attack. The fans demand the ball to be played forward.

It produces a magnificent spectacle but technically deficient footballers, who can excel in only one environment.

Elsewhere in the world, the emphasis is on possession and movement.

It's notable that the only domestic team whose style resembles the best international sides (Arsenal) was unrepresented in England's squad.

Some might claim that the foreign nature of Arsenal's team helps explain England's demise.

However I'd prefer to argue that one should instead respect Arsene Wenger's implicit admission that domestic players simply aren't good enough to play such extreme passing football.

Interestingly some Arsenal fans are becoming exasperated at their (relative) lack of success, which if you think about it ties in nicely with my argument about the Premiership being almost a sport unto itself.

I don't blame the England players, as much as I depise them as human beings with only a few notable exceptions (eg. James, Milner, Gerrard). We did not fail due to lack of effort.

But technical deficiencies notwithstanding, would they even have had the inherent intelligence and humility to respond to Capello's methods?

It's easy to assume our footballers are more stupid than the rest, but whilst we know almost all of ours are stupid, I'm confident their foreign counterparts wouldn't be doctors if they weren't footballers.

Everyone sounds intelligent to my ear when they're speaking in a foreign language.

Admittedly it'd have helped if Capello could have delivered the requisite message in fluent English, but then again Guus Hiddink's grasp of Korean in 2002 was probably a little rusty.

For these reasons and others, I attach no blame to the Italian. When so many different styles of England managers have failed, then it becomes increasingly clear that the problem is systemic.

Hopefully the total capitulation in Bloemfontein will finally put to rest the idea that England are a world class team forever handed cruel bad luck.

When Frank Lampard's 'goal' was ruled out, I feared it would be added to the long list of excuses which permit the FA and some parts of the media, to perpetuate that myth until the next major tournament.

Instead the humiliating second half has made it a mere afterthought, and rightly so.

However given the choice between the all-encompassing excitement of the Premiership or a successful national side, I suspect the vast majority of English football followers would choose the former.

Luckily for them it's almost certainly a Hobson's choice too.


At 1:14 AM, Blogger JH said...

Agreed. From a neutral point of view (Australian) I found the England team puzzling. They played at such an enormously high tempo - probably more than any other team - but never managed to be particularly effective for all their efforts.

I kept thinking "why don't they slow down a bit and think?". I guess the answer is that if you do that in the Premiership you're liable to get flattened. Arsenal at least try to play nice football, bu t that hasn't gotten them far, has it?

At 7:09 AM, Anonymous 1979addick said...

I agree with your point aboiut the premiership NYC, it would also explain why so many decent foreign players don`t glitter in our frantic top division but manage to shine on the World Stage: Veron, Kleberson, Forlan even good old Dennis to some extent! It certainly isn`t a lack of ability on their part. (Although I did hear Dennis described akin to a super sonic jet, flying without a pilot!)

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous sm said...

I think a telling point is that the Premiership players in other nations teams do not appear to rank very highly among the best performers at this or previous World Cups. The German team was made up entirely of Bundesliga players!

Not only is the Premiership damaging the national team - but is also screwing up the rest of the domestic game. The lower divisions are being forced to pay way over the odds for players whose motivation is increasingly to their pay packets - and the overall result is that all but about half a dozen clubs are able to operate in financial stability.

It is about time the FA/Government stood up Sky and the Premiership - but then again pigs might fly!

At 10:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely spot on.

Since Sunday I've been reflecting on the attitudes of supporters in England. In recent years I've often left the Valley after a disappointing result to hear many fans complaining about a lack of effort and commitment. The old "You're not fit to wear the shirt" routine. "Where's the passion", that kind of thing.

I don't recall many "We weren't patient enough today"s or "we didn't pass the ball well enough"s. Absurd when you think about it.

But if you were a player and you have some idiot screaming "Get the ball forward" or are constantly getting booed for passing the ball sideways, what would you do?

What's worse, this stuff begins at around 5yrs old with red-faced, testosterone charged Dads living out their own fantasies on the touchline. We have no chance and I, for one, won't get fooled again!!

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 10:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey NYA, on a side note - What happened to your endorsing of Aston Villa as your supported premiership club? Did you start following them and just not blog about it, or did you just lose motivation for the project? (not that I blame you either way)

At 10:46 AM, Anonymous newyorkaddick said...

I have been following Aston Villa, in a fairly loose interpretation of the term. As a topic for blogging there wasn't really much to say in great depth.

Unfortunately the first game I saw live was their 7-1 defeat at Chelsea which made me wonder whether I wasn't better off just focusing on Charlton.

At 11:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 8:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 12:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A crowd is not company...................................................................


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