Monday, 28 June 2010

England disappoint again - so what exactly is wrong with football in this country?

Fabio Capello's England were soundly beaten yesterday, suffering their biggest ever defeat in any World Cup at the hands of arch-rivals Germany. This has resulted in the great debate surrounding the England national team being opened up once again, but do criticisms of Capello, lamentations of our 'golden generation' and its inability to shine on the international stage really address the systematic problems afflicting the English game? As far as I'm concerned England's failure is less down to tactical errors, individual mistakes and a lack of passion amongst the players deemed to be our best, but moreover due to the key issue that is a lack of sufficiently talented English players coming through the system. It is my opinion that as long as the Premier League remains primarily an organisation designed to make money for its 'members', as the twenty clubs essentially can be described, England will never have a successful national team. For it takes a far smaller outlay to improve youth facilities and promote younger players into the first-team than it does to bring in a player from overseas that has already undergone the necessary training and development, but sadly it is also a far more lengthy process.

Now I'm not for one minute suggesting that the Premier League would be better off without the likes of Fernando Torres, Robin van Persie, Didier Drogba, Luka Modric or Carlos Tevez. All of these are excellent players because they add so much to the Premier League viewing experience and undoubtedly contribute to the success of English clubs in European competitions. However it is the average foreign players, who are able to be purchased cheaply, and I use the term loosely, by Premier League clubs, and take the place of perhaps equally talented young English players. In 1990, prior to the foundation of the Premier League, the majority of clubs in the First Division had only a handful of foreign-born players in their squads, and a majority of those 'foreigners' were Irish. Due to the dearth of English footballers in the Premier League currently Irish players are often regarded as 'domestic' footballers, such is the deterioration that has occurred. Sadly as long as the Premier League continues to generate huge wealth for the clubs lucky enough to be competing in it, there will be no improvement and the number of English players in the division will continue to diminish. In 2008 just 34% of players in the Premier League were eligible to play for England, a frankly embarrassing statistic that demonstrates the true extent of the problem.

Yet is the Premier League the only organisation us beleaguered England fans can attribute our national team's failure to? Perhaps another major reason for the lack of English players in the top division is the inherent problems in the way players are trained in this country? Instead of being taught discipline, and focusing on strength and pace from an early age, why aren't young English footballers encouraged to develop their technique, play with flair and enjoy their football? Instead of being made to play on large pitches too early on in their footballing development, players should be encouraged to develop their individual skill. As far as I'm concerned it isn't a coincidence that England lack players able to put through a killer pass, keep possession of the ball for extended periods, or unlock games through a moment of individual brilliance. England players at the highest level look to be scared of the ball, desperately lacking in confidence in front of goal, and devoid of any tactical understanding.

The problem doesn' even stop there, for if as has been suggested there is a crisis surrounding English footballers, the issue with coaches and managers from this country is if anything even more pressing and severe. Not only is there an almost total lack of skilled, experienced, tactically-sound managers at the highest level, the problem is reflected at every rung on the footballing ladder. Managers lack the understanding of how to play a sophisticated, some might say 'European game', and this is reflected by the England coaching crisis. Every time we fail at an international tournament, if it is an English manager who has disappointed the nation, we call for a foreigner to take his place, and vice-versa. This is not a healthy situation. The fact that some people have clamoured for such figures as Glen Hoddle and even Alan Shearer to take over the England hot seat demonstrates that in the absence of any successful, adequately talented English coaches in charge of top clubs in the Premier League, we return to the tried, tested, and ultimately unsuccessful formula of hiring a famous former England player. Has this worked over the years? No it hasn't.

Finally we come to the FA. An organisation unable to direct or dare I say even influence the future state of football in this country, which has systematically failed over the past few years to manage its finances, encourage the development of young talent, or keep control over the Premier League. The fact is that the Premier League operates entirely independently from the FA, a situation which has been allowed to continue since it broke-away from the Football League in 1992 in pursuit of financial gain, to the detriment of our national team. Now there may not be any way for the FA to re-establish itself as the key footballing body in this country, or for it to correct the abysmal situation of English players being forced out of Premier League sides due to the huge monetary rewards that division is able to offer its members, but why is the FA so perenially weak and incompetent? Surely a strong, well-run organisation that genuinely cared about the state of football in this country would press for a stringent limit on the number of foreign players in English teams, from the Premier League down to non-league football?

The FA is certainly not this. The fact that since Ian Watmore resigned in March of this year a replacement has not been found shows that the FA is nothing but an amateurish, weak organisation representing all that is wrong with our great national game. Furthermore the decision to give Fabio Capello a brand new contract lasting until 2012 before his England side had actually been tested at a major tournament, in the knowledge of the financial costs that would be involved in terminating his contract should England fail to meet expectations, was at the least shortsighted and unprofessional and at the most scandalous. Personally I see no way forward for English football whilst the Premier League, a grouping of professional football clubs born out of vanity and greed and continued in the same vein, and the Football Assocation, a weak, incompetent, catastrophically-run organisation that is frankly not fit for purpose, continue to be the main bodies representing our inadequate, over-paid, passion-deficient, tactically inept so-called 'golden generation of footballers'. Notice that at no point during this rant have I needed to mention in any detail England's disastrous defeat yesterday. What a sad situation we currently find ourselves in.

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