Minute ninety three in a goalless international match, a penalty kick has been awarded. The ball lies waiting on top the penalty spot, hoping for that powerful kick to end the surrounding motionless agony. The keeper, like a sentenced death row inmate, has nothing to lose. The referee gives the signal for the penalty to be taken and Lampard starts his march towards the ball. His run, synchronized and precise, fits perfectly with the flawless white shirt bestowed upon him by the Kingdom. He fires, scores, and England wins.
Something of that nature: dramatic yet successful, is the story that the British would have liked to have heard in every international tournament for the last eight years (that or that every rival is as soft as Moldova). However, international tournaments have been nothing but pain and suffering for England since 2006 (especially if it involves penalties). Such unsuccessful campaigns by the national team become almost absurd when you compare them to the level of play in the English Premier League (EPL). More so, if you believe (as I do), that the Premier League is the best football league in the world.
There are many hypothesis attributed to the reason(s) behind England National Team’s failure. Some pundits, point to the exceeding number of foreign players within every team in the EPL, others with a more depressive view of English football, believe that simply put: English players are not that good. Really?
Players like Gerrard, Lampard, Ashley Cole, Rooney, Ferdinand, Terry, all Champions League winners, not to mention Owen (Ballon d’Or), Hargreaves (Champions league winner twice, once with Bayern Munich and once with Manchester United) and the solid contribution of the likes of Neville, Hart and even Heskey among others first rate players, are not good enough to obtain any silverware at the national team level? I do not think that with players of this caliber, proven winners at the highest level, we can blame England’s failure on not having “good enough” players.
Therefore, maybe the reason for the England underachieving pattern is the large amount of foreign players in the EPL. Mmmm, that argument does not convince me either. Spanish and Italian teams have also large numbers of foreigners playing as starters and each of those nations has won a World Cup since 2006. For instance, Internazionale Milano has looked more like the Argentinian national team in the past decade than an Italian team, and in Spain, teams like Sevilla FC have had less than half of its players come actually from its homeland, in the same term. So, the foreign players’ avalanche is not the reason.
Hence, the explanation, or at least a great part of it, resides elsewhere. Where exactly? Well I believe England’s shortcomings at the international level spring from: the inability to translate and maintain a single tactical approach (style of playing) from the most successful teams in the EPL to the National Team. That is what makes any national team successful. To prove it, let us take a look at the most successful national teams in Europe since 2006: Germany and Spain.
First, the Germans, who have been a consistent winning machine, have found the majority of Germany’s national team starters primarily within two clubs: Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Furthermore, the same can be said for Spain; its national team has been comprised, in the past eight years, from players mainly in Barcelona and Real Madrid. Such duopolistic club (most players coming from only two clubs) approach to a national team allows for an easier understanding between the players and a smoother acquisition of a single style of play by the national team as a whole. It is only necessary to have watched the style of play and the manner Germany and Spain scored their goals, against Austria and Finland respectively, to see how the duopolistic approach works in an impeccable way. Germany’s goals look like a replica of countless Bayern and Dortmund’s goals. And the first and the decisive goal scored by Spain vs Finland, comes straight from Barcelona’s playbook. In other words, Germany and Spain play what the duopoly within them plays.
So, the solution to England’s national team’s failure is simple: call the overwhelming majority of players from one or two clubs (maximum) in the EPL and apply their style of play to the national team. I know it sounds like: take the best forget the rest kind of policy, and it is a little dictatorial, but: what has the democratic (best from each team in the EPL) policy achieved?
PS: The cohesiveness that the duopoly policy gives to a national team is even more important in regards to goal scoring, playing from memory makes the difference between winning by one goal when playing teams clustered defensively in their penalty box (art mastered by Spain’s national team) and settling for draws like England often does when playing the same defensive teams.