We are a historically great footballing nation. Albert Finney, Billy Wright, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gordon Banks, Gary Lineker, John Barnes and Paul Gascoigne are all legendary names that have donned the white of England and whose legacy still echo through to the present day. Legendary individual players, historic triumphs and timeless moments have seen England become one of the foremost leaders of the international game. We are a nation with a proud history and a proud football heritage.
However if you read the list of names above and then compare it with the current England side you can’t help but worry. We have grown used to having a wealth of strength in depth our squads, and we have been used to being able to field top-drawer players up and down the pitch. The blunt truth is, we do not have that luxury anymore. Perhaps more worrying to the crux of England fans is the manor in which we are performing. More creative and stylish play has at times been sacrificed for more orthodox and at times more ugly and rigid football. This isn’t a problem for me, but when the team goes forward there is a startling lack of synergy and creativity. And now even our qualification for the World Cup in 2014 (something taken for granted by most) is in jeopardy.
In the eyes of the fans and media alike – England are a worrying entity for all involved.
Even though results haven’t been great, I felt tactically England were maturing, but this is a step back to the dark ages of two lines of four.
Don’t like England playing this system. So easy to play against. Predictable and dated.
It’s not about playing in straight lines, it’s about playing between the lines. Depth gives flexibility, passing alternatives, creativity.
– Gary Lineker
It is at this point I feel like I should raise a couple of issues. Firstly, I appreciate it is too early to call this the “dark age” of English football. In fairness to Hodgson, he has been picking up some decent results (2-2 draw at the Maracana probably the highlight) and our team is still comparatively strong to others on the international stage.
Secondly of course, I feel it right to point out- why should England have a better team? Why should as an Englishman you have a irrational sense of self-righteousness about your national side? The simple response is that, we shouldn’t. We have no right to have a team better than anyone else’s and we have no right to automatically be considered favorites for every tournament we enter. But we have an undeniably richer history than most countries, and it would be hard to argue that we haven’t been one of the consistently strongest teams since the conception of international football. We have no god-given right to win, but this is a shock to the system. To cut a long story short, we are not as good as we used to be, and unless there are major changes it is a feeling we must get used to.
So what is the problem with this latest crop of players? For me the reasons for our dissatisfaction problem can be put into three categories:
1) Overwhelmingly unrealistic expectation
You feel that expectation has been the downfall of previous, more gifted England line-ups and I do sense that even though this side is one of the poorer sides we’ve had, there is still that expectation there. We take qualification to the World Cup for granted, we take progression in tournaments as if it was our right as England fans. This expectation is surely rubbing off on the players, and even if it isn’t it still leads to another problem. We are too quick to criticize England for their performance, but what we must realise is that they are probably performing in line with their ability.
2) The Premier League
Or as I now like to call it, the “Cosmopolitan Division”. Unlike many other European top divisions it seems that for many domestic clubs in England, the international side seems to be an afterthought. With the massive financial rewards at stake, the Premier League has promoted a culture of “win at all costs”, and it seems one of these costs has been the complete ignorance of bringing through English talent that has international potential.
3) A Generation of average players
Probably as a result of a combination of the increasingly global nature of the Premier League and just pot luck of this being a slightly poorer generation in ability. It seems that all of the new big prospects are either injured or are getting little playing time (Wilshere, Chamberlain etc) and that the current first team does seem to lack world-class players. Even the under-21’s seem to be a worrying prospect, after their appalling performance in the European Championships in Israel (losing all three games, scoring no goals from open play and fielding a side that looked at best like a good Championship side).
There is an English culture to presume that we will be an international success or at least that we will have one of the strongest international sides. But if you look around the world, there are many teams that have just as good sides as us. Asides from the obvious (countries such as Spain, Germany) historically smaller countries on the international stage are starting to usurp us in terms of quality (countries like Colombia and Belgium).
England manager Roy Hodgson now has the unenviable task of somehow making an international success of this crop of players- but I think we need to redefine what we think is an international success for England.
We are no longer the world-class side that we were 10 years ago and judging on the quality of the u-21 side we won’t be for a while, and we need to appreciate that. Until the structure of the Premier League changes and we start bringing through genuine world-class talent, then we desperately need to lower our expectations of what we can achieve.
We no longer have the god given right to waltz into the later stages of every competition we enter, because simply we are not the force we once were.
So, lower your expectations Englishmen, or prepare for yet more disappointment.