End of the World – again

By , Posted on 26th June 2014 - Posted in: Sports And Design

Well, we lasted longer than Spain. Though both nations went out after two games, England did at least have an extra day’s reprieve. If Italy had beaten Costa Rica then we’d have lasted three games not two. Sure, expectations weren’t high before the World Cup got underway but most of us had hoped to progress a little further than this. Whatever it is we do wrong at these tournaments we seem to repeat time and again. It’s a simple logic: keep doing the same things wrong and you’ll keep failing in the same manner.

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And it doesn’t matter a jot that there are bright young players coming through the system, because there always are. For every Raheem Sterling there’s a Theo Walcott, for every Adam Lallana an Aaron Lennon. We’ve seen them all come and go haven’t we? It was all so positive when the lads flew out from Luton airport earlier this month, but the first stage in the ruining of the next generation has now been accomplished.

Rest assured that whatever romantic hopes and dreams were being nurtured in the minds of Jack Wilshire, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, and co in Luton now lie tattered and torn, courtesy of lesson one in ‘The Life of Being an England Footballer’. It’ll take a few more lessons yet before total mental disintegration is reached, but as these big tournaments come around every two years each of them will be completely shot as international players by the time they reach their mid twenties.

England v Italy: Group D - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

It’s not that they’re bad players, but mentally they have huge deficiencies.

At club level they can salvage serviceable careers of course. They can win cups, player of the year awards and be lauded within the narrow confines of Premier League World (¬©Greatest League on the Planet), but as far as international aspirations go they’ve had it and it’s tempting to conclude that nothing’s ever going to change because nothing ever does.

And yet there were signs we shouldn’t be unduly negative about it all. Certainly in the opening game against Italy England kept the ball far better than we’re used to seeing and at least attempted to go at their opponents with some verve and pace when opportunities arose. We’ve seen England perform less well in tournaments past yet managing to get through to the knockout stages.

I feel it’s a time for holding the collective nerve as far as the managerial position is concerned. Roy Hodgson isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and ultimately he may well come up short, but certainly he deserves a shot at the Euros in 2016. As for the major problems that underpin the English game, those are severe and require long term fixes. They do not lie at the feet of the current boss. The real fear is that we will continue to ignore the deep seated problems that cause things to go so badly wrong with the development of our players from seventeen onwards.

Our U-17 team won the European Championship in 2010 and again in 2014 and were also beaten finalists in 2007 and semi-finalists in 2011. In contrast the U-19 team shows a subsequent dropping off in performance. They finished as runners-up in 2005 and 2009 and made the semi finals in 2010 and 2012 (these competitions are held annually) and that’s about it.

The progress of young English players into our top sides is stifled by foreign talent but this doesn’t cover the myriad problems the senior national team has. For all the improvement in teamwork and passing demonstrated in Brazil our players are still uncomfortable under pressure and there’s still a general lack of a real identity. What’s our style? How do we play? What are we actually trying to do? You can identify most of the other big nations by the way they line up and move the ball around. At the moment England are caught between two stools, trying to move away from the traditional long ball game we should have abandoned years ago to, well what exactly?

One of the major problems for the FA is to identify a footballing philosophy that can be rolled out across all age groups of the national side. At least when players make the step up from U-17 to U-19 and then the senior side they’ll understand what’s expected of them.

Uruguay-v-England-Group-D-

But I repeat my view that the biggest problem our players have is mental. There’s a barrier to get over once a player pulls on the England shirt at full level. There’s no real belief and our lack of a solid philosophy feeds this. Negative traits are simply passed from one generation to the next. It would be beneficial to see some of our young talent test themselves in foreign leagues, in countries where they are forced to adopt different training methods and styles of play rather than see themselves loaned out to struggling Premier League or Championship sides. As it stands we have a massive inferiority complex all the bravado and bluster in the world fails to hide.

So for now it remains a familiar story. We’re out and the business end of the World Cup will take place without England. The usual hand wringing over it all is underway. We can but hope the day something is actually done has drawn another day nearer.

 

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