Sven, Steve, Fabio and now Roy. These are just a few of the names that have led England to successive failures at major tournaments. But the inability to move beyond the initial stages of these continental or global gathering is not just down to one person or even eleven players on the field, it is far more far-reaching than that.
It is so easy to focus all attention on one coach and his small group of players, indeed the media love nothing more than building up and bringing down individuals and teams to sell papers and receive clicks, but English football fails because of systematic issues.
Whilst European countries like Belgium, Spain and Germany have detailed and coordinated structures to develop their young players and allow them to achieve their potential, in England the landscape is dominated by the financial interests of the biggest clubs and the development of English talent is an afterthought.
Take former Belgium technical director Michael Sablon’s approach to restructuring the whole of the country’s football development system (via the BBC): “We needed to start again. At first it did not make me popular, but back then we had almost been forgotten as a football nation.”
Sablon changed the entire mindset when it came to the way young players were training, playing and developing. A particular brand of football was adopted, results were forgotten in favour of performances.
In England the FA has slowly started to wake up to the need for urgent change. In the past the size and physique of players was preferable to natural skill. Instead of producing potential Messis the country was more interested in Andy Carroll-like individuals; players who could dominate an opponent physically as opposed to running rings around him.
Now there is a focus more on performances than results. Pitch sizes have been altered to allow players to concentrate more on what they’re doing with the ball rather than having the physical endurance to last on a full-sized adult pitch. As the FA explained in a statement back in 2012:
“These positive changes have been put in place to improve enjoyment, fun and development of young players allowing more touches, on a better proportioned pitch with an increase of involvement in the game as a whole.”
It’s a good start, but these changes will be futile if the biggest English clubs continue to ignore the talent that is available on their doorstep and instead poach constantly from the rest of the globe. Whilst it is important to have foreign talent to help nurture and educate young homegrown players, the balance has swayed so much from pre-Premier League days that now most top teams only have a small minority of English talent in their squads.
As Sky Sports revealed in their investigation from last October, only three clubs have a majority of English talent in their squads.
In other European countries it is just not the case. German manager Uwe Rosler told The Telegraph: “The development system is better [in Germany]. In England we develop good youngsters, but what happens is they get lost, too many of them, at 18 and 19. That is where you need stronger regulations.
“You need to work out how to give younger players a chance to develop. And go only for the top, top foreign players rather than the average foreigner who blocks the young players coming through.”
Look at the likes of Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater, two players who were lost in the mess that is the English academy system but who managed to find a way to the top against the odds because of their natural talent. How many more Vardys and Drinkwaters are out there? How many more talented players go to waste because they are prevented from first-team opportunities due to a conveyor belt of foreign talent?
Marcus Rashford is another example, a talented young English player who was finally given a shot in the senior side because Manchester United were having a season to forget. His meteoric rise to the top showcases the untapped potential that is available in England.
Now Roy Hodgson will take the blame for England’s loss to tiny football nation Iceland and indeed he should take his fair share of the responsibility. The talent that he had at his disposal should have been good enough to get to at least the quarter-finals of the Euros and to put in such abject performances like that is unacceptable.
However, few people will be lining up to replace Hodgson given the state of English football. As long as the national side remains a sideshow, an afterthought or a distraction away from the Premier League and Champions League then few quality managers will want the job.
Without a coherent and coordinated plan involving both the FA and the clubs, England will always fail. Forget about one performance in the Euros, this problem cuts so much deeper.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena