Ozer McMahon discusses the current generation of English players and the challenges they face in trying to win a World Cup.
We all have a close link to the English Premier League, with a favoured team that we support without fail. Yet, when it comes to the fortunes of the English national team we scoff and wish them bad luck. It’s hypocrisy really because by following any English team and cheering for them on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon we are already supporting English football as a whole.
As is the case in a country where our own national league is underdeveloped and under supported we find ourselves aligned to the fortunes of those across the Irish Sea. Why are people so willing to walk the streets with the jerseys of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or whatever club you follow, yet for an Irish person to wear an English jersey would be seen as borderline treason?
Well , the obvious answer would be that most of our favourite players in the Premiership come from abroad. At United there is Robin Van Persie, Liverpool is the home of the mercurial Luiz Suarez, Chelsea have Eden Hazard while City fans pay homage to Sergio Aguero and Arsenal supporters adore Mesut Ozil. Technically we aren’t supporting an English team. Just because England is where they reside, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are British; and therein lies the problem facing the English national team.
As long as the top teams in the Premier League rely on expensive imports, the English team will continue to flounder below the world’s best teams.
What we already knew prior to this week’s international friendlies was that England are Brazil-bound in the summer while Ireland are not. For one reason or another the team we will find ourselves watching most is England. However, if their two games against Chile and a shadow Germany side are anything to go by, we won’t be watching for very long.
The depth of quality available to Roy Hodgson makes for grim reading. So much so that he name checked Wigan’s Callum McManaman prior to the Chile game as a potential “wildcard” player. No disrespect to the winger who impressed towards the end of last season, particularly in the FA Cup, but he is not what England should be looking to right now. McManaman is currently in and out of the Wigan team, who are sitting in midtable in the championship. Hardly an ideal prospect to make waves on the world stage.
In the last eighteen months,there has been a worrying recurring trend with England and it is the capping of any young English player that has produced a number of good performances in the Premier League. Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Andros Townsend, Jay Rodriguez and Wilfred Zaha are all players who now have international caps. Sterling and Zaha are yet to start league games for their clubs this season while Barkley is only emerging as a first team regular with Everton. Andros Townsend seems to be the only justifiable selection of this group, yet he made his impact on loan at QPR last season, and had Gareth Bale not left Spurs this summer, it’s highly likely the current darling of the national team wouldn’t have been involved in the England set-up at all this season.
England were grossly outplayed in two friendlies this week and lacked penetration. They could only muster two clear-cut chances between 180 minutes of football.
Hodgson seems confused by which system to utilise in order to get the best from the players at his disposal. As is often the case a brief look at England’s best eleven wouldn’t necessarily lend itself to being their most effective team. They are light on central midfielders at the moment but the return of Michael Carrick should go some way to offsetting that while dropping Wayne Rooney into the hole would allow him the space to create for those around him. It’s a position he is currently thriving in for Manchester United. Also, Steven Gerrard wouldn’t look so isolated in the middle if he had those two next to him.
Defensively, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill look to be the most plausible central pairing. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones did not do enough to enhance their prospects during the week while crucially neither regularly plays in this position for their club. While Leighton Baines was badly caught out for Chile’s first goal on Friday, his ability to deliver killer balls into the box outweighs his occasional defensive lapses as England’s routes to goal aren’t overly plentiful.
In order for England to progress the Premier League has to change. There are too many mid-ranking players involved with England due to the dearth of home-grown talent regularly plying its trade in the country’s top division.
Adam Lallana gave a good account of himself in the two friendlies and has the technical assets to be a success at international level but too many of the English players aren’t at that standard. Effective Premier League players they may be, but Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert, John Ruddy, Tom Cleverly and James Milner are not international players befitting a nation ranked 10th in the world.
England may win a World Cup again but it will be a long, long time until we hear them signing “Football is coming home”.
Pundit Arena. Ozer McMahon.