England has produced some of the brightest lights the world has ever seen, Beckham, Charlton, Lineker, Banks, Matthews, and they have had lengthy spells of dominance in European Football, but bizarrely only at club level.
When we introduce them to the international scale, they have continued to come up short of their fans’ expectations. I do not mean to say they have been completely unsuccessful, just that they have very seldom reached their presumed potential.
England have won the World Cup once, in 1966 on home soil, but their closest attempt at replicating that success came in 1990, when they came fourth. It’s no better when we examine the European Championship, which they have never won. In 2008 the country did not even qualify for these European Championship finals (following the ‘wally with the brolly’ incident) despite Manchester United and Chelsea having disputed the 2008 Champions’ League Final that May. It’s quite inexplicable.
“The conditions don’t suit us.”
Many tournaments have unravelled in scorching temperatures, which is often claimed to be counter productive to English football. However Ukraine in 2012 was sub-zero at times and England only lasted until the quarter finals before meeting an anti-climatic end at the hands of Italian superiors. We all remember that Pirlo penalty which truly showed the gulf in class between the players, a difference not just in nationality.
In Bloemfontein in 2010, Gareth Barry helplessly chasing Mesut Özil around the pitch was famously compared to an ageing night watchman pursuing an elusive urchin around a factory. Do the Italians and Germans live in starkly different meteorological conditions, hence leading to their success at international competitions? Not really, especially not the latter nation.
Is it simply a case of the jigsaw pieces not fitting together? On each piece you have a work of art, but its edges are not made to fit into those of its colleagues. At club level, the Premier League has chosen to glue these pieces together with imported adhesive. But is this a problem? I don’t wish to begin any sort of fascist argument whereby we discuss the number of foreign players in the English league, but we should at least consider the spreading argument that England’s starting line up against Italy on Saturday featured players from five different teams (all Premier League) hence leaving them disjointed and unfamiliar to each others’ play.
Sure we must consider it, but not for very long, as Italy’s eleven for the same game came from seven different clubs (six Italian, one French) and they played like brothers.
There’s something else wrong here.
Is it a problem with routine? Perhaps they spend too long doing drills and not enough time playing football together, getting used to each other’s movements. In his autobiography Andrea Pirlo puts great emphasis on off-pitch team bonding relating to on-pitch cohesion. Perhaps England are assembled too mechanically. Too much IKEA, too little Monet.
In 2012, the Guardian likened James Milner’s contribution against France to ‘a man stubbornly doing lengths of a swimming pool while a water polo match goes on around him.’ He was mechanical, given a line to run and told to run it, meaning he didn’t touch the ball for 60 minutes. Is it possible that a long history of disappointment has led managers to mistrust the natural creativity of the players? If this is the case then surely players like Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling should be cherished like gold dust in a white jersey.
For me the answer to hard questions in football can nearly always be found by looking to the youth, and the incoming generation of players can surely be a lift for England. There is no real excuse for not reaching one’s potential other than a lack of self-belief, and this is certainly not the case for the new batch. One can only be optimistic when you see a 19-year-old full of confidence dribbling past the experienced Giorgio Chiellini.
Perhaps we can give some validity to the argument of reliance on imported glue at club level for team cohesion, but now England are apparently starting to produce their own adhesives with naturally gifted and brave footballers.
English fans should be excited at the prospect of the current youth developing and representing their country, probably to no avail this summer, but with the World Cup in 2022 potentially being moved to England, their history of disappointment could soon be ended.
Cal Gray, Pundit Arena.