As the dreaded international break has come and gone yet again, it only seems fitting that I write a segment on the enigma that is the England Football Team and why their brand of football has become increasingly stagnant as time has gone on.
“Fed up of hearing about the Glory Days”
If you are under the age of 60 it is highly likely that watching the England national team has seldom been an enjoyable experience over the years. We are forever left wondering why our only saving grace is the success of ’66 which few of us were alive to even witness. That undeniable feeling of hope washing over the nation prior to every major tournament still exists but deep down we all know that barring a “Leicester style” miracle we are going to be set for more and more disappointment from our nations best players.
So I am going to dissect the issues passed down from the players of yesteryear and look at whether the latest crop of “future stars” have what it takes to end the years of despondency amongst the fans. Don’t hold your breath.
“Representing your country doesn’t mean as much as it used to”
When watching the England players of today it seems like representing their country is more of a chore than an honour. This is something that has only occurred within the last 10 years as the game has become far more commercialised. There is now a severe lack of Stuart Pearce and Terry Butcher type players who would leave everything on the pitch and give their all for the country. The iconic images of Gazza’s tears in Turin or Pearce’s battle cries at Euro 96 resonate with fans up and down the country as they show that the players clearly felt like there was a duty bestowed upon them every time they stepped out on to the pitch in the England colours to give their everything, as the hopes of a nation depended on them. It now seems that the modern players are so spoon fed and mollycoddled by their clubs that this type of passion has been sucked out of them entirely, which ultimately is reflected in the results when it matters on the big stage.
“Lack of homegrown talent in the Premier League”
It is no secret that the Premier League is regarded as the greatest league in the world. With this being the case it is obviously a huge lure to players across the globe, to the Premier League big wigs this is significant advantage over other leagues whereas to the homegrown talent which is writhe across the country it isn’t so beneficial. It’s very rare that a young English player solidifies a starting berth within the first team of a top flight side, the more familiar scenario is that they represent the Under 23s until they are no longer deemed an upcoming talent and are shipped off to a lower division side. As with any trend there are also anomalies such as Marcus Rashford bursting onto the scene at Manchester United when they were amidst an injury crisis and he hasn’t looked back since, or Harry Kane not giving up after numerous loan spells away from White Hart Lane and he has now flourished into one of the most lethal strikers in world football.
In the most part the issue stems from the Premier League and FA’s lack of involvement with the grass roots game as they would rather look overseas than develop their own. As this trend looks set to continue it seems there will be far fewer ‘Class of 92’ style stories until big changes are rolled out by the aforementioned governing bodies.
“The English have many traditions such as, eating a roast on a sunday, dunking biscuits in your tea and bottling major footballing tournaments”
If you could win tournaments based on the names on the team sheet alone then England would be an international powerhouse, unfortunately that is not the case and our national team are somewhat of a laughing stock amongst the “Big Boys”. It is often considered that the failures lie with the numerous big egos that were in amongst the squad and that they are more focused on the headlines for themselves rather than the results for the team. Despite this it is still bewildering how we have had no success at all (winning all 10 qualifiers is NOT classed as success!!)
In 2006 our squad consisted of Beckham, Gerrard, Ferdinand, Terry, Scholes, Owen all in their prime years and the small matter of an upcoming youngster by the name of Wayne Rooney who had been scoring goals for fun back home. Despite this incredible squad all we could muster was a third successive major tournament quarter final defeat under the guidance of Sven Goran Eriksson, again to the ever so frustrating Portugal side and this time Rooney was stealing the headlines for all of the wrong reasons.
In previous years it had always been a case of lack of creativity in the final third or sloppy mistakes against more talented sides where defeat was not an unimaginable concept. In 2016 however this was not the case, arguably one of the most disappointing games in recent English history. Iceland. Myself and I am sure many other England fans must’ve saw the round of 16 opponent and already had one eye on the potential Quarter Final fixture. Surely even England couldn’t mess this up?
Ah, the naivety of an English fan.
We lost 2-1 to a country where if you are male and aged between 20-40 you have a 1 in 2000 chance of playing for the national side. To put it in perspective, Cristiano Ronaldo has 178x more twitter followers than Iceland has people. The worst part about this was that it wasn’t undeserved. Iceland had the passion of a family, and that was the catalyst for their display. Humiliation for the nation that is supposedly the home of beautiful football, try telling that to Eriksson, Capello, McClaren, Hodgson, Allardyce and so on.
Now with Southgate at the helm and World Cup qualification almost secured could England finally be seeing a the beginning of a new era or will the reluctance of the FA to bring in a proven manager come back to bite them yet again?
“Summer of success for the young lions”
A beacon of hope came in the form of England’s youngsters this past summer, perhaps giving an insight into the future or perhaps more likely showing how football can be played at its purest form before the lure of lucrative contracts and the luxury lifestyle come into play.
I have compiled a list of 3 players that I feel could have a big impact on the England team in the coming years. (My previous footballing predictions have included Connor Coady to become a future Liverpool captain and that Andy Carroll would prove to be a better signing than Luis Suarez when they both joined in 2011. So do not be surprised if all of these fail to live up to the hype)
JOE GOMEZ – LIVERPOOL – CB/RB – 20 YEARS OLD
I have watched Gomez keenly since his arrival at Liverpool and was incredibly impressed when he slotted into the starting 11 in his debut season, that was until frequent injuries kept him sidelined until Spring 2017. Recently he has picked up right where he left off, in Liverpool’s 4-0 demolition he did an exemplary job of keeping Alexis Sanchez quiet for 90 minutes as well as putting in a man of the match performance for the Under 21’s vs Latvia, a decent way to celebrate being announced as Under 21’s captain.
He displays superb aerial dominance as well as an impressive tackle completion percentage which are key components for any Premier League quality defender. This doesn’t tell the whole story though, his versatility allows him to play in either full back position to full effect where he shows composure on the ball , an eye for a forward pass and the tactical awareness to position himself in both the correct defensive and offensive positions.
ADEMOLA LOOKMAN – EVERTON – RW/LW/CAM – 19 YEARS OLD
Another Charlton Academy graduate looking set to make his mark on the English game with a bang. Known for his ability to carry the ball with purpose and his direct approach in and around the penalty area makes him a nightmare for defenders. He possesses great versatility across the front line meaning that he can change his approach throughout the game to avoid being shut out entirely by the opposition.
He also demonstrated composure in front of goal during his debut Premier League campaign most notably against Manchester City on his debut coming off the bench to put the game to bed, talk about a baptism of fire for the 19 year old.
Everton seemingly have a solid core of young English talent within their ranks with the likes of Tom Davies, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Mason Holgate, Jordan Pickford who are all poised to make a big impact in the Premier League alongside Lookman.
DEMARAI GRAY – LEICESTER CITY – RW/LW – 21 YEARS OLD
Perhaps the most established player on the list as he is now on the verge of a starting berth at Leicester and more than likely a big move to a top 6 side in the near future. He has an abundance of raw pace which can spark life into any game and is the perfect player for any team which likes to play with obvious width.
Of course he has the obvious attributes of any wide player such as pace, flair and direct running style, but what makes Gray that little bit more special is his eye for a wonder goal, in particular his strike at Old Trafford last season which caught the attention of many. It has been mentioned that his decision making needs some work but with a player that obtains so much natural ability with the right nurturing the sky is his limit. He is currently the star of a talented Under 21’s side and I would not be surprised for him to get a call up to the national side in the very near future, and who knows if he has the season that he is capable of then perhaps an outside chance of a call up to the 2018 World Cup side.
“The future is bright, but then again it always has been”
We can sit and hope that we will see silverware lifted in our lifetime but who knows what the future holds. I am certain that I will always watch England with the same optimism as always but hopefully with a different outcome in the future. The talent is certainly there it is just time for the passion and pride to come back.