Waiting for England to prove me wrong, I held back on writing anything that might look foolish within days of posting. But it’s clear from their inept performance at the World Cup that something is seriously wrong in English football — from top to bottom.
I’ve written before about ‘the end of football’, which might sound dramatic but the financial constraints, burden and pursuit of profit at all costs has undermined the sport for nearly two decades — and remains unsustainable.
That said, England teams rarely perform with any passion, guile and fluidity. I caught glimpses of the 1982 World Cup and 1984 European Championships but it was only Mexico ’86 when I really started watching football. Sir Bobby Robson, rest his soul, never really did it for me with England. In my opinion, he got lucky in Italy in 1990 – talented bunch of footballers, yes, but a bit of luck got us through to the semi-finals. Most of the qualifying games and friendles, and the 1988 Euros in particular, were turgid affairs. Even back then we didn’t play as a team, very little movement and hardly a compact, organised unit. Retiring after his high point left many people with rose-tinted glasses.
The best England side I’ve ever seen was Terry Venables’ side take apart Holland in 1996 – a sublime partnership upfront in Shearer and Sheringham, Gazza in midfield and Pearce at the back. The early days of the Premiership but players proud to wear the shirt with some team spirit and a manager open to different formations, new tactics and getting the best of the most talented players. The now-largely abandoned 3-5-2, at least in international football, paid dividends and proved there was life beyond 4-4-2.
Getting rid of Venables was the FA’s doing and they don’t have great track record since our one and only World Cup triumph. Brian Clough was the best manager England never had – although Nottingham Forest would’ve been cut short in their prime had he been appointed in 1977.
The FA remain one of the most amateurish, bungling, outdated associations in any sport or business in the UK. Just look at the number of chief executives and chairmen they’ve had in the past decade; the waste of money and ongoing issues with the new Wembley; the colossal waste of cash on the likes of Sven Goran-Eriksson and Fabio Capello – men worth their many millions a year if they could bring success to the nation.
And the lack of understanding and relationship with the Premier League is embarrassing. Both pursue profit, both harm England’s chances.
I don’t believe England deserve to win a major tournament. I do believe we should be capable of competing with the best. This year’s World Cup is there for the taking, we only had to be as competent as New Zealand or Algeria in defence to stand a chance.
It’s clear the ‘golden generation’ have been the wasted generation. I’ve been of the mind that we should abandon anyone over 25 and start afresh but some experience is necessary. The likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard should have played their last ever game for England – Terry is the epitome of the malaise that affects modern players. Arrogant, disruptive in the dressing room and far too outdated for international football in the 21st century.
The future is blooding young players, planning for 2014 and beyond and establishing a style of football – a modern, fluid, flexible passing game – from the grassroots up. Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Wayne Rooney, Glen Johnson, Jermaine Defoe, Joe Cole and Steven Gerrard can keep their places for now.
But we should have faith in the emerging English talent in the game – because it does exist. Joe Hart, Michael Dawson, Kieran Gibbs, Chris Smalling, Ryan Shawcross, Jack Rodwell, Dan Gosling, Jack Wilshere, James Milner, Ashley Young, Adam Johnson, Gary Cahill, Gabby Agbonlahor, Tom Huddlestone, Michael Carrick, Micah Richards, Michael Mancienne, Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge, Lee Cattermole, Patrice Muamba, Andy Carroll… These are the young players of the future – not all of them will prove themselves at the highest level but there’s enough for a solid squad in years to come.
We shouldn’t be picking the best players regardless of position or performance; we should be picking the best players for the formation, for the style of football we want to play. Players who can move between 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1.
There is hope for the next decade — John Peacock’s Under-17 side offer great potential — but we need to be bold and I don’t see the FA doing that. Therein lies the problem.
Should Capello stay? Probably not, the buck stops with him. On the other hand, he’s a proven winner and new to international football – two years is a long time in club football but really not a long time as England manager. It would be nice to think he will learn from the mistakes, pick some new faces and impose a new order. After all, anyone else is starting from scratch…