Tuesday, 29 June 2010

How do you solve a problem like Team England?

Before wa talk about solutions lets have a nice sober look at the problems we face with English football. We gave the world the sport that has now surpassed all others as the King of sports, more popular than any other, if you made four piles of jumpers and threw a ball at 22 people , there would be a game even if they didn't speak the same language. So why is it that the land whence sprung the funny old game cannot field a decent side in the World Championship of the sport it invented?

I'll start at the peripheries and make my way to the core of the matter slowly as it's worth looking at it from a few angles. My first target is a press machine that fuel our vanity and expectations like delusional parents telling their 5 year old they're brilliant on the piano even if we're rubbish. Of course we'll go all the way, that loss to Malta or Northern Ireland was an aberration, we played the C side , it was cold, it was wet, it was too dry, the pitch was to blame. We will triumph over all comers and bring to an end 44 years of pain. Then the lads get on the plane for South Africa, the already frenzied war drums and shrieks reach a terrifying level of insanity that make Joseph Geobles seem reasonable and measured in his expectations of the players. Once there, the media machine crank it up to ludicrous levels with adverts exhorting us to "Do it for Bobby", Brian Blessed shouts at us to excel and take no prisoners. After a while of this you begin to think they surely they wouldn't go to these lengths if were utter shite? They must be as good as they say they are, Com'n lads, make us proud! For Bobby , for the Busby Babes, for the Hillsborough victims, for the soldiers in Afghnistan, for little baby Baz and his Mam and his dog.....YOU CAN DO IT. Imagine being one of the players so assaulted by all this pressure, all those hopes and dreams on your well paid pampered shoulders, can YOU resist maybe getting a bit nervous? Then the inevitable crash as manager and players board the bus emblazoned with ironic words like Glory and Pride. The inquisition in the various media begins even now with huge banner front pages crowing the news of the returning prodigal sons who are not worthy of forgiveness, their clueless manager talking of meetings and deadlines. These hapless inadequate ambassadors, once heroes, were never as good as advertised and the press knew it, The FA knew it, Murdoch knew it, WE knew it. But the red tabs, television networks and various promoters were not going to let that wee detail stand in the way of a massive marketing exercise designed to make millions for certain parties involved. A World Cup without England? Sepp Blatter would rather kiss a cucumber in public than miss out on all those supporters, I mean travelling parties. The Sun wouldn't sell as many papers, and ITV would have an even harder time getting us to watch James Corden. And now the Jackals fall on the players like some kind of tsunami of hate and shame. Indignation and anger following every word photo and page. Hardly the kind of behaviour conducive to a realistic branch and root review of football.

Next goat in this tragicomedy of errors is the combined ego and power of the Premiership. These clowns pay ever increasing wage packets to players who rightly believe they are above most people and clearly superior to any mere mortals within a golden age of them. Not content to inflate wages and egos the Premiership goes out of it's way to staff teams with only the caviar of footballers. Real Madrid may have its Galacticos, but the Premiership is the richest and most expensive league on planet Earth. Filled with the great and nearly great from all over the globe, If you're Jimmy Grimble trying out for Man City, you won't get a game until all the overpriced talent have a go first. Little wonder England can't find a decent back four, midfield or goalkeeper. If every foreign player left the Prem today, the top 6 teams would be so strapped for players it would allow in form mid table sides to grab top spots. One of the worst talent deficits is in the goal keeper gap. Peter Check, Edwin Van der Sarr, Shay Given, Brad Freidel, all are better than the two keepers who to played for England in the last 6 years. West ham and Portsmouth, powerhouse teams that finished so close to bottom you could smell the fear months ahead of the last day.

This next target is the one I know you'll find most amusing. The oddball collection of managers the FA has hired and fired since Svenn Goren Useless. First offence, they to a man ignored the wealth of under 21's and assuming the collection of passionless mercenaries could be made to play as a team, they still needed somebody they could respect. Maradona, Dunga, Lippi, Hiddink, all command the respect of their teams. They say jump the players ask, how high sir? But our wastes of space would take any order from Keegan, McManaman or Shearer as a suggestion and an invitation to question the manager's wisdom. The only man who manages in England that could do the job is Alex Ferguson. None of these soft babies would dare talk back to him. More importantly, apart from some very strange formations and subs a few year back, Fergie has clearly got it right with his lads. I suspect Wenger would do as well. They both understand the English game and the players and they have the weight of experience and authority of award winning seasons to impose their thinking. Something Sven to Capello were not able to do. You can take 22 of the best anythings, but if you don't turn them into a team they are worse than bad, they are an accident waiting to happen. One of the huge mistakes Capello made was to choose players not fit for purpose, did not require the players to seriously try out with real risk of being dropped. Treated the players like monks or children, not mega stars with a routine that for better or worse produces results. He then locked them up away from family and friends doing more practices than ever did at their club sides. Hermetically sealing these players was only ever going to lead to one thing, they would get tired sloppy and loose focus. Lastly he never varied 4-4-2. Arsenal got rumbled that way by the end of the run of 49. There is a school of thought that states if Odin himself came down to boss England, he couldn't get these Toffs to put in a single half of decent football.

Lastly the Players. Any group of lads who know they need to be healthy for MAN United, Chelsea, Arsenal, or Liverpool, cannot be expected to give it their all for England. Is it any wonder we saw the spectacle of a manager and selected players get trotted out to give post match interviews all singing the same drug induced cheerful message that the team played well, they were unlucky to get the goal not given, and had it counted, who knows how great they would have been. Honestly, they were lucky it wasn't 8-2 Germany. Capello is realistically looking at loosing his job, even it is the insane asylum better known as the English FA. He should be made to give the money back and go home now.

So how do we fix this? "Simples" as a certain meercat would say. First we accept that we won't qualify for Euro, that we won't qualify for the next World Cup and that the current crop of England caps will be told to finish their days at club sides while England do the following drastic treatment.

1- Look at the under 21's and under 19's. Form a team that will compete from here in against the rest of the World in European and WC qualifiers.

2- Conduct a two year program during which the length and breadth of Great Britain is scoured to find and train up the next great goal keepers needed to dramatically improve the chances of England Wales Scotland and NI.

3- Finally implement the dream of Trevor Sir Brooking whereby we install a full training system throughout Great Britain that will produce enough quality players to fill every Football team in every division twice over with Keepers, defenders, mid-fielders, sweepers and strikers. These player will then replenish the Leagues and develop into powerful talented players that will be diverse enough that even an amateur trained on FIFA 2010 could at least cruise through the qualifying without any embarrassments.

4- Un-tarmac the pitches turned over to car parcs for the London games or other such sacrifices perpetrated to local parcs over the last few years. Convert a large number of 11 a side pitches currently being used by 10 year olds into 7 or 8 aside pitches with smaller nets. If you keep it proportional, the young players will learn and develop better.

5- Bring in total football, teach players enough skill to respect and understand how other positions play. Look how the Brazilians broke down Mexico. It was the kind of multitasking you just don't get with English players. We all want to be the hero and score the goals, but somebody has to be stopper, somebody has to defend, somebody has to feed the ball up to the front.

6- Reduce the wage packet to only 30 times that of a teacher per year. Limit the number of non local players a club can bring in and lower ticket prices by the amount saved.

7- Force players who want to play for England to compete in open trials for spots. No player should ever be allowed to think he can just walk into a spot because he's at Chelsea or Real Madrid. Besides, if we implement the above, they will have to worry that some younger better player won't pip them.

Do I think this green and pleasant land will come to pass? A man can dream.

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