June 23, 2014

Horse 1700 - Why Is England So Rubbish At Football?

"It's not about picking your star players... and he plays for Liverpool and he plays for Man United... it's about getting a balance of a side, which is going to get you a result and we never ever do.
And the media's as much to blame as anyone else... when we drop somebody or we play someone in a different position, we're on the case straight away. Why? Why? Why?  
Other countries go 'you know what? I've got good players but unfortunately, so-and-so is gonna sit on the bench tonight and are we bothered? No!' Until we get that way of thinking, how d'ya win football matches? You start from the back, right? Then you get organised and if you've got two or three creative players...  you build a side around certain players... and that gets your side balanced. It's not about having the best eleven players or the best eleven flair players you can find. And we never ever ever learn."
- Chris Waddle, on Five Live on the BBC, 19th June 2014

I find it a little bit odd that Chris Waddle should make these sorts of comments considering that it was him who missed that vital penalty in the 1990 World Cup in Italy, which gave West Germany the berth to the World Cup Final, which they would later go on to win. Maybe he's just venting and maybe he's actually right, I don't know.
The thing I don't understand is that even if you include the World Cup win in 1966, the England national side has always been relatively rubbish compared with the hype that goes around it. In 1966, apart from the final which they won 4-2, England never scored more than 2 goals a match; even in the final, they still only scored 2 goals in regulation time.
This leads me to suspect that actually, England has always been rubbish at national level; I wonder why.
England joined FIFA in 1906 but due to a falling out, left the organisation in 1924 and as a result, didn't rejoin until 1946 and missed the first three World Cups. In the 1950 World Cup, England failed to leave the group stage and even lost 1-0 to an amateur United States side. In 1953 England suffered a 3-6 defeat to the No.1 ranked side in the world, Hungary and then in the return fixture lost 7-1.
Even in 1953, the assumption that England was the best side in the world, was proven to be hopelessly and utterly wrong.

I'm going to suggest five reasons why I think that England has been rubbish at football for so long. Probably they're unfounded but if so, tell me.

1. Impatience
The English national team suffers from precisely the same fate as virtually every club in England; that's hardly surprising since the pool from which both management and players for the national side are drawn, is identical.
Take Liverpool for example. Liverpool as a club is a parallel of the national side. It has an expectation that it will do well, season after season but hasn't won a league title for 25 seasons. The English national team also hasn't won a single tournament, either a World Cup or a European Football Championship, at their last 25 attempts.
Why is this?

When Sir Alex Ferguson took over at Manchester United in 1986-87 it took him until 1992–93 to rebuild a side which nominally bounced around 11th, before they would finally win another league title. Likewise, the core group of players featured in the documentary "The Class of '92" would finally win The Treble in 1998-99.
Liverpool in contrast have, season after season, been looking to buy their way into the league title instead of looking to their own academy. If the lead time for a league title appears to be 6 years, then I don't see why this shouldn't be the same for a club or a country.

The England national side obviously can't buy its way into winning a World Cup (because unlike a club side, you simply can not buy players of another nationality) but it could in theory build a side if it were to take the time to do it. If England were to sack the entire first XI tomorrow, all of them, every single one, instead of trying to pick eleven superstars, then they could concentrate on finding eleven players who would all play together with the intent on winning the next World Cup.
The problem with picking eleven players who are "the best" is that they don't play together week in and week out; arguably, they don't link up well in regular play. This was particularly evident when England drew a blank against Italy and to a lesser extent against Uruguay. Wayne Rooney is a very good striker for Manchester United but unlike Raheem Sterling, I don't know if he was as adept at reading balls which came in from Glen Johnson who is Sterling's club team-mate as he was at reading them from his own team-mate Danny Welbeck, but I do know that Rooney was more anonymous for England than he was as he 19 goal scoring machine that he was for United.

2. Technique
When Aimé Jacquet took over the French national side in 1992 following the decision to award the hosting of the 1998 World Cup to France, he virtually fired everyone end blooded in as many young players as he possibly could. He also changed the mentality of the side which outraged much of the French press who demanded his resignation; however during a series of incredibly boring friendly matches, Jacquet developed tactics which saw France play through to the semi-finals of Euro '96 and only go out on penalties after two scorless draws against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic.

The real irony is that this 1998 French side, was watched by Arsène Wenger who developed this zonal sort of play for something that would work in England and his Arsenal side duly won the 2003-04 Premier League without a single defeat. This same sort of tactic became tika-taka under Pep Guardiola which earned Barcelona a sextuple.

After an horrendous Euro 2000 tournament by German standards when they failed to escape the group stage, the DFB (Deutscher Fußball-Bund) set about creating academies right across the Bundesliga, to foster youth talent. The DFB decided that coaching staff should also be trained through the academies and so now professional German coaching staff starts right at under-15's level of football. Although academies do exist in England, I'm just not sure if being highly commercial enterprises, that they even want to talk to The FA about a national strategy.

3. Socialism
As alluded to, the Premier League has a far more equitable method of dividing up television revenues to the various clubs.
Realistically there are three clubs in Italy which could win the Serie A: Juventus, Internazionale and AC Milan. In Germany there probably Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund and possibly VfB Stuttgart. In England though, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City are probably the most obvious, with Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle United who have all posed serious threats.
This means that the English Premier League is probably of greater depth than most other leagues and football generally in England is collectively stronger but the pinnacle is broader. This means that the core group of players who might form a national squad will come from as many as 15 clubs instead of about 6.

4. Poverty
Although Brazil has very much tried to sweep this under the carpet, poverty is a massive incubator for football skills. Kids who can not afford PlayStations and XBoxes, can afford to go outside and kick a football, even if it is really old and worn out. What they can not afford to do is stay in a favela and I wonder how many apply themselves to practising football, merely because they see it as their only real escape from poverty? Inadvertently, all those hours of street football, might produce skills and hone talents that can not be reproduced any other way; it probably also explains Argentinian football too.
I'm not sure if even the most ardent of right-wing supporters particularly like the idea of suggesting poverty as the reason as to why Brazil, Argentina or Uruguay seem to be so good at football but that might be because of the idea of moral recoil.
I wonder if during those years when England wasn't part of FIFA, during those years of pit closures during the 1920s, when people still worked in conditions that required hard labour, whether that work-hardened fitness would have translated to on-field fitness. Kids in the 1930s wouldn't have been able to stay indoors and eat Hula Hoops. England hadn't actually been beaten in a home international until 1949 and I wonder to what degree that was caused by a class of children from working class families who grew up with nowt else to do?

5. Opportunity Cost
The easiest way to explain this is to look at nations like the United States or Australia. Both the USA and Australia have massive resources that they throw at sport but in the case of the United States, their money goes to American Football, Baseball and Basketball and for Australia, money gets thrown to two codes of Rugby, Australian Rules football and cricket.
England also has this problem. Although more money comparatively is thrown at football, England has been relatively recent champions at Rugby and the number one Cricket test playing nation. Money and more importantly players which form those teams do not form the squads of national football teams.
I ask you, if Stuart Broad, Joe Root or Tim Bresnan had chosen to play football from a young age and not cricket, would they have been world class players there as well? Apply that across all sports and you have something which more closely follows Germany or Brazil.

What I do know is that England is rubbish at football and it is most certainly not in the commercial interests of clubs to correct the issue. Professional football clubs are businesses and players are their working assets. Having them injured whilst playing for the national side is a potential loss of revenues and there have been occasions in the past where the wishes of club and country have clashed. Maybe that's the biggest reason of all.
Last season, I've come to an estimate of TV revenues being worth £1,006,000,000 which by itself is worth more than 3 times that of The FA and that's not including any ticket or merchandise sales or revenues from Europa League or Champions League fixtures that the clubs might pick up and nor does it include individual clubs sponsorship rights.
Ultimately the biggest reason might very well be to follow the money and look at the Cui bono of football; who benefits? Is that the answer?

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