Same Old Story

Another tournament, another penalty shoot out, another photo of the beaten Enland team in the centre circle. Where does it all keep going wrong? Well I will tell you! Such is my disappointment – nay, despair – that I need to have a rant at the collection of idiots who are responsible for the repeated early demise of the England team at every tournament they take part in.

The first World Cup during my life time was Spain ’82. Do you remember the crushing 3-1 win over France, and Keegan and Brooking missing winners against the hosts in the dying minutes as England valiantly but vainly battled for that one goal they needed? How about Mexico in ’86 when we were genuinely cheated out of the cup by Maradona, but we nonetheless battled to the last minute, throwing everything at them – Lineker so close to touching in Barnes cross at the death? And then 1990, the most glorious campaign of them all, with great, gutsy displays against Holland, Belgium and Cameroon before eventually falling in the semi finals against the eventual winners on a penalty shoot out. And only then after putting up a remarkable battle.

Other than brief moments of glory at our own Euro 1996 under Venables, and in 1998 under Glenn Hoddle, there have been no repeat performances of the good old days, when we used to lose with the Three Lions flying proudly and defiantly, where we could claim our team had done themselves proud and gone out in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

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So where did it all go wrong? Well not only can I tell you where it started to go wrong, but I’ll give you the date and the solutions!

November 6th 1986 – the day Alex Ferguson was appointed manager of Manchester United. This man has done more to destroy the chances of England winning a tournament than any other individual. Of course, there are other factors and other people who have also contributed, such as the introduction of the Premier League and with it the vast influx of financial supoort to the game from TV and other sponsors.

But it was Ferguson who opened serious battle with the FA over players being called up for England duties, and he who started a club policy of withdrawing players from international matches with very dubious injuries that usually miraculously disappeared the following Saturday. Arsene Wenger has come along and been just as bad, but he was following a lead.

They both complain vociferously about the cost to their clubs when releasing players and both keep repeating the ‘football is big business, big money’ mantra.

Well football may be big business with huge sums of money at stake, but it is still meant to be a sport! Why does professional football exist? To entertain the paying customers – the fans! And for us it is a sport, solely a sport, about blood, guts and glory, not £’s in the bank. If you want to entertain us, concentrate on the game, give us the fantastic matches of old and for the love of God, support the England team which is by far and away the most important and supported team in our green and pleasant land! Sure, money has become more important than ever, and it is needed to help bring the English game up to scratch, but it shouldn’t be allowed to dominate over all other factors.

In Mexico, the national team withdraws it’s squad from the leagues a month before the World Cup for training. Brasil have a history of playing their best eleven at every game. Other countries are similarly focussed. But not the English. Which needs to change urgently. The power needs to be taken back from the clubs, and pride returned to the act of pulling on the white shirt of England. A strong and determined FA needs to be created from the weak and increasingly irrelevant organistion that today presides over the national game.

We should know pretty much what the team will look like for a tournament two years in the future, because we should see them playing the full 90 mins every time England play. Perhaps it is time to reintroduce the Home Nations tournament between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Extra competition, increase pride, help us remember what it is like to be winners! In fact there is no perhaps about it – it should have happened a long time ago.

Of course that will increase the amount of football played, which is also a problem. Time to reduce the Premier League to 18 teams and leave the League Cup to those in the Championship. I’m not in favour of a winter break though, I love my Boxing Day and New Years Day football, and if we managed to arrange things in such a way as to shorten the league season by a couple of weeks, and limit the number of mid week games, then we wouldn’t need it. I wasn’t crazy about the idea of removing replays from the FA cup, but they are practical. Perhaps just the final could be given a replay if necessary…

Lastly, I move on to the subject of Sven Goran Eriksson. Oh the joy of hindsight. After five and a half years we can finally look back and see why exactly he wasn’t the ideal choice to lead the English team. But the FA isn’t paid to look back in hindsight, they are experts who are there to know what we the fans find out years later. Clairvoyancy not needed, just a thorough knowledge of the sport and the english game in particular. What is our game about? Passion, strength, speed, flowing attacks from all directions, strong minded footballers with character, discipline, fitness….

So why did we employ a man whose main backgroud comes from the patient, defensive Italian leagues, whose tactical nouse was inclined towards the holding of a lead, whose passion was hidden beneath a thick sheet of ice, whose ability as a disciplinarian is questionable to say the least?

I like Sven, don’t get me wrong. And I think he is an excellent manager. But not here in England. We need a manager who appreciates the differences of the English style of football compared to our Euro brethren and who looks to utilise it so that it might fulfil it’s potential. Rather than attempt to change it. We can be proud of our League, our players and our game. Let’s show it to the world and let them enjoy it too.

There are causes for optimism in the future, regardless of the doomsaying of much of the media. We have a new manager who will understand the game here – even if there are enough question marks for the jury to still be out regarding his other qualifications. We have a new Wembley. We will have a new captain. A whole fresh start. And there were some bright spots in the World Cup. Steven Gerrard was good – great when Beckham and Rooney went off and he had his customary free role in midfield. A role he must be allowed to keep. Joe Cole was fantastic throughout the tournament. Not just pretty skills, but results too.

Crouch was perhaps the biggest surprise. I didn’t think he had what it takes on the international scene, but he performed admirably. Exceptionaly against Portugal, making himself available and easy to hit with long passes from a sieged defence, and holding the ball up well. Rooney may have seen red, but he is still the key to England’s future. Robinson is a quality goalkeeper who has now proven himself the undisputed number one. Aaron Lennon has what it takes too – I hope he moves to a big club to get big match experience and show what he can really do. Owen Hargreaves at last showed what he is capable of, when Sven at last managed to utilise him correctly. They are all young players and along with John Terry and Frank Lampard will be there for the next bash at glory.

But individuals don’t make a team. That’s what the manager is there for. And he needs help from the clubs, the FA and everyone involved in the English game if he is to make a success of it. So on to South Africa….

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