We still believe in the never say die attitude of English football fans before every major tournament bought upon by the 3 Lions anthem that’s been playing on our radio’s, in our cars, at our football parties for years. Along with that, the flags go up with pride, even the tacky little car flags flapping about in the wind, we go all out. Belief is one thing that us English football fans have never been short of, expectations always ride high before each and every major tournament, all bar our most recent effort at Euro 2012. I didn’t see half as many flags up, nor did I see as many shirts, I even got frowned upon by a fellow Englishman for wearing my St. George’s face paint.
With the tournament approaching, there was no talk that England can win this; in fact, they weren’t even expected to get out of the group stage. After all, they had only recently been introduced to their new manager Roy Hodgson, injuries had hit senior players and the all round expectancy of a makeshift team was low. Good, we’re underdogs that must surely work in our favour. You’d think that, but unfortunately this current crop of England players and staff did not offer the ‘go out and get at them’ tactics which most underdog sides would use; nope, we sat back, we contained and defended, even against Ukraine. We stumbled on our way through the group stages and came unstuck by a half decent Italy side who we let completely dominate the game in order to try and scrape through on penalties. We clearly didn’t read the script; England don’t win penalties, so why were we containing for a draw?
Roy Hodgson played down all chances of us getting anywhere before the tournament even started, stating he was building a team for the next World Cup. Fair enough, so if we were doomed in this tournament before we even started, why not play the youngsters? If we’re losing anyway, what does it matter?
Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck are both decent young players, and both had a really promising tournament, but unfortunately for us, ‘big named’ Wayne Rooney had to come back in and play the last group game, because it was written in the script, and he’s Wayne Rooney. This to me, is utterly wrong, why drop Carroll or Welbeck when they both did so well previously?
Anyway, the tactics, the squad, the manager, the formation, the line-up, the substitutions, none of this is why we as a nation have managed to produce flop after flop of a squad these last ten years. The problem goes much deeper than that; it’s a grass-root problem.
I remember the large amount of creative, exciting flair players that England possessed. The likes of Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes, Steve McManaman, Nicky Barmby, Chris Waddle, even Joe Cole in his youth. I could go on. But where are these types of players now? Yes, we have Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wayne Rooney who can both be that creative spark, along with Ashley young maybe, but they’re just so much more reserved and afraid to express themselves in today’s game. I guess the English on a whole are very reserved; it’s in our nature to be.
You could argue that the foreign influx of players in the English league has reduced chances for our young talent to come through and that statement is definitely true to a certain extent. But I truly believe it is the way that our own FA is teaching its coaches how to develop our players at youth level, to children as young as four.
Having been involved in FA coaching and completing my badges, I have witnessed first hand and do not like the way the FA teach us to coach. At the youth level, I have seen coaches pull players up for trying to beat a defender out on the wing and claiming they should have opted for an easier pass inside or backwards. I’ve seen this many times and I disagree with it. How are we going to encourage our young players to have the confidence to show flair and creativity when we are pulling them up on it at that age?
On the FA course, one of the first things I was told was to get across to youngsters that it is not about winning matches, it is about enjoying the game. Of course, that is the case and at much lower levels I agree with that, but when you are looking at potentially the next England central midfielder, the last thing you should be drumming into him is that it doesn’t matter if we don’t win, after all football is about winning games and scoring goals.
Another thing I’ve experienced on this course is how they encourage you to persist on putting youngster’s out of position and claiming it does not matter. For example, if you have a small, quick player, they claim you shouldn’t always put him out on the wings and maybe try him at centre back because you shouldn’t stereotype. That is insane, it’s far from stereotyping, and it’s merely getting the best out of your individual players.
The whole grass roots coaching system needs to go through a huge shake up, it needs to be revised to a way that we allow our young players to express themselves, so that we can produce the next Paul Gascoigne or David Platt. Until then, we will always be an average team.
In the meantime we just need to bleed new blood, we need to move out the senior players and bring in the youth. My next starting eleven for England would be in a 4-3-3 formation with wingers. Hart, Walker, Cahill, Jones, Bertrand, McEachran, Wilshere, Young, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Rooney. In there you have the creativity, pace and youth to be an exciting attacking team, we just need a manager who is bold enough to do it and to fight the media. I’m not criticising Roy Hodgson, he could be the man to do this, I’ve not seen enough of him yet though and the jury is out for me.
We all remember Euro 96 and the immense squad we had back then, Gascoigne’s wonder goal against Scotland. That was only sixteen years ago, things have declined at a youth level in that short space of time.
You only have to look at Germany to prove that my theory will work. After the Euro’s in 2000 when Germany failed, they overhauled their grass roots coaching and philosophy, and now look at them. They play exciting, fluent attacking football with pace. They defend well, they contain, yet they are explosive on the counter attack as England found out at the last World Cup.
With the nation’s opinions of the national side at an all time low, various pundits clutching at straws making excuses and claiming the tactics need to change. None of this would make a difference, we simply have to nurture our young players to a better standard and allow them to be free to do what they do best. Imagine if when they were coaching a seven-year-old Lionel Messi in Argentina, they told him he shouldn’t be trying to dribble all the time? Yeah, my point exactly!
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