The problems with modern English football
The England team's underachievement has its roots in the Premier League.
When Martin Tyler says the Premier League is the best league in the world, I wonder if he really believes what he’s saying. What has transpired in recent years coupled with every major tournament that comes by just reiterates the deficiencies in the English game.
It’s no secret that the commonly accepted and totally perpetuated narrative is that the Premier League’s overseas contingent are far too numerous; and that drastically reducing it would somehow ensure that young English players would suddenly become as technically adept as their international counterparts.
This, is a view that is as banal as it is delusional. Everything is always someone else’s fault, isn’t it?
The media, FA and numerous commentators and pundits alike are guilty of buying into the narrow-minded opinion that the perennial failures of the Premier League/England team are caused by having too many foreign players.
Although statistics demonstrate that roughly one in every two players in the EPL comes from an overseas country (actually 55%); the same can be said by looking at Italy’s Serie A (52%) and in Germany’s Bundesliga (50%), which constitute amongst two of the best leagues in Europe, if not the world.
Footballing powerhouses such as Italy and Germany always reach international tournaments and often win them whilst having a broadly comparable percentage of foreign players at their top clubs, and yet this does not inhibit them from producing the talent to compete at the highest level.
The argument of “too many foreign players” falls under the weight of its own internal contradictions for the following reason; the truth is, if the FA enforced a system where English players were made to play week in, week out as most pundits are clamouring for, this would almost certainly result in a drastic decline in the standard of football played in the Premier League.
What the overriding consensus fails to conceptualise is that the Spanish players who make up the Barca’s, Madrid’s and Atletico’s along with the German players that constitute teams such as Bayern, Wolfsburg, Schalke and Dortmund are players that would competitively challenge to get into any squad in the world.
For example, take Xabi Alonso. At 33 years of age, he left Real Madrid for Bayern Munich and had to compete with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Thiago, Javi Martinez and Sebastian Rode for a place in the starting XI. However, he did just that and earned a place in the XI, helping the Bavarians win their third Bundesliga title in a row.
In an attempt to mitigate the problem, the FA’s ineptitude and failure to recognise the true issues at hand has created a system of myopic administrative decisions, namely, the inflated prices of English home-grown talent.
Although, I find the new and elaborate ways in which managers validate the financially pornographic price-tags of home grown talent entertaining; I’ve always wondered how they can sit there and honestly and pay credence to a system that values players in terms misguided potentiality as opposed to actuality.
Well, it’s simple. The Premier League and the FA have created a rule that states that each team needs to have a minimum number of ‘British players’ in their teams (Eight to be exact).
Now there can only be a certain number of good English players and consequently, the proverbial stampede to sign the limited number of English players automatically increases the price of half decent English players.
When all of this is factored in with the fact that most English players are not as technically competent as their foreign counterparts, it exacerbates the issue as clubs paying £20 million for a British player where the Spanish or German equivalent would cost half or even a quarter of the price.
Coupled with the pressure of delivering on such high price tags, more often than not results in flops or underachievers such as Tom Cleverley, Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing to name a few.
Perhaps more pertinently, this creates a culture that breeds a systemic fear in both the management and the players. A factor which, dictates the dogmatic, one-dimensional football England fans are accustomed to seeing on a regular basis. This is also a huge reason why the current English side play within themselves so much.
The Wayne Rooney of old (Euro 2004) – why was he great? What was all the buzz about? He was without fear. He played with freedom and risked anything at any time because he didn’t know enough to be afraid.
Players should be free to express themselves, find their own style, develop their abilities and become comfortable and autonomous with techniques and skills involved in football. But they are not – a factor, which has been eluded to numerously in relation to the state of academy football and the nurturing of young English talent.
Despite what I’ve previously stated about misguided potential, England and the Premier League have the infrastructure in place to push the boundaries of excellence in the game. But the nation has absolutely no patience for allowing that to develop. They want an instant 1966, and if three games go by without a decisive wins, there are calls from numerous outlets for lineup changes.
Unless things change, England will continue to occupy an undeservedly high spot in the FIFA rankings and will underachieve based on that.
Once we adopt a different philosophy, that is more team orientated and not the individual players of which the team is comprised, then and only then, will there be real and sustainable change.
Until then, the state of the English game will continue to spiral out of control and will be constantly on the lookout for something or someone else to blame.