The Future of English Football. Quite a grand title we’re happy to admit, but as England successfully came through two crucial games which decided if they would qualify for the World Cup Finals next year in Brazil, suddenly the doom and gloom and talks of a repeat of 1973 were replaced by cautious optimism (once the talk of astronauts and monkeys had died down). While the seniors were doing their bit, the optimism was helped along by a couple of positive performances by the under21s. In addition, the new FA Chairman, Greg Dyke was busy putting together a commission to investigate the alarming decline in the number of English players in the starting line ups of Premier League teams. I don’t pretend to have all the answers as to how English football moves forward after the inevitable exit from the World Cup on penalties (or something similar), but I’ve certainly got some fairly strong views. In this three part series, I’ll take a look at the FA, the Premier League, youth development and the EPPP amongst many other things.
A recent study on behalf of BBC Sport found that in terms of minutes played in the Premier League, English players accounted for just 32.26%, which is more than 3% lower than five years ago, and significantly lower than when the Premier League was formed in 1992. Don’t forget also that one of the supposed benefits of the Premier League (at least from the FA’s point of view) when the idea was first discussed was an improved England team. There has been precious little evidence to suggest that the Premier League has done anything to improve the performance of any of the UK’s international teams, however to lay the blame squarely at the Premier League’s door would be overlooking too many other factors. And after all, it’s not like England were winning World Cups or European Championships in the 25 years prior to 1992 either.
But first let’s take a look at the England team. Are they really as bad as everyone is making out?
An interesting book to read on this subject, is Simon Kuper’s Why England Lose, which by statistical analysis suggests that England actually perform rather well. This is unlikely to wash with the majority of the English football supporting public, let alone with the press who hammer the national team at every opportunity. But nevertheless, England will participate at the World Cup Finals in Brazil in 2014, having qualified for every competition since 1994. And before that, the previous failure to reach the finals was 1978. Yes, there have also been some failures to reach the intervening European competitions, but the fact remains that England are in an era where they have less than 40% of qualified players playing regularly in their main national division, and despite some less than inspiring performances on occasions, and overlooking suggestions that their group was easier than others, they have qualified for the World Cup automatically.
However, even the most passionate fan of the national team will concede that England are as unlikely as ever to win the competition next year. So what can be done to improve the prospects for future World Cups?
The new chairman of the FA, Greg Dyke is trying to be proactive in his efforts to improve the international team’s performance, despite being extremely handicapped by the efforts of his predecessors. After publicly outlining his goals in trying to produce a competition winning England side, Dyke has recently put together a commission to draw some conclusions on what is going wrong and what can be done to improve the situation. However, the project has come under much criticism for a number of factors, but mostly related to those who are on the commission. Some has been justified, others such as comments by FA board member Heather Rabbatts were wide of the mark. The Commission should be made up of those whose contribution would be beneficial to the outcome, irrelevant of skin colour, and such remarks only go on to suggest the recent addition of Rio Ferdinand to the group as a case of ticking boxes.
Inevitably, the absence of any representative from the Premier League makes the whole thing rather pointless, as ultimately, (and unfortunately), they hold the keys to power in football in this country. For me also, there is an absence of anyone from the grass roots of the game, so again a leading football figure is failing to recognise where some of the major problems are in the game. Glenn Hoddle and Roy Hodgson with their experience of managing the England team, as well as their experience abroad are understandable. What about someone like Alf Galustian whose Coerver Coaching methods we’ve banged the drum about on this blog, and who have proven to be popular not only in this country but worldwide? John Cartwright, the former Arsenal and Crystal Palace coach is another who believes in similar coaching methods to Coerver and has served on the FA in a technical capacity would also provide some excellent feedback, particularly as he continues to work at all levels of the game. I expect that the commission will come up with some fairly standard and predictable answers and look at the issues at the top end of the game like too many foreign players, rather than examining the root cause of the problem, such as why English players are not considered good enough.
In part two of this article, we take a closer look at one of the notable absentees from Greg Dyke’s commission – The Premier League. Can they, and should they, be doing more to raise the standards of the national teams? And what are they currently doing to help develop talent in this country.