By Phil Blundell
“ENGLISH football is a tanker that needs turning. The real challenge for us looking forward is that we’ve gone from 70% English players in the Premier League to 30% and it’s still falling. If that continues, we won’t have a chance in hell in future tournaments. We have got to stop that decline and we’ve got to get more English players playing at the highest level. The two targets I have for the England team are: One, to at least reach the semi-finals of Euro 2020. Two, win the World Cup in 2022.”
This is a quote from Greg Dyke. Greg Dyke is the head of the FA. The FA are in charge of football in England. The man appears to fall in to the bracket (it’s sizeable) of people who’ve worked for the FA and have their head completely up their own arse. To put it in to perspective as to how mad this is, Euro 2020 qualification will start in almost exactly five years. Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Phil Jones will still be in their twenties. 19 year old lads who get in to that squad for the first qualifier are 2-3 years from making their senior debut.
What exactly is Dyke thinking will happen in the next 5 years that will revolutionise football to the extent that they can reach the semi-finals of these European Championships? To change youth development you need to be doing it from the bottom – getting at kids who’re currently eight years of age. England’s aim should be 2030 and 2032. The FA are ten years out if they want to change things. The overall goal is wrong.
This semi-finals goal by the way is something that the England National Team have done once in history, and that was by means of a penalty shoot-out at home to Spain. Read that back again, England have won ONE knockout game in the history of the European Championships. On penalties. In a tournament they hosted. It is thinking like this that causes massive issues in terms of development. England measure themselves on a basis that shows almost zero correlation with anything that they have actually achieved. It’s all very Newcastle. England have been in as many semi-finals (European Championship and World Cup) since they won the 1966 World Cup as Turkey. We’ll ignore the four team Euro 1968 as that competition was a bit odd.
Dyke went on to tell us that roughly 30% of players who played in the Premier League last year were eligible for the National team. Doing some extremely basic maths, I make that 150 players if we assume that every team had a 25 man squad, and given the complexities of the 25 man squad (Raheem Sterling wasn’t in Liverpool’s for example), I’ll add 25 on and call it a nice round 175. Dyke stated that this is down from 70%, I don’t know when it was 70% but for the sake of argument I’ll say it was in 1992 and the inception of the Premier League.
Let’s then compare this to numbers in 1992 when the Premier League was formed. I make that roughly a pool of 380 players, lets round that up to 400.
This pool of 400, the pool that Dyke wants to work towards, wasn’t actually very good. England failed to reach the 1994 World Cup finishing third in a group containing Norway, the Netherlands, Turkey, Poland and San Marino, winning twice against San Marino and Turkey and once against Poland. This pool of 400 players saw Carlton Palmer, Tony Dorigo, and Andy Sinton feature on a regular basis for England. If those three players were in the pool of 175 that exist today they wouldn’t be near the squad. In fact, if they did play today it would be unlikely they’d even be in the 175.
This brings me back to what I was mentioning before about there being no correlation between what England have achieved and what they think they should achieve. In 1968 Manchester United won the European Cup starting a run that would see a 17 year period where English clubs would lift the trophy eight times, including an astonishing run of six consecutive wins. Of the other nine, the Dutch won four, the West Germans four and Italy one. England were very much the dominant nation with representation in ten finals in eighteen years. In this period before the Heysel ban there were three English winners of the Cup Winners’ Cup (and three runners up) and five winners of the UEFA Cup (two runners up). Between 1968 and 1985 English clubs won 13 European Trophies. English clubs ruled.
You’d expect that English teams filled with English players would then cause the English national team to do big things in the 70’s and 80’s, wouldn’t you? You would think this even more given that two years before this run started England won the World Cup.
Well, er, that’s not really how it worked. English football didn’t appear to have any problems producing players capable of doing things at the top level, as these European trophies would suggest. Between 1968 and 1985 there were ten major international tournaments. Qualification was achieved for a mere five of them, Euro 1968 as alluded to earlier was a peculiar tournament – England qualified for the semi-finals winning a four team qualification group including Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. So in a seventeen year period England went to five tournaments. We stand here today with England having qualified for eight of the previous nine in a similar seventeen year period. Extending that, it’s twelve of the previous fourteen. When England were at the top of the club game, they were a terrible international team. Getting English players playing at the highest level in the seventies and eighties didn’t help – why should it now?
Dyke appears to disagree and sees changing things at club level as a viable means of pushing things forward.
The term ‘Golden Generation’ is horrible. It is however, difficult to argue that this isn’t the case – defensively England have had players such as Gary Neville, John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher, Ledley King, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson. Midfieldwise? Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David Beckham and Paul Scholes are four top class midfielders who have been mainstays of the England midfield since the late nineties. Further up the pitch Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney are two of England’s best ever goal scorers – in Rooney’s case it is probably odds on that he’ll break Bobby Charlton’s goal scoring record. The talent has been there, England have fielded top class sides, and taken top class squads to tournaments. I defy anyone to look at England’s squads at major tournaments since 1996 and at the very worst think ‘That’s alright that’. In some cases people will actually think ‘That’s actually a very good set of players, why didn’t they do better?’.
The Dyke argument is flawed. The talent is coming through. And the whole ‘We’re down to 30% from 70%’ should actually see these players develop. Twenty years ago England’s defenders were defending against Brian Deane and Lee Chapman when they went out on a week by week basis; today England’s defenders are testing themselves against the likes of Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero. They’re testing themselves at a much higher level, a level that will see them in a far, far better position to turn up at these big tournaments and put a shift in that sees England go deep in a tournament..
The foreign influx started in the mid 90s. England’s best squads fielded since 1966 have been since then. The level has lifted. Since 1996 England’s tournament play has been very interesting, and in-game circumstances have played a massive part in their exits from three tournaments. David Beckham and Wayne Rooney red cards preceded penalty defeats in 1998 and 2006, Wayne Rooney’s injury in 2004 was followed an hour later by a penalty defeat. He stays fit England really could have won that tournament. Frank Lampard equalised against Germany in 2010 only for the referee to wrongly determine that the ball wasn’t actually over the line. Pre-1996, with the exception of 1990 which was an anomaly, England didn’t even get to half of these tournaments, let alone get to play a game of ‘ifs buts and maybes’.
Wayne Rooney has tested himself against the likes of Ricardo Carvalho and Vincent Kompany. He’s learning more against them than he would have against Colin Hendry or Keith Curle. Steven Gerrard has played against Claude Makelele, Yaya Toure and Michael Essien. Much better than Tim Sherwood, Dennis Wise and Rob Lee I’m sure you’d agree.
Ok, Dyke is generally not talking about the top players. I accept that he isn’t, but even the second rate players coming from overseas are better than what they’d be facing if they were playing players who currently ply their trade in the Championship. These players would get bumped up to the Premier League and have pretty much no chance of getting in to the England squad because they just aren’t good enough for England. Players usually find their level. Rickie Lambert has taken a while but he’s found his level. Dyke must think that there are another ten Rickie Lamberts waiting to happen. He might well be right. He probably isn’t.
The top players will always rise to the top. Jack Wilshere, Phil Jones and Danny Welbeck (stop laughing he’s actually quite good) are already there, Ross Barclay, Raheem Stirling and Wilfried Zaha are on the cusp. That’s six players who either do or will play at the top level of football in this country and are in the England squad and will be for the next ten years. That is the basis of a very strong squad. In 2020, Theo Walcott will still be there, Tom Cleverly will be, Joe Hart, Jordan Henderson, Kyle Walker, Chris Smalling, Jack Butland, Steven Caulker, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Daniel Sturridge, and if the tactics so decide Andy Carroll is still only twenty four.
Looking logically, England’s 2020 squad will be something along these lines:
GK: Hart, Butland, Fraser Forster.
DF: Walker, Smalling, Jones, Caulker, Gibbs, Wisdom, Shaw.
MF: Cleverly, Wilshere, Henderson, Will Hughes, Ward-Prowse, Oxlade Chamberlain, Barclay, Stirling, Tom Carroll.
FW: Zaha, Sturridge, Carroll, Welbeck, Walcott.
I’ve thrown a few random fillers in there. Some will clearly be replaced by players we don’t know about at the minute. Some won’t kick on, but at the minute that isn’t a million miles away from what you’d expect. I’ll put my neck on the line that at least 15 of these players go to Euro 2020.
A 4-4-2 formation could be formed from this twenty three that sees England with a starting XI of players made up of players solely from teams in the current top six of English football, not players that need time to progress, or the opportunity to play at the top level of European Football, players that are there now. That is how bad we are as a country at developing players for the top level.
These players will be there if a quota is enforced, they’ll be there whatever Dyke decides to do to push football on in this country. Without sounding like Harry Redknapp there are some top, top players in there.
England don’t have an issue developing footballers – the real issue appears to be developing coaches and managers. Or even just having coaches and managers. England would be far, far better served aiming to produce coaches who are tactically competent. Since the Heysel ban two English coaches have managed in a European Club final. Steve McClaren’s reign as England manager saw England fail to qualify for their only tournament since 1994. Whilst the other is this absolute biff in charge at the minute that is having a good go at making it two (they were 1/10 to win this group in 2011 when the draw was made).
Footballers aren’t something England has a problem with. Coaches however, are. You have to get to tenth in last year’s Premier League table before you find an English manager, then sixteenth, then nineteenth, then twentieth. Four managers in our top league on the last day of last season were English. Are they being given a chance? Maybe not. Are they doing anything worthy of being given a chance? If they are, I’m not seeing it. Instead of trying to get a specific number of players with which a manager can pick from, try getting a pool of young managers who can achieve at the top level of English Football, European Football and International Football. English players have done two of the three in the last 5-10 years.
England probably could win the 2022 World Cup, and probably could get to the semi-finals of Euro 2020. To do it however, fundamentally, they need to actually realise where the problem lies. And it isn’t players, nor is it the number of the nasty foreigners that infiltrate our domestic league. It’s the coaching. Get some coaches who know their arse from their elbow, can compete tactically and are capable of winning these tournaments.
The best set of players doesn’t always win. Italy won the 2006 World Cup with Marco Matterazzi in their central defence. Kleberson was a big part of the Brazil 2002 squad. Stephane Guivarc’h was France’s lone forward in 1998. All sides had fluent footballing plans, were well organised, and had the mentality of a winning team. Greece won more European Championship knockout matches in 2004 than England ever have – they won via tactics. Dyke knows what he wants but doesn’t seem to have any idea how to get it. Getting lots of good players isn’t a plan.
They could also just appoint a foreigner. Greg Dyke did that at Brentford funnily enough, so you could say he’s got first-hand experience of the lack of coaches this country appears to have. If he’s not able to find a coach to get a side from League One to the Championship, surely he can see the picture is a lot bigger than there only being about 150 players in the Premier League to choose from?