It’s safe to say that the England national team don’t stand a chance in hell of winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We may have left the Confederations Cup champions unstuck in our last two friendlies, winning 2-0 at Wembley and holding them to a draw away, but even a footballing novice could tell you the Three Lions are a long way shy of quality and depth in comparison to our European and South American counterparts, with the cast of the golden generation all entering their twilight years and reaching retirement age by next summer.
You can claim that the likes of Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole have failed to be used to full effect by a string of luke-warm at best England managers, and that argument certainly has some weight behind it, considering the Lampard-Gerrard-Midfield paradox remains unsolved to this day, but I think we are all aware by now that the issues with the English game span further beyond simply our players not turning up on the international stage, and are entrenched in our specific footballing culture.
A search of collaborating evidence shouldn’t take too long. This summer alone, we have seen woeful campaigns all round from the England U21s, England U20s and England U19s, with the former two age groups unable to come up with a win between them in the U21s European Championship and U20s World Cup in America, whilst the U19s managed to claim the only victory at youth level for the three sides, recording a 3-0 win against Scotland, however, it’s insignificance remains aplenty as they failed to qualify for the tournament in Lithuania. At the same time, the senior team have dropped to 15th in the world rankings, whilst only six of the Premier League’s 52 completed transfers so far this summer involve players legible for the Three Lions.
Many theories have developed over the past five years, since the ultimate failure of the 2010 World Cup, to help us understand why, in comparison to Italy, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Portugal, the English national team remains a long way behind. Some have pointed to the need to restructure how we coach children in this country, whilst others have blamed the Premier League’s readiness to accept foreign players over home-grown talents, in addition to the profit and loss analysis of success that comes with running the richest top flight in world football.
QPR’s Harry Redknapp however, who was once touted as a future England manager but at the age of 66 has now missed the bus, has a far simpler and abruptly put hypothesis, that in many ways hits the nail on the head. The Rangers boss recently stated; “In this country we do not know how to play football. We just boot the ball up the pitch and it gets us nowhere. We desperately need coaches who believe in retaining possession. Our so-called Golden Generation never produced because we just hoofed the ball forward and hoped for the best,” as reported by The Guardian.
It begs the question as to whether or not the FA should consider a new path when it comes to the England Junior teams, in the form of bringing in coaches and managers from abroad. Stuart Pearce has recently been relieved of his duties as U21 boss, giving England’s football governing body a chance to adopt a fresh approach, and learn from a countryman belonging to one of the continental counterparts that regularly trumps us during international fixtures. With Gareth Southgate already the front runner for the post, the potential for a tica-taca philosopher to be brought in remains unlikely, but let’s at least entertain the thought, even if the FA wont.
Well, you can imagine the media hysteria such an appointment would cause. It tells you the attitude of the FA that not a single manager of foreign nationality is even being remotely considered, with the bookies producing a list of painfully typically English candidates, such as Southgate, Peter Taylor, Glenn Hoddle, Steve McLaren, Gary Neville, Alan Curbishley and Chris Powell. In terms of philosophy, there isn’t much diversity on the table, with the exclusion of Hoddle’s adoration of the 3-6-1 formation. All have solid reputations as successful managers with proven track records, with the odd blemish here and there on their CV’s, but are any of them more capable or more likely to instigate serious changes in how the England juniors play in comparison to the out-going Stuart Pearce?
The problems are intrinsic and institutional, and adding another English manager to the mix, with the same footballing education, the same principles of how the game should be played, and the same culture, will hardly bring about a footballing revolution. Granted, the flaws are so widespread that a simple appointment to oversee the development of 30 promising youngsters at a time will not on it’s own rectify our national affixation with long-ball football, but it at least provides the next generation of Three Lions regulars with the opportunity to develop skills that the likes of Lampard, Gerrard, Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and co. have been immensely lacking, despite their previous ‘world-class’ reputations.
Similarly, it is no secret that home-grown managers have fallen some way short in the domestic game, along with our players. David Moyes’ arrival at Manchester United this summer marks a rare exception where a British head coach has been offered a job at an established Champions League club, with the likes of Alan Curbishley, Steve McLaren and Harry Redknapp seemingly unable of breaking the glass ceiling between themselves and the Premier League’s top four.
There is certainly an unwarranted stigmatism surrounding English coaches, yet it’s rather telling about the level of quality available that the most consistently successful English club in the history of the game, that prides itself on a core of home-grown talent and it’s typically English values, has been run by a Scot for the last 30 years, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, whilst a Frenchman has ran Arsenal for nearly twenty years, and Roman Abramovich hasn’t even accidentally entertained the prospect of hiring a domestic manager since he purchased Chelsea a decade ago.
In almost every aspect of the game, England have lagged behind at the expense of our foreign counterparts. The opening of St. George’s Park, a new training facility with a multi-million bill for it’s creation is intended to address this, with an emphasis on centralising resources in one logistical area, whilst also bringing improvements to equipment, and better training for potential coaches. But will it actually instigate the much needed changes in our culture? Training equipment makes players faster, stronger, more accurate and better disciplined, but it will not be alternate the way our players think any time soon.
Such a psychological deviation requires not only a signifying figurehead, but furthermore, someone who has a different perspective to what we are used to in Britain. English players may be stuck in their ways, but they remain flexible and adaptable – just look at the passing philosophy Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers have instilled at two separate clubs throughout their management careers, without an underlying dependency on foreign talent.
Of course, the challenge will be harder considering the England U21s only meet up on a select few occasions per year, and there will be obvious problems in terms of lacking a knowledge of the English game at all levels. A foreign appointment would certainly be an experiment, but I think we have come to a point where anything that deviates from the current norm in English football is worth a punt – even the smallest hint of Spanish flair, Italian technique or German consistency would at least suggest we are finally moving in the right direction.
But as previously stated, a foreign manager will not be considered by the FA. Even Gus Poyet, or Rene Muelenstein, who have spent the majority of their playing and coaching careers in England, will be judged as lacking in that apparently vital English Dunkirk spirit, that seems to be compulsory if you are to work in the England youth set-up.
In any other profession it would be considered discrimination, in society and politics it would be regarded as xenophobic, but in the realms of the FA it is viewed as protecting the core values of the English game. It’s just a shame that those core values are the reason the Three Lions haven’t lifted an international trophy for nearly half a century.
Should the FA hire a foreign manager to run the England U21s?
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