Gary Neville’s frank admission last year that playing for England was ‘a massive waste of time’, is hardly a surprising revelation and may simply confirm what a lot of this country’s supporters already suspect; that playing and performing well for England is just not a high priority for many of today’s Premier League superstars. It also backs up the claim that this has been the problem with England’s national team for years.
We’ve all grown accustomed to it. Every time an international tournament comes along the press is quick to build up England’s hopes, promoting them to one of the favourites on the evidence of…’inventing’ football? 1966? Whilst I may be (only slightly) exaggerating, the main cause for England optimism is of course the English Premier League and its vast array of stars. However, it seems lost on many in this country that perhaps boasting the self proclaimed ‘best league in the world’ doesn’t equate to the best players in the league being English. For all the grandeur, splendour and quality of the Premier League, a lot of that quality has been provided by the non-English. But, that’s not to say there hasn’t been a plethora of English Premier League stars over the years, as quite clearly there has. It just ensures the success of the Premier League and the teams in it helps build the great expectations of the English national team, which always ends in ‘catastrophic’ failure. But I digress a little. But not much…
You see the success of our Premier League teams and the failings of the National team can be intrinsically linked by Neville’s comments. As a member of the most successful team in Premier League history he was used to winning at club level. Whilst he counts himself as ‘patriotic’, he also states that playing for England was just a ‘bonus’. Winning for Manchester United was always the most important thing to him. These comments have been echoed by many others in the past – Jamie Carragher is another with similar sentiments – but obviously with Liverpool winning rather than United! As a supporter, I put my club first so can take comfort from my players doing the same – but can see how other fans take issue with such comments.
You see the Premier League era and the success, glory and obscene amounts of money it has brought, has given today’s top player everything they could possibly ever want. They are rich, they are famous – world renowned in fact, and they are successful with their club teams. When the inevitable happens and the great expectations are not reached with the English national team, they are slaughtered by the press and public. Many England players, past and present, have stated on occasions they have been barracked by the home support. It was particularly prevalent in the old Wembley days. Some supporters club allegiances are not put to one side and abuse will be given to a ‘domestic’ opposite player, rather than channelling support for their country.
It has become a vicious circle; the more England fail, the more abuse the players receive – and today’s Premier League star just isn’t used to receiving such criticism – be it too harsh or not. The fear of failure is so much so that players, such as Neville, see representing their country as something they could do without – rather than it being the pinnacle of their career. Now too many players spend too much time fearing the consequences of failure when they pull on an England shirt, scared of what will be written or said of them if a mistake is made.
The modern Premier League English international has much to occupy his mind, other than the failing of the national team. Discipline has always been a key issue when talking about England, and again Neville brought to light that players would rather be gambling on the horses or playing card games, rather than focusing on the job in hand. Other stories regarding mobile phones in training and the infamous WAGS issue have all dogged fairly recent campaigns, but that seemingly came to a close with the appointment of the strict Fabio Capello as England manager. However, on the pitch, when it come to tournament time, not much changed with England’s ‘golden generation’ coming to a humiliating end in South Africa.
It’s hard to know who to blame for all the failings; the previous/current managers and their lack of man management or flexible tactics? Or is it the press, the media and the fans for the unrealistic expectations, then the incessant abuse that follows the failures? Or is it simply down to the players, who in today’s game are too pampered and precious, put their country second, and have simply achieved too much too soon, without achieving the heights of the legends of yesteryear?
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