Wayne Rooney’s current form has got every England fan dreaming of World Cup success this summer, and rightly so as he is undoubtedly the best player in the world on current form. However, in the long term things look a bit different as England’s chances of being a superpower within international football are diminishing with every bone breaking challenge that occurs in the domestic game.
It has long been recognized that England’s inability to maintain possession of the ball during big games has been the reason for them not winning anything since 1966. It is no coincidence that time after time England are beaten by similar kinds of teams who are far more comfortable on the ball. Portugal, Brazil and Argentina have knocked England out in the past three World Cups, and every time the English come up against Spain the match is made to look more like a training session, with the Spaniards in attack and the English being the defence and the Spaniards seemingly having an extra second on the ball every time they get it.
Why is this? How can a nation with the best league in the world and that prides itself on its allegiance to the beautiful game, be consistently beaten in the same manner time after time again? One look at Ryan Shawcross’s reckless tackle on Aaron Ramsey will help you find the answer. Aaron Ramsey is an artist, a young player who, when given the chance to get on the ball, can dictate the pace of the game. Every youngster using jumpers for goalposts should strive to be as comfortable on the ball as he is. However taking recent events into account, why would a talented thirteen year old playing on a Sunday afternoon feel the desire to take an extra second on the ball in order to better decide what to do with it, when he knows that his leg could broken at any second by an opponent? How can a young player ever learn the game changing skills, demonstrated to us week in week out by European stars such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Fernando Torres, if he is constantly looking over his shoulder to ensure he isn’t taken out by someone who’s only role is to get in his face? Surely our young protégé will feel that the better option would be to knock it over top as soon as possible, rather than taking some time to find out what he can do with the ball at his feet and risk getting injured.
Modern day footballers playing at the top level are now such phenomenal athletes that strength and speed are no longer just assets, they are necessities. Players who make the difference must now combine strength and speed with great comfort on the ball as well as tactical awareness; unfortunately these are the two things that are valued least amongst so many young English players, and not forgetting the Sunday morning schoolboy coaches desperate for an under twelve win. On the playgrounds of Spain, Brazil, Portugal and Argentina the ability to beat a man and execute a simple pass is seen as a thing of beauty, therefore their young players get very good at it. On the streets of England however these skills, which are now imperative to having success in the modern game, are seen as add ons to the ability to knock an opponent out of play.
The truth is is that English football is still living in the dark ages, the everyday fan in England still believes that hard work, passion and effort will always be enough to win. However the international game has moved on. Hard work and endeavor will remain key to winning any football match, but it is useless if you have no idea what to do with the ball once you get it. The Spaniards, the Brazilians, the Argentineans and the Dutch for that matter all work as hard and as smart as the English do off the ball, however when they get in possession these nations are in a different world.
Until the mentality amongst young English players and their coaches is changed England will never be an international powerhouse. The process of change will be a long one; after all our national game and the current mentality have been linked for centuries. Finding a way to permanently outlaw tackles that we have seen put in by the likes of Ryan Shawcross and Ryan Taylor must be part of the process. England will never produce technically superior players if youngsters see skillful players such as Eduardo suffering such horrific injuries. The goal for players under the age of fourteen must be to learn to love the game and to be shown how to express themselves; they should not be subjected to games where the score is kept. With the pressure of winning put on players at such a young age they are immediately fearful of making a mistake, and therefore rarely have confidence to bring the ball down and see what they can do with it. Playing eleven a side at such an early stage isn’t beneficial as players under the age of fourteen generally lack to the discipline and peripheral vision to maintain a solid formation. This leaves massive amounts of space for the strongest and quickest player on the pitch to run into, meaning that more often than not the best option for a team to win is to simply kick it into space as soon as possible, rather than learning how to pass the ball out of trouble. Any young player can hoof a ball out of defence, but how will we ever find the players capable of constructively starting attacks from their own penalty box, if they are not given the chance to do so? Compare all this to the Dutch who play four aside games with no score until the age of eleven.
Without any doubt England can win the World Cup this summer, and everyone hopes they do. But until our culture changes and young English players are made to learn the types of skills that their rivals cherish, the national team will be forever reliant upon the fitness of one off phenomenons such as Wayne Rooney.
Written By Kieran Lovelock