As another pathetic World Cup showing comes to a close is it too inconceivable to think that England’s footballers simply lack the general intelligence to win an international tournament? After all the Dutch and the Germans certainly didn’t seem bored being away from home for a whole month, so why was John Terry so fed up with life after just three weeks in South Africa?
Despite their somewhat distasteful performance against Spain, Holland have now made three World Cup Finals and won one European Championship whilst England haven’t done anything of note since 1966- even though they have a population of almost 4 times the size. Maybe this is because the Holland players have other interests other than football and teammates girlfriends. After all, most of their players are bilingual having played abroad and have therefore learned how to culturally adapt to new environments. On top of this Holland’s greatest ever player, Johan Cruyff, is fluent in five different languages whereas many of the England players, judging by their pre and post match interviews, need to attend elocution lessons. However, not everyone chooses to play abroad and experience all the benefits that come with it, and there is nothing wrong with that for there are many great things about playing at home.
But in order to keep themselves entertained why couldn’t the England players at least see their month long excursion in a foreign country as a chance to learn something? In one interview Shaun Wright-Phillips explained how he spent all afternoon on his Xbox with Ashley Cole, a somewhat tedious activity after a while for ten year olds, so why couldn’t he (heaven forbid) read a book, take an online course or do something creative like learn to paint?
After all, how can you possibly be bored in a country like South Africa? Visiting this marvelous place is something many people dream about and save their whole lives for. Think of the history surrounding it- the apartheid movement, the rise of Nelson Mandela, the British Colonisation, the story of the Springboks Rugby team- what’s wrong with researching all of this instead of twiddling your thumbs in your hotel room? Why did they choose to go shopping instead of going to Robben Island?
If you are not a history buff that’s understandable. But how about you take the afternoons to learn a new sport such as cricket, touch rugby, tennis or golf?
The point is that the lack of foresight shown by the England players off the pitch would have had a dramatic effect on the way they acted on it, for if the players don’t have the intelligence to read a book then this translates into their way of playing. Surely it is no coincidence that England keep being made to look like a pub side when it comes to playing teams of equal footballing ability at international tournaments. Looking back, therefore, it is probably no coincidence that Capello only ever played 4-4-2 whereas everyone played 4-2-3-1. This is probably because a flat and predictable 4-4-2 is the only system English players have the intelligence to adapt to, having only trained with each other for a month.
But why is this so? Why are the England players (past and present) now totally incapable of distinctly recognizing the difference of when to use the determiner “those” and the pronoun “them”? Why is it that Sir Geoff Hurst (who would have waltzed in to England starting 11 in South Africa during his pomp) managed to become the director of insurance company after he finished playing, and now the likes of Glen Johnson can’t even string two words together?
There could be many explanations, but surely the blame lies somewhat with the way in which English players learn the game of football combined with how they get given so much so early in their careers.
As we have done so often, let us compare the way in which the Dutch learn football to the way in which young English players do. In Holland young starlets are taught the fine and complex skills first in four a side games where technique prevails, and anyone who has ever played football will tell you that playing in a small area where the emphasis is on touch and skill takes an awful lot of thought- most important of all is that it is a stimulating atmosphere where everyone has a chance to get good.
In local under twelve leagues in England however, as we all know, youngsters play eleven a side games on full sized pitches. The only tactic ever used is that the team’s best player is played at centre half to seal up the defence and the teams fastest player is put up front to run on to long balls from the back. No-one is given the chance get on the ball to experiment for two reasons; one is that it’s always up the air and two is that they are generally managed by a well meaning yet unintelligent parent threatening their skillful players to “get rid of it!” or face being subbed.
Now, it is generally acknowledged that young people should participate in sport for two reasons- one is to enjoy themselves and the other is to accelerate their general intellectual and spiritual development. Can someone then please tell me how any thirteen year olds thinking powers will ever benefit from playing a game where they never actually get involved with the basic aspects of it? How can they ever learn to look at an everyday situation from a different perspective if they spend their time consumed by an activity that is still stuck in the dark ages and still employing “caveman tactics” in meaningless youth games, which are meant to be staged simply so young people can express themselves?
I’m not sure, but compare the challenge that faces a young footballer to a young cricketer during a competitive game and you might find a clue. Cricketers (particularly the team captains) at all levels of the youth game have to constantly deal with varying conditions, different kinds of batsmen, different styles of bowlers, different field placements, what shots to play, how to effectively communicate with an umpire along with many other different aspects of this chess like game. However due the nature of an eleven side football game, the atmosphere surrounding it and the organisers all our young footballer has to think about is how far to hoof the ball and how many times to swear at the referee. Is it any wonder therefore that cricketers turn out to be eloquent, well spoken, calculative young men whereas footballers are so renowned for their lack of thinking powers?
Also, compare the wages of the 1966 winning team earned to the modern day player. In the 1960’s and 1970’s players earned between £10 and £15k a year, which would be the equivalent of £100,000 today. This gave players such as Bobby Moore a good living, but it was still imperative that they managed their finances and saved effectively. The fact that they couldn’t retire immediately after football also meant that they had to develop other interests and other skills whilst they were still playing in order to support their family afterwards. Martin Peters and Sir Geoff Hurst, England’s two goalscorers in the 1966 World Cup Final, both moved into insurance management positions after they stopped playing and were both very successful- but could you imagine trying to make a claim off Wayne Rooney?
Over the next month or so all we will no doubt hear on Radio shows everywhere is that England players are simply not good enough. But the truth is that if a team like Holland containing Liverpool’s second choice striker, a Chelsea reject and an Everton centre half brought in as cover for Joleon Lescott can make the World Cup final then England can. But the big difference is that these Dutch players, whatever you may say about them after their performance in the final, have displayed intelligence and maturity in order to make the most of themselves- which is something England players fail to do both on and off the pitch.
Written By Kieran Lovelock