You may have seen both Gary Neville and Paul Scholes speaking about the England set-up in the last few days and how they both believe from their experience that fear of failure and players not wanting to play for their country anymore is what is costing England in major tournaments.
It is hard to disagree with these statements. Our lacklustre performance against Switzerland in June was another example of game where it looked liked half the team were already on holiday and very few of them showed any passion or looked like they really cared. It is a regular occurrence with players representing our country.
Jens Lehmann claimed back in 2007 that England lack a winning mentality saying: ‘We are always successful, not always winning but somewhere near success or winning, and that is what England are lacking. The pressure in England is so big. The media lifts up players as world-class who are probably not. They have to live up it and sometimes the pressure seems to be too big.’ Four years on and nothing has changed. After the recent failure in qualifying for the 2008 European Championship and another dismal showing at the 2010 World Cup, something needs to change.
The English media are a part of the problem of course with their intense scrutiny of every player that features for England putting pressure on them to perform but isn’t this just part of being a professional footballer? Every week their performances for their club’s are reviewed and criticised but it seems for England the players are more worried about making a mistake. However was Wayne Rooney’s abject showing at the recent World Cup down to him being afraid of making mistakes, I don’t believe so.
The press are not completely to blame as it looks to me that some players only seem to only care about England if it will benefit their future career and not about the success of the country at international level. For England most players are only playing for themselves and not for the team. But it sadly it works as winning a senior England cap adds millions to your price tag, just look at Jordan Henderson with his £16m move to Liverpool. This individuality is costing us on the field and was confirmed by Gary Neville who said players ‘worry about what the next headline is going to say and whether it is going to affect their status’.
Paul Scholes also said similar to Neville with regards to players using the national side as a stepping stone: ‘There are individuals who are after personal glory. I always felt when I first started with England that players-especially players at clubs like your Aston Villas- try to use England as a way to get a top club.’
However I feel it is more than a bit incongruous that a player who retired from international football in 2004 at the peak of his career can come out and say that he feels players who play for England only think about themselves and about not the team. Cheers for that Paul but was your early retirement not a decision made to benefit your career as we all know it hindered the progress of the international side. I understand what he is saying but by retiring when he did is Scholes not just as selfish as the players he is talking about?
Ben Foster’s early retirement from international football despite him being the side’s 2nd choice goalkeeper also shows the current disregard players currently have towards the England set-up. They feel that it is not worth their reputation and unless they can use it to their advantage they instead focus on their club careers. It is a very sad state of affairs.
I agree with Gary Neville, regarding the lack of camaraderie as the players who go up against each other weekly in the Premier League are suddenly expected to be team mates. If the team were to build a better team spirit then maybe we would be more successful. Look at the World Champions Spain whose success is built around an amazing team spirit where all the players work for each other as part of a team. You don’t see their players retiring early because they cannot be bothered with the media attention or because of fear of failure.
We’ve heard all of the many excuses that are given for our failure on the pitch but instead of talking about them why not actually try to sort them out. These attacks on the current England set-up by two former players need to be listened to by the FA and something needs to be done to change the current situation.
If the FA continue to do nothing surely England will never live up to their over-hyped billing as the fourth best international team in the world.
Let me know your thoughts and follow me on twitter @aidanmccartney for more interesting football debate!