English football is all about passion, isn’t it? Running all over the pitch, putting your body on the line, dangerously enthusiastic challenges, showing you want it more; fine, so I’m being little facetious but the sentiment is half true.
The days of confusing physicality with passion and, in turn, passion with quality football may be behind us in England but there definitely seems to be something lacking when many of our players perform for the national squad?
The opinion for a long time now has been that our national squad just care more about their performances for their clubs. There may be elements of truth in such a statement but ultimately it is over-simplistic.
Please don’t mistake my quoting Michel Platini for liking him, but the UEFA President once said: ‘English players are lions in the winter and lambs in the spring’ and it was about the only time I’ve given him any credit for anything he’s done during his post-playing career
The problem with the physicality, aggression and pace of the English game is that it is unsustainable, and we all know it. Regardless of how the national manager may wish us to play, if every single member of our squad is exhausted after a gruelling Premier League season (with no winter break) then our players will never look as if they are trying as hard for the country as they do for their club.
For all those conspirators out there, there are also other reasons why it might not look as though England were ‘trying hard enough’ – an idea, which, in itself, demonstrates everything that is wrong with the way we think about football in England. For anyone who has ever watched the Eurovision song contest, everyone there is trying extremely hard, but it doesn’t make them any good. The same rules apply to football. But, like I said, for anyone who thinks England weren’t trying hard enough, have you also considered that some managers’ tactics are not just to run around as much possible and Hodgson may be one of them.
Furthermore, another gripe I have with complaining about the dwindling effort levels of English players is that people think that blaming a lack of endeavour somehow excuses the woeful gap in technical ability between ourselves and our Italian foes.
The sooner we get out of the trail of thought that we need to run more in order to win things the sooner we will find ourselves on the path to join the actual top teams of Europe.
I’m not saying that effort is not important, clearly it is, but it can be demonstrated in more ways than just physical exertion. Effort in terms of discipline, positioning, the timing of one’s passes, concentration and other factors are but a few examples of, arguably more effective, ways of showing how much you care for the national shirt.
People will argue that the inflation of wages amongst players in England has caused them to only care about their actual employers or that they only care about performing well for other such materialistic incentives. This may well be the case but if it is then it would be true in Germany, Spain, Italy and France too so we are at no direct disadvantage, certainly not to the extent that we could blame our failings on such an issue.
Also, maybe certain players do work harder for their clubs, but this could be down to any number of factors. The, perhaps sad, truth is that many players do need a manager to help motivate them and that may not be Hodgson’s forte. Therefore is that the fault of the players or the manager?
Clearly a team consisting only of players with the team spirit, selfless behaviour and work ethic of Mario Balotelli or Arjen Robben is not going to win any trophies but just in the same way England are not going to win anything by only having spirit and gusto. Our faults as a footballing nation run deep. We’ve been ‘giving it our all’ since 1966 and it has got us nowhere. The sight of Steven Gerrard getting cramp after ninety minutes last night was enough to show how hard he was working, and we still lost. The time has come to throw out our old book of excuses and look for recipe to take us back to football’s top table.
So am I right in thinking that technical ability matters most if England are to prevail in international tournaments, rather than relying on simply effort and spirit?