The problem facing the national side

When we look overseas to see examples of our compatriots flourishing in other leagues we tend to be disappointed. With the exception of a handful of players such as Gary Lineker, Paul Gascoigne or David Beckham our players have left little impact on the minds of our continental brothers and sisters. Even during sixties when there were severely restricting wage caps on the English game there was hardly a mass exodus to more profitable climates. I think that Denis Law summed it up perfectly when he left Manchester City to sign for Torino in order to earn more money, he said: ‘I loved everything about being in Italy, except for the football.’ Clearly Law was Scottish but I think the sentiment rings true for most English players when they consider life abroad.

For that very reason it is refreshing to see Joe Cole not only playing well but also enjoying his football at French champions Lille OSC, even if he does still commute from London. The thirty-year-old has slowly been rediscovering the form that lead to him being so highly regarded in the dawn of his career. Drafted in on a loan deal to replace the Arsenal bound Gervinho in the summer, Cole has been dispelling myths on both sides of the Channel. For us: he is testament to the fact that Englishman can succeed abroad and you would like to think that to the French that the former Chelsea and West Ham man is using his impressive technique and elegant style to demonstrate that English football is not all speed and brawn.

But the significance of his season in France runs deeper than just his role as an ambassador for the English game. It invokes the old argument that perhaps more of our players should be encouraged to move abroad in order to help the international team, but is that necessarily the case?


You only need to look at the Spain squad to realise this isn’t true. Not only do nearly all come from the same league the Spanish side is made up almost exclusively from players from the country’s top two clubs. Clearly the Spanish national side consists of exceptionally talented footballers but so are many other national sides. What makes them such a formidable team is that they are exactly that – a team. Having the experience of playing with their national team-mates on a weekly basis is their core strength. You can just as easily look at the Brazilian or Argentinean national sides and see an equally impressive team on paper but what they lack is the cohesion and understanding to make them strong. Moreover, their sides are made up of players from a variety of leagues giving them experience playing against a variety of nationalities yet without that harmony they are ineffective. It might be a cliché but football is a team sport, and familiarity breeds team spirit.


The other way of looking at it however is that, whilst as a general rule you don’t want all of your international players in one league, it would be helpful for your players to have some experience of playing against a different style of football. How can our national side be expected to know how to break down, for example, the Italian defence if the vast majority of them have no experience of playing against a team like that. Also, whilst the Spanish national side are primarily based in Spain they do have a selection of impressive players such as Torres, Silva, Fabregas and Mata who have experience in other leagues. Therefore were they ever to be in a situation where there normal tactics were not working they would at least have the option of introducing players who were capable of playing in a different style.

The problem with both of these arguments is that there are external factors that need to be looked at. First of all it is possible for the English national team to achieve success despite a lack of overseas experience, but in order for us to be effective there needs to be a team spirit. The disagreements between factions in the English national side have been well publicised over the last few years and so even though our players might be familiar with each other they fail to act as a team. The other point is that if we are going to have all of players playing n the Barclays Premier League then we should appoint a manager who understands English football. Players may be able to adapt to the wishes of foreign managers, but not when that manager only gets a few weeks a year to work with the players. Ultimately there is little we can do to encourage our players to move abroad, subsequently the FA have to be the organisation to recognise the limitations of our squad and act accordingly. If that means bringing in an English manager then so be it.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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