Why Liverpool and United’s rivalry makes no difference

The failure of England’s so called ‘golden generation’ has been put down to several things in the past – inflated ego’s, uninspired coaching and a lacklustre attempt to keep the ball in games of consequence. However, courtesy of Man Utd legend and former England midfielder Paul Scholes, a new theory for our country’s horrendous underachievement has emerged – the bitter rivalries at club level make it difficult to create a team spirit at international level.

Here is verbatim what Scholes said on the matter: “There is a big rivalry between clubs in this country and it isn’t healthy when you go away on international duty. When I was with England, there was always a lot of United players and Liverpool players in the squad and it was plainly obvious that some of our lads didn’t like some of their boys and some of their lads didn’t like some of us.”

“We weren’t just footballers, we actually loved the clubs we played for and the rivalry was always there. As Mancs and Scousers we were always a bit suspicious of each other and you can’t have that kind of thing if you want to be successful at international level. You can’t build a team or a spirit when that rivalry is always close to the surface. It was always too big to get over.” Daily Telegraph

While it would be hard to deny that there is certainly an intenses rivalry between players of Liverpool and Man Utd, would it really have an impact on results on the pitch for the national side as Scholes alludes to?

Well, the huge white elephant in the room is most definitely the recent success of the Spanish national side, a team which is neatly divided between Real Madrid and Barcelona camps of players – two sets of players which hardly have the most harmonious of relationships recently.

Spain won the World Cup final in 2010 with 10 players from both Real Madrid and Barcelona in their starting line-up, with only Villarreal’s Joan Capdevilla from elsewhere.

The Spanish national side, prior to the all-conquering force of a side that they have become, has always been a collection of immensely talented players hampered by irreparable divisions within the squad.

The myriad of social, political and geographical factors within the country has meant that historically, it has proved almost impossible at times to unite everyone under one banner; something, which to their credit, firstly Luis Aragones and then his successor Vicente Del Bosque have somehow managed to achieve.

Current Spain manager Del Bosque even went as far as voicing concern last season about the bad-tempered nature of the Classico clashes, with a real worry developing in the back of many people’s minds that the matches were treading a very fine line between competitiveness and contempt.

Del Bosque stated: “I am worried about the quarrels between my players during these Classico’s, which I hope don’t find my way into the dressing room. Good relations inside the dressing room are the basis of our future success.”

Of course, nothing breeds good relations inside the dressing room like success out on the pitch and over the years it‘s fair to say that this is one thing that has eluded the English national side.

Were the sides that Scholes played in for the national side so beset with petty squabbles over club rivalries that they failed to put them aside for the greater good?

It seems a simplistic way of explaining away years of underachievement. The reasoning behind England’s failures have been well documented. Predominantly it all comes down to a matter of technique, or rather lack thereof.

You can have as much passion and bluster as you like, but if you’re unable to be disciplined, keep the ball and take your opportunities when they present themselves, then it doesn’t really matter whether you’re playing alongside friend or foe, you’ll get found out eventually.
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Paul Scholes made his England debut in 1997 against South Africa and retired from international duty after Euro 2004. Let’s take a look at the squads that Scholes was involed in at international tournaments. Were there that many Manc’s and Scouser’s in the squad that divisions in the camp were inevitable? Or is it just another feeble excuse? Let’s take a look.

The 1998 World Cup squad that Scholes was named in included 3 Liverpool players (Paul Ince, Michael Owen and Steve McManaman), 4 Man Utd players (Gary Neville, Teddy Sheringham, David Beckham and Scholes) and 3 Arsenal players (David Seaman, Tony Adams and Martin Keown) and just Graeme Le Saux from Chelsea. That’s just 11 players from the top 4 clubs in the league, less than half the squad. I make that three ‘Manc’s’, if you include Leytonstone-born Beckham and two ‘Scousers’ in that squad, if you include Chester-born Owen.

The Euro 2000 squad that Scholes was part of included 4 Man Utd players (Gary and Phil Neville, David Beckham and Scholes), 3 Arsenal players (Keown, Adams and Seaman), 3 Liverpool players (Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler), although McManaman and Ince had also been included and just Nigel Martyn from Leeds from the top 4 in the league. If you factor in Ince and McManaman, that’s 13 players, if you don’t it’s 11 players – again, less than half the squad. I make that around four apiece ‘Scouser’s’ and ‘Manc’s’.

The World Cup 2002 squad included – 4 Arsenal players (Seaman, Keown, Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole), 2 Liverpool players (Owen and Emile Heskey), 4 Man Utd players (Beckham, Scholes, Wes Brown and Nicky Butt) and just Kieron Dyer from Newcastle from the league’s top 4. Again, that’s 11 players, less than half the squad and only 4 that you could classify as Manc’s and just 2 as Scousers with Fowler and, at a push, Chester-born Owen.

Euro 2004 – Arsenal 2 (Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell), Chelsea 4, (John Terry, Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole and Frank Lampard), Man Utd 3 (Butt, Scholes and Gary Neville) and Liverpool 3 (Gerrard, Owen and Jamie Carragher) from the top 4 in the league. That’s 12 altogether, 13 if you included Beckham, so roughly just over half the squad. I make that 3 Scouser’s if you include Owen and 5 Manc’s if you include Beckham.

After looking at the squads Scholes was involved in at major international torunaments, it’s fair to say that with concerns to numbers, he’s talking utter twaddle. Admittedly, some were key members in the side, but with concerns to his claim that “some of our lads didn’t like some of their boys and some of their lad’s didn’t like some of us”, the numbers are so small that it’s barely worth mentioning. Any international squad in the world is likely to be made up of player’s from the best club’s in their respective domestic league – putting aside petty club differences is something every international squad has to go through and England are no different.

Just so you know, Spain’s 2010 World Cup squad included 5 Real Madrid players, 7 Barcelona players, 4 Valencia players and one Sevilla player, Jesus Navas. That’s 17 players of a 23-man squad that came from the top 4 clubs in La Liga that season. There was also room for Madrid-born and former Barcelona player Pepe Reina, former Barcelona youth-team player Cesc Fabregas and Catalonian-born former Espanyol player Joan Capdevilla. So just Fernando Llorente and Javier Martinez out of 23 players named in the squad had neither played for or was born near Real Madrid and Barcelona. When you put Spain’s success into context, it simply makes Scholes’s claims all the more irrational.

Scholes’s reasoning simply reeks of another excuse being trotted out for what should ultimately go down as a rudimentary lack of professionalism and a failure to perform at the highest level from a talented group of players. We’re not asking you to like everyone that you play alongside, Paul, but you have to respect each other’s ability to get the job done.

For most players and people, myself included too, it is most definitely a case of club over country, so to an extent, I can understand where Scholes is coming from, but the reasoning behind it still seems tenuous at best, outright pathetic at worst.

If you’re wondering about the timing and importance of such quotes, for a once famously shy and retiring footballer as Scholes, then look no further than his recently released autobiography ‘Paul Scholes – My Story’ and England‘s upcoming fixture against Montenegro.

He was the best player of his generation, there’s no doubt about that, but perhaps Scholes should focus more on the coaching for the time being as opposed to the punditry, for the opinions that he’s voiced so far have been fatally flawed and offer little more than a revisionist way of adjusting the past to suit the present.

You can follow me on Twitter @JamesMcManus1
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