Another tournament down, and another failure for England – arguably the worst ever.
Whilst England didn’t head to France as favourites, there was a quiet confidence surrounding the young squad, and whilst the Mark Nobles and Danny Drinkwaters of this world may have felt hard done by to have been left out, there was a general feeling of satisfaction with the selected ‘team’.
Fast forward three weeks and after the biggest exit from Europe Britain has ever seen coming only days before, the second largest swiftly followed – defeat to minnows Iceland, whose population equates to the same size as Leicester (not that it stopped them winning the Premier League), sent England packing, embarrassed and defeated .
You could talk for hours about tactics, selections, individual performances, lack of team cohesion or a manager who has never been of the highest standing but, at the end of the day, results and performances were not up to scratch.
A perfect qualifying campaign only served about as much as a strong pre-season for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United going into the 2015/16 season – and look how that ended. England were not good enough, simple as – but why?
In the 50 years that have passed since England sat atop the footballing world with Bobby Moore holding the Jules Rimet trophy proudly above his head, England have won only six games in the knock-out stages of major tournaments.
We have done well in tournaments, citing Italia ’90 and Euro ’96 as standout examples, and have been very unlucky in many more (just ask Sol Campbell).
But more to the point, England have won only four out of the last 15 games in major tournaments, dating back to 2006.
Although the most recent performance was bad – really bad – it is a problem that has been there a while, and considering the strength of our national league it’s a problem that should be non-existent, or should it?
[ffc-gal cat=”euro-2016″ no=”5″]
It is widely accepted that the Premier League is the best league in the world. Even though some of its largest teams haven’t set the Champions League alight in recent years, the weekly action is unbeatable.
Fast paced, high scoring, fiercely competitive games with the best players from across the globe gracing our hallowed turfs. The football, exposure, challenge and increasingly the money is helping the Premier League attract the top talent from across the world.
Premier League sides combined generate over £4bn in revenue, dwarfing the Bundesliga in second place with circa £2.5bn. TV revenue alone contributes £55.5m to each side, with the winners pocketing an additional £24.7m in prize money.
The Premier League generates more than double the revenue of both Serie A and Ligue 1 – so when an English team comes knocking it is very hard for foreign sides to say no.
Only today Crystal Palace have been reported to have bid €40m for Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi – a figure that even five years ago would be unheard of from a team like Palace. And once they arrive they will be nicely compensated too, with five of the league’s top six paid players being ‘foreign.’
The 500 plus players gracing the Premier League last season were made up of 66 different nationalities, with 352 overseas stars filling our ranks. At the Premier League’s inception in 1992 there were just 37.
This is the second highest ratio in Europe after Cyprus (Spain average around 40% and France 30%).
There is no doubt that this influx has helped take our league above and beyond all rivals and subsequently greatly improved the standard of football on show each week. But what about the British talent?
According to a study by the CIES, 75% of players in the U21 league are British, rising to 95% of 16-18 year olds. But why are those numbers not translating into the Premier League?
Quite simply, the talent pool is not supplying enough British players of a standard capable of regular top-flight football. Players coming through the ranks are now left with a dilemma – where to play their football now the Premier League dream is over (at least for now).
There is a general reluctance for British players to ply their trade abroad (barring a late pay day in the MLS). This reluctance means that rather than trying to test themselves in the top leagues of our European rivals, they would rather drop down the divisions in England, hoping that one day they’ll rise again like a phoenix. The reality is, not many do.
Rival leagues do not seem to have this problem.
The percentage of homegrown players in Spain, Germany, Italy and France playing in the top tier of their home nation is much higher. And for the likes of Germany and Italy, youngsters play the same system from the age of 12 until retirement (which is considerably higher for Italians for some reason).
The system is embraced, the managers are always from the home nation and both have reaped the rewards in recent years. The Germans set a fine example of how a nation’s football structure can be entirely rebuilt in a relatively short space of time by ripping up the rule book in 2004 and eventually winning the World Cup in 2014.
Having the best league in world means having the best players, and to have that you need worldwide recruitment. This will inevitably come at the detriment to home grown talent.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for English youngsters – for the ones that do make it, playing in the best league in world is ample reward for their efforts. Only recently the likes of Dele Alli and Erick Dier have burst onto the Premier League with great effect, hopefully for the foreseeable future too.
But since the golden generation of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, John Terry and Ashley Cole – not many have managed to sustain the highs once achieved for the duration of their careers.
With focus on power and pace in the Premier League, the technical ability of our youngsters, whilst still very high, is not at the level of, say, the Spanish or Italians.
Arsene Wenger is a big advocate of getting players in at a very young age with great physical attributes and relying on teaching them the art of the game (after all, you can’t teach a 12-year-old to be 6 ft). This could contribute to the failings on the international stage with many players performing well for club but not country.
However poorly the likes of Lampard and Gerrard may have played for England, they always came back and found the highest levels of performance for their club – with Harry Kane demonstrating this recently.
Nonetheless, the failings on the international side in recent years is there for all to see. It seems to have coincided perfectly with the rise in foreign talent arriving in the Premier League.
The way the league is, I can’t see this trend bucking. Whilst the money continues to grow, and the demand for success almost instant, managers do not have the time to nurture players from a young age (no manager apart from Wenger has been at their club for more than three years), so youngsters talent will fall by the wayside.
This has and will continue to effect the national side and needs to be proactively tackled. I, for one, embrace the influx of talent to the league and would much rather enjoy the highest standard of football on a weekly basis.
I can also accept the failings of our national team every couple of years as a sacrifice for this privilege – but this attitude will not lead to England ruling the world again anytime soon and the FA need to do something about it now, before it is too late.