Stephen Goldsmith refuses to be unduly gloomy about the state of the England national side but believes a more modern approach to coaching and training would raise standards of play at all ages …
Forgive me if I refuse to get too downheartened with the whole notion of England becoming no better than our Scottish friends up the road soon. We certainly won’t become the new Spain anytime in the next decade.
When people make out the respective semi-finalists of Italia 90 and Euro 96 are some kind of footballing legends it makes me laugh. As it does when people suggest we have been any worse in the last 15 years or so.
You see it was Italia 90 that really exploded football into life inside my tiny nine-year-old brain and, as any of us know, when you’re at that fine phase in your footballing discovery you are devoid of any politics, tactical opinion or negative issues that accompany and intrude the beautiful game. I would watch the official England video over and over and marvel at this England side that got to the semi-finals of that World Cup in 1990 and it is something people still get excited talking and reminiscing about.
However, watching the footage of it all these days can be quite the eye opener if you can excuse the nostalgia indented into your sexed-up version of events. Let’s be honest here, we played well against Germany in the semi-final and that was about it. We beat the mighty Egypt 1-0, we drew with Ireland and Holland. We were outclassed by the majestic Belgians but scored a last minute winner to put us through. We then scraped past Cameroon like nails on a chalkboard before losing to Germany.
Fast forward to 2012. We win our group that features France, Sweden and the hosts Ukraine. We are outplayed by the Italians in the quarter-final but score a last minute winner in extra time and lose in the semis on penalties. Heroes again? It could so easily have happened that way.
You see nothing has fine line margins like tournament football.
My point here is that we have heard all this before. All the talk of how we are in free fall and resigned to becoming a nation that wont even qualify for tournaments on a regular basis. I’m not buying that. While I realise we are some way off becoming good enough to win a tournament, it is the repetitive and predictable misguided preaching that comes with it that is grating on me. And from people who are in a position to help but don’t (more on that later).
We were at the point of no return when we didn’t qualify for the USA 94. We were deadbeats after Euro 2000 as I remember. English football had drifted into a state beyond repair around that time due to being embarrassed in a tournament that proceeded press conference after press conference of Kevin Keegan telling us all that a large section of English national side playing staff would likely to be selected from the second tier of English football from now on.
Looking at the latest lot of undesirables and seeing that the majority of them represented Champions League clubs (and Liverpool) proved that particular Nostradamus-like prediction to be a little negatively innacurate.
Just two years on from that kind of talk we had a side that were beaten in the World Cup quarter-finals to a fairly average Brazil side who went on to win it comfortably, and I remain convinced that had we came through a penalty shoot out over the golden generation of the host nation Portugal in 2004 we would have won that tournament. All in all a massive four years after the doomsday predictions post Euro 2000.
There are a few of theories that are instantly branded about to as why England fall repeatedly short as they do. Some are accurate and make for great debate; some are bandwagon hiking, unoriginal clichés. There are also two main issues that need to be separated from the whole negative man made tornado that sweeps through England after every exit we encounter from European and World cups.
How we are coping with talent we have now and how we create the talent in the first place are two different things.
I don’t believe that as things are, that we, England, are to all of a sudden disappear off the footballing map.
There are certainly issues that threaten to make us fail to maximise the potential that we have, and I deem those to lie at the hands of the players to some extent. A clear example of this is players chasing the big buck too soon, too often.
I would love to see Adam Johnson in red and white stripes this season but we can realistically assume it won’t happen. It won’t happen because he is at a club who rotate players at will, whether it be through the revolving door of transfers or team selection. These clubs pay big wages, amounts that mid-table clubs like ourselves can’t afford.
England can only suffer the more players like Adam Johnson are resorted to starting just 10 games a season. But he has still proven that he can mix it with the big boys, even if Roy Hodgson didn’t agree.
Scott Parker made a similar career decision when he joined Chelsea from Charlton, it has taken him all this time to recover and become a regular England player again, as unconvincing as he is to some. I really don’t want this to turn into an agent rant, but they have a lot to answer for when it comes to players’ development coming to a crashing halt when they should be expressing themselves week in, week out by playing regularly and improving at an upwards momentum. Sir Alex Ferguson does get some credit in this area as I sense that he feels some responsibility in absorbing English players into his sides. The others don’t as much unfortunately. There is evidence that this all arrests the development of such players in a frustrating manner.
But I’m not sure that is to an extent where we need to pronounce the future of the England national team as dead on arrival.
I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t rate Jack Wilshere with the highest of regards and others like Jack Rodwell and Jordan Henderson are no midfield mugs either in the eyes of people who have actually taken time out to watch them play live. (The excellent ball retention capabilities of Jack Colback can be our little secret a while longer shhhh). Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all players who represent top teams, people need to stop overreacting and see that not since maybe 1970 did we have a golden age. We have had a long lasting bronze one however, and we will continue to do so.
Some top players aren’t even notable from an early age anyway. Nobody can honestly say that they saw visions of Frank Lampard becoming a top performer when he he first signed for Chelsea. He wasn’t involved in the World Cup 2002, yet two years later he was doing a star turn in the Euro 2004 competition. At 26 he was hardly wet behind the ears but he evolved into a world renowned performer.
So while I’m under no illusions that we’re to become champions of the world in Brazil in two years time, into the footballing abyss we aren’t about to fall.
So my theory is that England DO produce good players. Always have, always will. What we aren’t producing, however, is players of the calibre to propel us to the levels of being realistic contenders for being winners of major tournaments. But since when have we?
Watching Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker discuss this prior to the Spain v Portugal match was refreshing and annoying in equal measure. Talk of a revolution into the development of English football had me nodding my head in agreement. But it didn’t take long for the “too many foreigners in the Premier League” notion to then crop up.
I’m simply not an advocate of that particular theory. It’s a easy cliche to tag along with.
”Ah but you stated Adam Johnson’s career was suffering because of those pesky foreigners keeping out of the team,” I hear you cry. Well no, my point is that if he isn’t good enough to play for them he should move. The fact they have world class foreign players just higlights the fact he and a lot of English players aren’t quite as good as them. Almost, but not quite. Joleon Lescott is improving as a player due to him playing regularly at Man City so it can be done by some.
I would actually go as far as saying that the foreign influx has saved England as a performing nation. Think back to the footballing styles implemented by top flight sides when the teams were employing predominantly English players. There were a couple of cracking players surrounded by hoofers.
Funnily enough around this time the national side were never winning anything either, they just didn’t have the foreign thing as an excuse. The technique of the world class players have dragged our players up a level in my eyes, and the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney have improved due to their presence. Unfortunately, the foreign players of considerably lower abilities have came across to represent some the lesser sides, but that’s just the way it is. I would still rather that than have the standard of football you see generally when watching footage from when when our football was stuck further back in this time warp.
The foreign brigade have saved our league from becoming like the Scottish one. At least we can attract the top ones. Think of it as a European Super League with an English base, giving our players more of a chance to be involved then if they had to go to an alternative host country and try and impress.
The main issue is that we don’t produce enough of the top players who can mix it with the world class contingent on their own. This takes the whole problem back to grassroots level.
If I could shift my thoughts to you from Premier League football to grasroots level in this one piece then I would.
Ok, I’m on my soapbox so I think I will.
Ironically the problem is down to a part of our cultural heritage we’re proud of, our will to win. It’s also down to another irony in how good the younger generation have become at football from an early age; it is hard not to push them in the direction of playing full size, competitive football as early as we can. Anyone who’s hasn’t seen academy standard seven year olds play should really take the time to do so.
The simple idea is to reduce team sizes abd I know it makes senses as I know adults who have improved as footballers as adults when they started to play 6 and 7 a side on a regular basis, never mind kids. The reason is simple, the basics of football are picked up due to the sheer involvement you have in the match. You have more of the ball, there can be no passengers and you become better at the techniques you try to perfect due to the amount of opportunity you are presented with to do so. A child standing on the left wing who touches the ball twice all game just isn’t going to improve as a player.
When I started coaching I was a bit cynical about the idea of making football non-competitive and the plans to reduce the size of the teams, but it’s actually pretty logical when you think about it. Create the all round footballer before you introduce him to the rules of 11 a side in which he can display those talents. Kids can pick the rest up from a young age with ease due to the learning stage in which their brains are at.
I could go on and on about this but the outlines are enough, and until our society changes and stops demanding that Premier League football matches are replicated through our children then things will remain the same. Gareth Southgate and Nick Levett have managed to enforce radical changes to reduce team sizes but it is with heavy competition and it will take time. Try telling an eight-year-old and his dad that you would rather he played 4 a side and that the result doesn’t matter. English culture and society is going to struggle with it, but it is the format the top countries use and it has to be worth a try.
Instead of sitting in the studio moaning about it all, Alan Shearer could quite easily go set up a 4 a side non-competitive league that demands proper coaching for the under 6, 7 and 8 teams that enter it. His name endorsing it would make it work, certainly in the north east.
My soap box has a huge dent it now.