John McCormick writes: Jeremy Robson has been busy lately but managed to catch up with the World Cup and pass on his thoughts. His considered appraisal of England’s performance and the reasons for it are well worth reading, be you fan, player, owner or member of the FA council. And, if you’re one of the latter, in the words of the one-year king, “something must be done”.
Few serious followers of the national team were under any illusions about our prospects at this year’s World Cup, Firstly, we rarely do well and secondly, this is possibly the weakest squad to go to a World Cup in living memory.
Roy Hodgson probably picked the best he had available, and to be fair to the players they gave it their best shot. Most of the focus has been on Luis Suarez, “the difference maker”, and rightly so. A pitiful excuse for a human being in so many ways, but the finest striker in world football. This lad hasn’t played a competitive game in five weeks, and is recovering from surgery. He starts a game and can do what he did. He’s phenomenal.
What distinguishes our squad from the other great footballing nations is the “difference maker”. Our “difference makers” don’t actually make a difference at all. I say that, reflecting on the fact that Wayne Rooney actually put in a decent shift in the World Cup for once. Gerrard, the captain and one of the “golden generation” now presides over the early days of the “lost generation”.
The bright spots have unquestionably been Sturridge and Sterling. The former was out of his skin in both the Italy and Uruguay games. I felt sorry for young Raheem as he was withdrawn after being marked out of the game. I also felt a pang of sympathy for the back four, or rather the three of them (Johnson, Baines and Jagielka) who have been found sadly wanting. Gary Cahill is a centre half of real quality but was let down by his fellow defenders. I could blame Roy Hodgson for persisting with Glen Johnson as it was three tournaments ago now that he was clearly not up to muster. Jagielka can’t mark, and Baines put on the white shirt and abandoned all of the good practices that had got him into the England side in the first place.
Time will tell but the development and progress of Ross Barkley will be interesting. He did little to suggest there has been any justification for the hyperbole surrounding his talents. It was a tournament too soon for the young Evertonian who seems to benefit and suffer from the naivete of youth in equal part. He lacks certain fundamentals for an attacking midfield player, like the ability to receive the ball on the move. The World Cup is no stage on which to demonstrate that deficiency. Black marks to Mr Hodgson on that one. The real issue that England face, in international football is that there simply aren’t enough top quality players getting a chance in domestic football. I like Rickie Lambert. He’s a nice tidy, skilful footballer but when you are calling on him to turn round a game in the World Cup finals then there is something seriously lacking. The likes of Danny Dichio and Billy Whitehurst must be wishing they’d been born two decades later.
The commentator made an interesting comment today. Only on one occasion in World Cup Finals history have England come back to win when they have gone behind. England have never been a force in world football. We can’t compare our record against France, Germany, and more recently Spain. In terms of qualification we fare well against the Dutch but hardly in terms of achievement once the rubber hits the road. They have never won but they get to the later stages of World Cups and were crowned European Champions in 1988.
Why do we fare so badly? The simple answer is that we aren’t anywhere near good enough and setting 1966 aside we never have been. Its frankly doubtful that we would have ever been World Cup winners had the tournament been played somewhere else.
The improbable job of leading England to anywhere other than a shady corner where we can hide in the shadows and wear the comfortable suit of sackcloth covered in ashes, has become an impossible one it seems.
I take my hat off to Roy Hodgson for giving the young guns a go. Well done Roy. The dearth of English talent playing in England is a huge problem which needs to be addressed. The problem of a lack of English talent playing elsewhere in other leagues across the globe is just as serious. Looking at other nations lining up in this World Cup you see young players from South American nations turning out for their club sides in Turkey, Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England. You can barely find an English player in an English side these days let alone abroad. Foreign ownership at the top of the English pyramid exacerbates the effect considerably. This extends well beyond the Premier League and the Championship. In the same way that the development of players is hindered, the same problem exists for managers. Foreign owners care nothing for the English game and even less for the welfare of the national team.
The recent proposal for a B League was recently quashed, and probably for good reason. However, the inception of such a proposal was at least a recognition of the scale and severity of the problem. There’s a real need to take come action which gives young English players the chance to develop, and mature in a conducive environment. Development is being stifled at lower league clubs as well. If you consider the pathway to the top flight for the players in our last decent national team, the point should be clear. The likes of Parker, Wright, Steven, Pearce, Beardsley, Waddle, Platt, all began their footballing careers in the lower reaches of the football league and even lower. They weren’t being asked to mature in the white heat of a World Cup finals.