By The Coach and 1970’s Gooner
Why is it that England has not excelled in the international arena since the 1966 World Cup which was held on home soil?
After this famous victory, the fortunes of England have followed mostly a downward direction.
For the next forty years the maximum the national team has achieved is to reach the semi finals of a major competition only three times:
the 1968 European Nations Cup (as it was called then), the World Cup in 1990 and six years after that, in 1996, in the European Championships, which were held in England.
Since then and in between the England national team has failed to progress beyond the quarter finals of any international tournament.
Why is this so?
The simple answer is of course that there have not been enough world class football players in England.
In our opinion the reason for this lies on the emphasis placed by society in England on several character related attributes, which in the end help to stifle any skills that a young player may possess.
These attributes, admirable as they are, concentrate more on the traditional English values of commitment, work ethos, effort and physical and mental strength.
All very important and very necessary elements in what makes a world class player.
But alas not sufficient.
By overemphasizing their importance, the most significant attribute that a footballer needs to succeed is ignored, or rather obstructed in its development: football skills.
All these character related attributes inevitably manifest themselves in all aspects of the English game.
In the way the players themselves play the game.
In the way English coaches encourage their players to conduct themselves on the pitch and in their choice of strategies and tactics for the games.
And in the way the referees interpret the laws
Part I was titled “Footballers lack flair and those that have it sacrifice it to conform”
This is the second article in of a four part series where we look at each of the above in turn (the fourth part is the conclusion).
Part II: English coaches encourage the physical approach and adopt defensive tactics
Football managers have changed their approach to the way football is played in England for the better but we think not far enough.
We still see defensive tactics applied, with conservatism ruling the formations chosen, and a physical approach encouraged.
Midfielders are instructed to stay back rather than support the forwards; only released from their shackles when the team has conceded. And even then only for the later stages of the game lest the team concedes again!
They also try to take full advantage of the rules as applied by referees in England to gain unfair advantage over competing teams which rely more on flair and skill.
The fact that referees will not use the ultimate punishment in the area unless it is abundantly clear that an offense has been committed is taken advantage of by ambitious managers who advise their players to push it almost to the limit (we will discuss the referee's role in the next part).
Similarly, when physical teams are attacking, their forwards are encouraged to push and pull a lot in the opposition’s area because they know that the worst that can happen is to commit a foul and give away a free kick in an area where it can’t hurt them.
However, if they get away with it (and in England they often do) they can create a goal scoring opportunity through their aggressive game rather than through display of skillful and creative thought.
The long ball is still prevalent in a lot of Premiership clubs and more so in the lower Leagues. It is not a coincidence that this is so.
When flair and skill are lacking then the only way to thwart the danger is to get rid of the ball away from the danger zones as quickly as possible.
It also allows the team to transfer (usually not for long) the play into the opponent’s penalty area.
Bolton used to do it a lot under Allardyce and they are not the only ones of course.
There are a lot of managers that instruct their defenders not to dilly dally at the back but “launch it high” (Jackie Charlton was also famous for this during his reign as the ROI manager).
This mentality is unfortunately adopted at an early age since this is the norm prevalent throughout boys’ football in England. But it is at the tender age of 4 to 10 that football skills are imparted.
On this very subject, a youth team coach was recently quoted in Jamie Jackson’s article in The Guardian “Five years to save English football”
“When a match situation demands of them skills they're comfortable with in training, I've seen technically gifted kids of nine through to 11 who'd rather kick the ball away because they have a bloke on the touchline screaming at them.”
No wonder then that a lot of the Premiership clubs' youth academies are now awash with foreign kids.
In another article in the same paper by David Ornstein titled “Academies go from substandard to ridiculous” Middlesbrough's head of recruitment, Ron Bone says:
"We need to study foreign coaching techniques in great detail because we are lagging behind. Foreign players are technically better than us. In England we have the attitude 'we don't need that, our coaches are as good as any others in the world'. I'm sorry but they are not."
Need we say any more!
In the third part we will look at how referees impact negatively on the standard of football played in England.
Part I: “Footballers lack flair and those that have it sacrifice it to conform”