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 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.
This is the conclusion of a four part series where we looked at each of the above in turn.
Part I was titled “Footballers lack flair and those that have it sacrifice it to conform”
The opinion expressed in this article was that the very large number of foreign players in the Premier League is a result of the obvious lack of technically gifted and skillful English players NOT the cause of it.
A football manager is only concerned in signing the best players for his football club. And it’s obvious that their vote goes abroad.
And when occasionally gifted English players surface they are stifled by the proliferation of mediocrity around them and the imposed need to curtail their natural flair so that they conform to the conservative tactics of the coaches.
Part II was titled: English coaches encourage the physical approach and adopt defensive tactics
The main point of this article is that there are still defensive tactics applied by the coaches, with conservatism ruling the formations chosen and a physical approach encouraged.
There are a lot of managers that instruct their defenders not to dilly dally at the back but “launch it high”
This mentality is unfortunately adopted at an early age.
Unfortunately 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.
Part III was titled:Referees help destroy the game
Referees still apply the rules in a manner that encourages the use of physical play. This physical play usually takes the form of hard, vicious and dangerously sliding tackles.
Yet referees are loath to punish them as they are all considered part of the game!
But as explained in our introduction this is the mentality that pervades throughout the football world in this country.
It is embedded in the psyche of the nation. You would not expect the referees to be any different.
They are however the most important of them all because their interpretation and enforcement of the rules sends THE most important signals to the participants whereby everyone adjusts their behaviour accordingly.
Taking all the above into account it is no wonder therefore that the national team suffers when it comes against the top quality international teams.
Usually at the Quarter Final level (if the qualifying rounds are managed successfully) .
And of course the same applies to the top English players. There is no doubt that they are good. But they are made to look even better when they are playing for their club teams who mostly consist of foreign players.
They are in fact shielded by the high quality level of football that their club team is playing.
But when they have to co- exist with the rest of the England squad and line up against their club colleagues and other more skillful players in an international game they have no such “shield”
The truth is that England are really an average team who is made to look a little bit better when a few world class players emerge now and then.
The national team usually gets by through by the application of the classic traditional attributes we touched upon in our introduction to this series of articles.
Those of grit and determination which however can only go that far when facing high quality opposition.
It has been said many times. Teach them the skills at the grass roots level when they are young and impressionable.
Encourage the youth team coaches in the Academies and in the school playing fields to radically alter their coaching programs allotting the major part of training to creating and enhancing skills.
The physical approach to the game is already there; all they have to do is marry it to the creative and skillful elements of the game. And then you will have created the perfect footballer.
Highly skilled but strong and physical.
When this is achieved, England will relive the glory days of 1966.
“Footballers lack flair and those that have it sacrifice it to conform”
English coaches encourage the physical approach and adopt defensive tactics
Referees help destroy the game