One has to agree that this summer was not the best for football in England. Well, none of their teams could make it out of their group [or even reach the Final Tournament] in their respective competitions: not the Under 19s, not the Under 20s and not the Under 21s. And to top it all off, even the Ladies could not get out of their group in the Euros in Sweden.
All this sparked off a wild frenzy in the English media, which lamented the poor displays, the supposed lack of emerging talent in the country, and the ‘evil’ influence of the Premier League and all its foreign imports. According to them, English football has no future as of now, there is not a single half decentfootballer in the country, and of course, the senior team will not even qualify for next summer’s World Cup in Brazil. In fact, they imply, they will lose all their remaining matches 10-0.
Isn’t this view rather pessimistic? I really feel it is. For one, yes the displays by the younger teams this time round were quite disappointing, but let us not forget the extremely high level of quality and competitiveness present at all these levels of the sport. This isn’t like a senior level tournament- here every team is almost the same in terms of quality. Every match is a tight one in which one moment of magic or foolishness can define the result, among two very evenly balanced teams: so even the teams going out the group stage are not really weak ones.
I am not for one second implying that we should be satisfied by the performance of England teams. What we need to realize is that this is not as big a catastrophe as is being made to seem. There is a lot of work that needs to be done in the youth system, right at the grassroots level, but it’s work that is possible with determined people and the already present excellent coaching facilities, and not to forget, the amazing talent present in England that graces its top three, or even four, divisions.
Is the Premier League to blame? I don’t think so. All the foreign talent in the country only improves the standard of the national game, provides inspiration to all those watching and brings new styles of the game to the land, all of which is invaluable to the development of football. Look carefully, and you will realize that the very teams that are packed with foreign superstars are the very ones that provide the bulk of the England team. So then, can we point fingers at the Premier League?
And come to think of it, restricting the number of foreign players in a team would only reduce the intensity and quality of the football played, reduce income, fan following, and all this would again adversely affect the FA’s ability to work on home-grown talent. There is clearly no shortage of talent, and it is just the approach of the game that needs to be changed, at every single level. What matters is not only how good you are but also how you perceive things, and how willing you are to accept your mistakes, be adventurous and take risks.
Which brings us to the issue of tactics. England teams have always adopted very fixed ideas, with absolutely no willingness to change the formation or try anything new. Earlier it was all about the 4-4-2, but now it is anything but the 4-4-2. Both approaches are wrong. No formation is perfect or totally worthless. The team has to play different formations in different games, and not only that, also different players need to play against different kinds of opposition! That is what England team managers have failed to implement for a long, long time now. They have been stuck with one style of play, choosing only one set of players over another.
On the day, you need to select your best team and not the best players. England managers need to learn how to bench their superstars for youth to play, and also how to bench the supposedly brighter ‘young’ players when there is a more reliable veteran present. But we do need to see more young players in the squads, and they should be given game time as appropriate. It would really help if the manager looked beyond the top five or six teams for his players, maybe even into the Championship?
It is certainly not an easy job, but not an impossible one either. With new ways of thinking, hard work, togetherness in the squad, with younger players learning from the more experienced, England can do well in major tournaments and also develop a fantastic pool of talent at every level of the game.