Thoughts of a Manchester United season ticket holder
Sunday, 27 June 2010
Is England's Failure A Product Of Our Mentality? Absolutely 100% YES
Today is a black day for the English National Team. I really don't need to point that out. Four games of underwhelming quality provided by multi-millionaire players who'd really rather be docked off a Monte Carlo port in their ridiculously large yachts, than play football in Africa's 'Winter conditions'
Many things will be said about England's shambles of a tournament starting with Terrygate months ago, to the England captain getting injured in his first training session not 24 hours off the plane, to Capello's bizarre loyalty to the 4-4-2- formation and an Aston Villa striker who hasn't scored since February, and ending with the completely stellar capitulation at the hands of the oldest of enemies.
You could write a book about it...but no one would want to read it.
The hardest thing to take is there are absolutely ZERO positives to be taken away from the whole thing. No Owen Hargreaves like performances from last time. Not even a robot dance from a funny looking man. Just utter and conclusive bewilderment at the entity called 'English Football'
So it begs the question....just what is wrong with us??? Is it just those playboy footballers on the pitch, or is it something a tad deeper?
Now I could bring up our nations strange fixation with celebrity, and our general 'throw-away culture', but this would lead to an article that would need chapters and verse! So lets break things down....
The biggest problem we saw today was not lack of heart (as I'm sure the tabloids will point to as reason in the coming days) It was not even a team formation I was personally hugely against (having watched Wayne Rooney blossom in a 4-5-1 these past twelve months) The biggest issue that I saw today was one simple thing...and that is every English players first touch..or more specifically, the lack of it.
To not be able to control a ball with your first touch normally means that you wont make it to any decent standard as a player. Yet here we are, on the biggest stage of all...and our players cant even do the basics. To add to this our passing was also embarrassing. All of our ten yard passing became hospital balls, and at the other end of the scale you had Steven Gerrard attempting to play 'glory balls' three miles long to absolutely no one. It was utterly chronic to witness.
For me this is England's single most pressing issue. It's got nothing to do with pride, and honour, and solidarity, and everything to do with technique. When you cannot covert the ball..love and caress it..you have got little chance. Watch the Brazilians, Argentinians and Spaniards. Hell! Watch the Slovakians, the Chileans and the Mexicans!! I would even go as far as saying that South Korea now pass the ball better than we do. It is shameful.
This simple yet fundamental failure of the skillbase of our national game has little to do with the players in the Three Lions today, and everything to do with the way we approach football as inhabitants of the United Kingdom. It starts with our children. Introduced to the sport which is sold to them as a hustle and bustle game. A sport that we sell to them as being a religion, and one they must not fail at. Parents stand on touchlines across Britain screaming "Get stuck in son!" "Bloody smash him kid!" and "Chase it CHASE IT!!!" We demand that they understand the physical nature of our brand of football. You must be fast. You must be strong. You must play at one hundred miles an hour. It stinks of machismo, and is all more for the benefit of the parents who live vicariously through their offspring....for this is the 'English Way'
If said child conforms to these set of principles they progress through our system. By the age of seven they are taught to 'run the channel' if they have attacking prowess. Or if they are more defensively inclined we teach them the 'technique' to head the ball high into Outer Space. At 11, they are playing on full size pitches, and being paraded to scouts from clubs who look for centre-backs with 'size' and wingers who have 'pace'.. Finally as a teen they may just make it into some professional teams youth academy, where they will get kicked pillar to post by boys they are attempting to kick from pillar to post. Eventually they may become a Pro.
All of this is the path of the English footballer, all described in a mere two paragraphs. And the sad thing is there really is not a lot more to it!
Ball skills are forsaken. The first touch is mentioned like a dirty word. Competition is promoted ahead of actually learning your craft. Ive witnessed it first hand both as a parent, and as a child myself. As a kid I always had a good first touch. This was because I ran round our council estate with a football glued to my foot from the age of 7 to 14. I liked to play up front, but I was small. In my local side the lad who was a foot taller than me, and a yard quicker than me would always get picked ahead...even though I could 'Cruyff turn' him into dust. I could curl a ball into the top corner more times than not, but because I couldn't out jump my marker, and that he would smash me into the middle of next week to stop me, gave me a distinct disadvantage in the Coach's eye. And as I said...it was all about competition..and not learning the game. I can remember once beating two lads on the right, getting to the by-line and putting in an inch perfect cross..only for my Coach to tell me that "You dont get any F-in points for trying to be Michel F-in Platini" and that I should have lumped the ball in from deep. Flair was not to be encouraged, or even accepted.
I still see this set of principles as a parent now. The same mandate. If you're fast then you are 'good at football'. If you are physically bigger than the norm for your age then you are 'good at football'. If you are as brave as a lion then you are 'good at football'
Virtually no emphasis is put on skill.
In Holland it is well known how they teach their kids. No 11 a-side games til they are much older, with everything being about possession of the ball, retention of the ball, EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE BALL!! Not pace or power. Not height. Not strength. But the things that make players like Lionel Messi special. That made Dennis Bergkamp and his fellow Ajax graduates little geniuses..
The things that make our game.. 'beautiful'
Yet here we are. On our knees after probably our worst World Cup ever. And there is absolutely no quick fix. No manager in the world of even Mourinho proportions could sort out a whole nation's ideological issues. It is us and our British mentality that is to blame. It's how we have defined our culture. All fisticuffs and crunching tackles. We would prefer to be beer-bellied Phil Mitchells than trust "that foreign muck!" The first rule of the game in most footballing nations is that you must be able to control and pass a ball first and foremost. Yet in Britain it is one of the last.
Now I could go on and talk about how the FA should be gutted from the inside out. That the proposed National Centre of Excellence lack of being built at Burton is a total disgrace to the powers that be. And that our pros should be able to play simple passing football like the Germans. But it would all be just futile written words.
Our very British attitude of 'Lets not do anything before we have a disaster' is the only thing that triggers change to our bland palettes.
Was this World Cup a disaster?
Maybe not enough of one to the scores of parents that bark at their children on the little league touchlines of Blighty.
Manchester United fan since the age of 9 when he saw Norman Whiteside curl the ball into a Wembley goal in the dying minutes.
He is an Old Trafford season ticket holder in the North Stand Tier 3...and cried tears of joy, on his knees with the many in Moscow.
Rob is a contributing author/editor at Man Utd blogzine 'The Faithful'