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 and caress 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 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.



  1. Rob, this is all spot on. Couldn't agree more with you.

    The English players are too overconfident and fearless but at the same time there is too much fear. Fear of not succeeding because they know the press can spin the feelings of a nation in an instant.

    Capello must be left alone to get on with it all. He must cull the 'names' and build a team around Rooney supplemented by eager youth players. The youth teams have won games playing good football with technically gifted players.

    Capello must rid this England side of the McClaren/Eriksson scars.

  2. Seems clear to me you've never seen our kids play at any level, and if you haven't watched them, I can't imagine you've watched anyone elses.

  3. Please elaborate Mr anonymous.....

  4. Couldn't agree more. I am a young coach from South London trying to make a name for myself locally. A few months back I tried to encourage one of the kids to hold on to the ball a bit longer and relax on the ball as he clearly had a lot of natural ability. The manager ended up losing his rag at me becasue apparently "there aint no time for any o' that fancy panzy stuff here mate!". What a moron. Utterly Ridiculous.

  5. Very good article and its just a joke the stuff that goes on at the weekend, with the coaches just wanting to get trophies at the end of the day, instead of developing the players.

  6. Great Blog! My grandmother (from Kings Lynn, Norfolk) is 78 yrs old and life long Man Uted fan (she remembers Sir Matt Busby, Munich disaster, etc)is over here visiting us and we were watching the game...I have never ever seen her get so angry and swear so much as I did during that game. She really wanted those Germans to loose...She made some good points: they were not playing like a "team" (a good example of playing like a team would be the US football team), the press is getting in the way. I just hope they can get better! I want to see England win a World Cup again.

  7. I have to disagree with you in terms of how children are brought up to play these days. It may well have been all about physicality and speed when you were playing Rob, but today is very different.

    Stoke City and West Bromwhich Albion's satellite academies have training sessions at my school every Saturday morning, and as I have two free periods at that time I often spend a little time watching the sessions. All they promote in those sessions is keeping the ball and off-the-ball movement. These are kids who are 10-11 and 16-17. They play 5-a-side games, 2-touch games and all sorts. There is nothing to do with 'hoofing' the ball or such like.

    Perhaps what is wrong is not exactly our approach to football, but actually the society that we live in today. Today's attitude, particularly amongst the young generation is to be 'ard and come across as a tough guy. As we are all very aware, crime rates in this country are soaring through the roof, and I believe that as a result of this, more and more teenagers are being encouraged to 'kick the s***' out of opposition players on a sunday and therefore neglect any semblance of the beautiful game.

    Having been involved in club football since I was 7, I can safely say that no such way of playing has ever been encouraged, but in fact the dirtier, more agricultural footballers that I have come up against are actually similar in personality to the way they play their football.

  8. I had an argument about this on ROM a few months ago, as to why United needs to get in young talent from outside and why the English are not able to produce a pool of good touch players who are comfortable on the ball and i got pretty much the same explanations, no five a side games and bad coaching at junior level. My question is if it apparent to people like us then it surely must be blindingly obvious to the coaches and scouts at club and national youth levels. Why isn't there any proactive step to correct this? I am not from England and I do not know the ground realities.

  9. spot on mate! Finally an article that tackles the actual problem with the state of english football! Blaming Capello, Rooney's poor form or those pesky foreigners in the premiership are all cheap excuses and a cop-out!

    Well done but I think this will simply fall on deaf ears! There is macho/yobish culture that surrounds football and its not going to change anytime soon! Changing the mindset of the kids from the grass roots upwards is the only way to go...but I can't see it happening! I mean even the crisps advert on one of the radio stations advertises "MAN crisps"!

  10. fantastic article,this is what ive been saying for the past 10 years to no avail.

  11. There are apparently about 3,000 UEFA qualified coaches in the UK, 30,000 in each of Italy, Spain and Germany and 17,000 in France.

    Ten years after the national football centre should have opened the land remains vacant.

    The talent pool is ebbing away.

    The FA has been emasculated but what power it has it has wasted on 'team England's' luxury training base and the white elephant Wembley stadium.

    I bet the same coaches who urge size and a physical game are those complaining of 'too many foreigners' in the English game. Truth is, it is easier to recruit 16 year olds from abroad than in the UK because of FA rules. But even if it wasn't, the kids from overseas are technically better at the same age than those here. Look at the academies of top PL clubs for proof.

    Nothing will change either because it's not in the PL clubs interest to change. There's still no blueprint for technical excellence that has actually been implemented and PL clubs know if they don't produce talent they can import it.

    England did win the under-17 Euros earlier this summer but a lot of people see this as an anomaly. At under-21 level there aren't the world stars coming through. If any.

    Here's a so called golden generation of English players that has failed five tournaments in a row. The next generation isn't as good and there's nothing in the system that will guarantee the generation after that will be any better.

  12. I've been saying this is the problem for a long long time, it's the whole "This is how we do it in here attitude" and unwillingness to change.

    The world media has deceived people in making them think England were any good. The truth is, 75% of the worlds teams are technically superior to England, and until England puts more emphasis on touch and control, this will happen again and again.

    It is a problem when the English people laud a Steven Gerrard long ball as extraordinary when he can't do simple short passes and ball retention, this is the stem of the problem, this kind of stupid mentality. The exact same thing happened when I first came into the country, players would be rated for doing pinpoint long balls, I'm not denying this is Art, but it struck me that footballers here were very impatient and didn't value ball possession much

  13. Excellent post, now if only you could somehow relay this information to the top spot within Englands National team program. It should now be glaringly obvious that changes need to be made regarding the approach they have taken. The past 3 WC performances have been underachieving at best.

  14. Rob mate, this is all spot-on.

    Technique-wise our players are an embarrassment compared with our international rivals. I've been amazed watching Spanish and Portuguese teams in the UEFA cup this season. Their touch, control and passing is lightyears ahead of anything even the best English players seem capable of. Incredibly, even the likes of Japan and the USA are rapidly catching England up.

    But the biggest problem is psychological. It's the British mentality - we just don't believe we can be winners. I saw the exact same thing in Andy Murray's capitulation to Rafael Nadal. He didn't even make Nadal work for the victory, just limply surrendered to what he probably subconciously believes is a "naturally" superior foreign player. A winner.

    It's the same reason England can't win penalty shoot-outs. You give a professional footballer, an international no less, a free shot at goal from 12 yards and they should be able to score with their eyes closed. But time and time again, England players just can't do it.

    To start winning again, British players need to rediscover a bit of pride, a bit of self-respect.