Sunday, 27 June 2010
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.
Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Everyone and their mothers are jumping up on their soapboxes to tell us just how annoying the vuvuzela is.
The instrument originates from Mexico and South America...where such noise making instruments are common place in football stadiums. The ever colourful and bashful Brazilians have their Samba rhythm section at all their games...but as most Brits hear a version of this on Strictly Come Dancing, it is more than acceptable to our Simon Cowell controlled palettes.
BBC sports commentator Farayi Mungazi said the sound of the horn was the "recognised sound of football in South Africa" and is "absolutely essential for an authentic South African footballing experience". I understand totally why this decibel challenging instrument is annoying so many. Nobody really likes sitting with their head stuck up an active beehive. But the protest against the vuvuzela has a deeper significance for me.
One of the main points of this World Cup was to finally include Africa in sharing the hosting duties of our greatest tournament. Despite the poverty and issues of stability and safety, South Africa was chosen after finally dissolving itself of 'White Rule' and we all stood back and applauded that a society could sort out its issues, no matter how testing and how long it would take. Mandela was touted as our modern day Gandhi, and we all got a warm feeling in our hearts.
So here we are, a global football community..moving forward together. And what do we go on about? The sound of a bloody horn! Mungazi also said there was no point in taking the World Cup to Africa and then "trying to give it a European feel"...and I totally agree with him.
For me this is all a question of our society's tolerance levels. We pontificate about the cosmopolitan developed genes we have in the West, yet we cant stand the noise of an authentic African football match....and we are gonna let the whole world know about it!
"Ban them horns!" "They destroy atmosphere!" "They make me sick!" "Its a disgrace!" "I wont watch anymore of this World Cup!"...just a minuscule amount of statements I've heard and also read on Twitter, Facebook and the like. So how would we feel if the Africans said..."Erm..excuse me England..we don't like your travelling brass band..playing Rule Britannia, etc...so we are gonna call for FIFA to ban it"....what would we all say to that? There would be jingoistic Facebook groups set up to counter protest within a heartbeat. We'd beat our chest and stick a certain couple of fingers up in the correct direction.
Yet here we are...telling another nation...what they should do...in their own back yard.
This is an African world cup.....IN AFRICA.....
Not in England. Not in the United States of America. Not anywhere else.
It is for them to create the atmosphere that they normally create. And it is for us to applaud them and be tolerant. For us to understand that in different places they do things differently. I personally dislike hearing all the 'YOU-ESS-AAIII' chants from Americans...because it's quite a grating repetitive ditty..but I would never ever tell them that they were wrong for chanting this...because it would make me an ignorant idiot.
So people....enjoy this World Cup. Appreciate that the world has progressed in certain regions...this tournament was once thought never to be possible on this continent. It's there to be celebrated. I know the vast majority of fans out there attending games think the vuvuzela has been a great addition to the atmosphere of a match...and as a very regular attendant of English football matches, where I sit with many fans who'd rather eat a packet of crisp than sing, and nip off ten minutes before the end to 'avoid the traffic' I fully give the vuvuzela my undying support.
And if you really cant stand the noise just turn the TV down!
Well done Bafana Bafana. Your colour will enlighten our history books in years to come.
Saturday, 12 June 2010
Of course it's very easy to point towards a goalkeeper that conceded 66 goals last season..Robert Green, who had his 'Scott Carson' moment, which will go down as one of those famous English failures on the biggest stage of all. But of course it is only half the story..
After the obvious deflation that all of us England fans will feel post match, it is quite clear to me why we didn't win this game...and its born of an age old problem. This problem seemed to be invisible to the pundits of ITV, who covered the match in the UK. Allegedly we didn't win this game because of a goalkeeping error. Well even those with zero football knowledge would have been able to deduce that. However the real problem of why we couldn't drive on and take the points is one that all English men and women have discussed in pubs and homes up and down the country since the year dot!
Once again for me the huge egos of Lampard and Gerrard have effected a performance and result for England..and as you know I don't mean in a good way! Of course, Gerrard took his goal beautifully. Credit to him for that. But as a central pair they refused to work in tandem, asserting no control on possession of the ball for any period of time, allowing the USA to have way too much opportunity going forward, and ultimately allowing a huge failure to happen on the night.
Of the two, I think Lampard was the most to blame. He looked lacklustre at best. His link play was so poor that in the last period of the game Wayne Rooney was playing in the positions you would expect Lamps to pick up on. Gerrard had moments of inspiration bar his goal, including some good tackles and crosses..but this is a team game! You would think that these two much lauded world class midfielders have never even met each other! Their communication issues are born of the two huge club egos that they both carry...both icons for their teams..who can not put this aside when they wear the 3 Lions on their shirts.
This is such a poisonous element for the whole side as it effects the heartbeats of England...none more of that than of Wayne Rooney's. The boy struggled all night, neither playing as a striker or linking successfully with the central midfield two. The thing to realise is that OUR PLAYERS DO NOT LACK TECHNIQUE! They show their class every week for their clubs. But today once again we saw today how England ruin themselves with a cocktail of bad decisions and ego mania.
As an addition there were other issues on the night. One being the performance of Shaun Wright Phillips, who proved that maybe his room in the team hotel should have been that of his City teammate Johnsons, or even Theo Walcotts. Ledley King's injury was a huge blow as Jamie Carragher looked like a player with zero pace.... and when Emile Heskey is your best player in the team for simply bullying the opposition, linking play to a good standard, getting caught offside way too much and drilling the teams best chance of the night into the mid drift of Tim Howard...well you know you've got problems.
Algeria will offer England all sorts of different problems next Friday...but the truth is that we have little chance of success in this tournament when players cant put their egotism aside and just get down to basics and play good, simple football. If we persist to lump balls up to Heskey, bypassing our only world class striker and leaving great talent like Joe Cole on the side, then it could be a very early end to the World Cup for our nation.
Tuesday, 8 June 2010
Here is a link to my new joint MUFC publication, featuring an article by Katie Preece (@manugirl11 on twitter) It is a piece written by an American United fan about our American owners, and the burden they have saddled every United fan with...have a read and leave a comment.
CLICK HERE TO READ THE LATEST EDITION FROM THE FAITHFUL
Glory glory Man United!
CLICK HERE TO READ THE LATEST EDITION FROM THE FAITHFUL
Glory glory Man United!