Another World Cup and another exit for England; this time, much more early than usual, and without the heartache of penalties. Anyone who’s followed my career knows that I’m as passionate about my country as anything in life and so it won’t be much of a surprise to know that even in Florida – or wherever I may be around the States, coaching – I keep in touch with what’s happening back in England.
So I was able to keep up with what the media were saying prior to the tournament. Low expectations, apparently, that were matched by poor results. Despite returning home from Brazil with two defeats and a scoreless draw against Costa Rica, I’ve been surprised to see that there hasn’t been the usual reaction to England’s departure from a tournament. I don’t like the hype and hullabaloo but just how low were these expectations? I read that people were impressed with England’s performance against Italy and Uruguay in general.
I’m not going to sit here and write that I think that England are stronger than Italy or Uruguay at the minute but I think the difference in quality was there for all to see and what really disappointed me was that I’m a firm believer that you leave the pitch leaving everything on it and I can’t say for sure that that’s what England – or Roy Hodgson – did. It just seemed as if we weren’t giving ourselves the best possible chance of qualifying. Ashley Cole was left at home and Luke Shaw was taken as a sign that things were moving forward but Luke was used when we were already eliminated. Wouldn’t Cole’s experience have been vital? Defensively we were very poor, giving away very cheap goals, and it made me think that John Terry would have been better use to us there than watching it on the sofa or wherever he was. And it disappoints me more because not only did we leave the tournament in pretty limp fashion, we lost against teams that weren’t even at their own best. Italy went out, for God’s sake, and we treated them with too much respect.
Wayne Rooney played on the left against Italy. And that for me underlines the problem. Is Rooney the best player in the world, no, but is he our best forward, yes, and as such he should have been played in his best position, through the middle. Because he can do a job wide, he was asked to do so, but it’s different being asked to do a job wide when your strike partner is Cristiano Ronaldo or Robin van Persie. Daniel Sturridge had a great season, sure, but Rooney should have been leading the line for England. I’m not saying he should have the team built around him, but what I am saying is that England are not blessed with world class players, and they can’t afford to play their best player out of position. It loses the impact of the player and weakens the team as a consequence.
And England’s second choice left back ended up being transferred to Manchester United for £27m – don’t get me wrong, I like Luke and hopefully he’ll fulfil his huge potential but the transfer coming so close to England’s World Cup shows the gulf in difference between reality and the world that the Premier League live in. Why is he such a high price? Because there is a fairly small quota of home-grown players that Premier League clubs must have and domestic talent comes as a premium. If you read my website and listen to me talk on the radio you’ll have heard me talking about the figure of 33% of ‘home grown players’ in the Premier League. That figure is now at 31% and if you think that it doesn’t sound too bad, in Italy it is 46%, Germany 51%, and in Spain it is 60%.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there was a high enough quota of our players getting chances to play abroad but there aren’t. Not one of our World Cup squad was playing abroad, the furthest being Forster at Celtic, which with all due respect is about the standard of the English Championship. It isn’t clear if that 31% is players who qualify to play for England or just the ambiguous Premier League definition of ‘home grown’ which includes the likes of Belgian Adnan Januzaj. So is the real figure closer to 25%? It’s no wonder that clubs abroad don’t sign our players, because they don’t even get a chance at our clubs.
If we’re to give a rough estimate and say that a third of players – based on last years numbers – were available for selection for England, that means that around 72 regularly starting players in the Premier League last season were English. Roy Hodgson – a nice guy, but a yes man for the FA – had to choose a squad of 30 and whittle it down to 23. That means around 1 in 3 playing in the top division had a chance of being selected. If you were English and playing in the top league, you had a pretty decent chance of being selected in the World Cup in Brazil, one of the greatest sporting events of all time.
We never had a chance.
And worst of all, we didn’t give ourselves a chance.
Spain went out in the group stage but have been – arguably – one of the most successful international teams in history. Some say the greatest. They have the highest home grown average of any major European league and their 23 man squad included 9 who played their football abroad. Forty percent. Germany’s squad has 30% playing overseas. Holland’s is around 45%. There’s a healthy balance, because of progressive procedures that were put in place just after the turn of the century.
We’ve got a lot to learn, but it’s a broken record isn’t it? A broken record that keeps playing on the loudest volume, and nobody wants to listen. We need to go back to the drawing board once more and instead of trying to imitate playing styles, observe the best infrastructures and learn from those.
I’d like to say we’ll see changes but I’m pretty sure that in two years time we might even be talking about 25, or 20 percent being the figure of players available for England’s European Championship selection. Progress? If people think we’re moving in the right direction, then we really do have a problem.