England Expects… Too Much.

I WON’T launch into any sanctimonious rant about the calamitous harbinger of apocalypse that is England’s seventies retro failure to qualify for a major tournament. Firstly, I am not really an emotional stakeholder in the FA XI, and, secondly, there will be a tsunami of hypocritical bile and blinkered patriotic self delusion to contend with in the next few days anyway.
I’m not that bothered about England. I think it is a distraction from the passionate engagement of club football and comes enveloped within layer upon layer of preposterous media hype and expectation that rubs me up the wrong way. It doesn’t hurt me if England lose. It hasn’t ruined my week. I won’t be changing my holiday plans for next Summer. If anything I will enjoy the European Championships more now that we won’t have to put with the foaming mouthed xenophobia and rabid tabloid tub thumping that comes as standard with games against nations we once waged war against back in the mists of time.
But I will say this: anyone who believes that England have a divine right to qualify for every major tournaments just because they invented the game and won the big one once needs to seriously examine both the realities of world football and their own unfounded expectations.

It doesn’t matter how easy a scapegoat the Steve McClaren makes, or how easy it is to demand victory in every match as a minimum from players just because they are paid squillions of pounds a week, or how spectacular a setting for big games the new Wembley is, or how much the FA would make from qualification, or how big the back page headlines that scream ‘England Expects’ – this is a team that has a woeful record on the world stage and anyone who expects England should cruise into every major tournament is expecting too much.
Most England fans and the entire massed ranks of Her Majesty’s Press Corps believe England to be a football super power. Why? This Newcastle of the global game have reached the World Cup final once in 56 years (and then with home advantage and some generous refereeing) and have never been in the European Championships final at all. This is a team that consistently reaches the quarter-finals before crashing out amid broken dreams and bitter recriminations (usually about cheating foreigners) but rarely is there any realistic assessment of why.
The bottom line is that England are not good enough. They are a yo-yo team that fluctuate between being the eighth and 16th best team in the world. Despite having one of the strongest and richest domestic structures in the world the game here remains insular and inflexible. The high-tempo athleticism that makes the Premier League the biggest bums on seats spectacle on Planet Football is ironically a style that when pitted against other more sophisticated approaches is revealed as a tactically and technically inferior anachronism.
True, Premier League teams regularly make progress in the Champions League – but those teams are dominated by expensively imported foreign talent. Stripped of the magic Fancy Dannery and thrown back to a utilitarian reliance on the traditional virtues of muscularity, passion and the long ball forward England are repeatedly found wanting against sides who are better organised, more skilful and who control and pass the ball more effectively.
We are constantly told that England has world class players but where are they? In England. It is telling that the big clubs in Europe – Barca, Juventus, Bayern, the Milans, Juve etc – are not raiding England to snap up the talent. The reason for that is because they do not believe that the skill set of the average English player is readily transferable to a different footballing culture, that they are not flexible enough to switch to a slower but more technically demanding environment: that they are not good enough.
And it is not just the superstars. In a Europe where free movement of labour is the norm within the game there is no marked outward traffic of journeymen players or coaches who are exporting skills then importing the lessons to replenish and strengthen the domestic game. There can’t be much demand for bruising defenders who can’t control the ball or dynamic tackling machines with woeful distribution, players whose second nature is to play it long and direct and who believe that getting stuck in is the key to success.
The other side of the coin is that the English game is recruiting from abroad those who have skills that here are regarded as top of the range added extras but abroad are seen as bog standard. We are a nation who regard Joe Cole as some kind of supernatural conjuror because he can do a few step-overs before he crosses harmlessly into the crowd.
Until English football embraces a culture of technique, tactical awareness and comfortable close control rather than sheer industry and is willing to put time and money into making those the virtues promoted in school, youth and grassroots football it will continue to stumble every time it attempts to bridge the cultural gap.
The truth is probably that we don’t want to do that, that we LIKE our football fast and furious and unpredictable because work-rate can overcome wizardry and that makes it possible for lesser teams – of which we have many – to hold their own. We don’t want a culture of excellence, we want a more egalitarian approach that elevates endeavour above artistry and offers the hope that sheer toil and commitment can lead to success. And ultimately because our clubs are our primary concern we certainly don’t want to sacrifice that for the benefit of the national team.


54 thoughts on “England Expects… Too Much.

  1. to mr green bay packers who said:”All they ever do is harp on about how rubbish Mac was for Boro but his record spoke for his self. I think it will only be in the next few years people realise how good he was for us”
    You are right, his record certainly did speak for itself. Let me see…five seasons in charge, four out of five seasons we had a major fight to avoid relegation. The best he managed was 14 legaue wins in a season!
    Anyone care to remember 13 defeats in 19 away games & not scoring in ten consecutive away games in 2002-03? Or how about the dire runs of defeats and losses which were the morale-sapping hallmark of every season? The oh-so-familiar tactic of nicking a goal and then basically ten behind the ball and boot it anywhere? The insipid and irritatingly regular palsied tactics and performances?
    Yes we have been to finals and semi-finals, even won a trophy, but what has that led to? McLaren believed his own publicity too much and based his reputation on two amazing fightbacks. Fans are slower to forget the turgid years outlined above, we know the reality.

  2. 3 goals in 8 matches and braggin about two hard fought draws is rubbish, Boro need a proven striker on jan the first !
    The weakness of the attacking part our squad is now beyond a joke. At least Southgate tried something by putting Downing up front , I never saw that one coming . He is our leading goal scorer I suppose .
    Fighting and creating good chances that don’t go in is not gonna save us. I am sick of pointing out negatives and want us to beat a team or two some time soon. I feel bleeding exhausted!
    Up the Boro [quick before we go down]
    Gibbo , put the yak money into a top class striker please.

  3. Wow AV – what a well written article into which you have brought home alot of “home truths”.
    Unlike you, I am as passionate about England as I am my beloved Boro – why? – because I want my son to see England win a World Cup in his lifetime just like I did in ’66.
    …and you are right that this is highly unlikely given the current set up at the most sanctimonious institute called the FA headed by a pseudo “Pope Barwick” and his Rose Spectacled followers.
    Had this situation arisen in the real world of the private sector then His most Emminence Barwick would have been facing the chop – instead the next day he is jetting off to South Africa to represent the country at the World Cup Finals draw where “we” are demoted to a second seed – who is kidding who?
    Alas back to Boro – does GS read this Blog – He should!
    Here I go again – Wheats “THE NEW HICKTON”, 0-3 vs Villa BUT the crowd and players did play their part in response to the club’s plea to get behind the lads and GS. Most of the possession, outsung the Villa fans even at 0-3 down and battled until the end on all fronts.
    Some boos at the end though, a lot of empty seats at he end (part timers) and a few calls on local radio for GS’s head!
    On the last point – GS to go – is this really the answer? SG has a lot of hard thinking to do – could we miss out on a potential messiah in TM at WBA? If we go down and they come up – TM won’t come. How about Venables in again to help GS just like he did BR. …and dare I say Steve Mac back in some sort of supporting role – I think not!
    So many permutations and the only saving grace from today’s results is that we are still out of the bottom three, partly, due to a brace from the Yak – how ironic!

  4. The trouble with the FA is that it is the grip of the Brotherhood of Freemasons. Those people don’t give a toss about the quality of the product (I’m talking from personal experience).
    Do they, the FA, really care that England didn’t qualify? Only because they’ve missed out on making more money. As long as they get their wedge, they don’t care about anything else. That is most certainly part of the problem with the FA. The people who run it are not there for their love of the game. A change is needed.
    **AV writes: I’ve edited quite a bit out of this – but it was because it was libelous rather than because I’ve got my trouser leg rolled up.

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