England Expects… But Can’t Deliver

ENGLAND supporters are the Geordies of international football: they have deluded themselves that because they won a trophy once on Pathe News and they have the “best” fans they are entitled ex-officio to be world champions.
That they have star players and an all out attacking style of football that is the envy of the world and that only a series of outrageous refereeing decisions as every major tournament comes to the boil has stopped their inevitable and popular march to glory.
Don’t let the evidence of almost 50 silverless years get in the way of that passion.

England fans really should know better. This ‘failure’ isn’t a blip. Thirty years of hurt? Are we up to 40 now? Or 50? Failure is the norm for England.
Yet despite that inescapable reality there has been an collective elective amnesia and a willingness to buy into the spin that the glittering global success of the Premier League would somehow short circuit history and win England the World Cup.
It is a delusion. Remember how the cocksure media chorused after the draw that England were surely a shoo-in for the final. At least. The draw was “EASY” said the Sun. Wayne Rooney was the best player on the planet and the team was studded with intergalactic quality the tabloids declared. Who could stop us this time?
The England fans’ painful frustration and heartbreak now stems from that ridiculous media frenzy and unrealisable artificially raised expectations based on arrogance, ignorance and wishful thinking. It is a long way down from the saddle of that high horse.
That uncritical media juggernaut driven blindfold through the national psyche was given added momentum by a relentless cynical multi-media marketing campaign to get us to buy England branded beer and burgers and bog roll and given weight of numbers by the sudden appearance in public places of more flags than a Nuremburg rally.
Fans, even the most knowledgable, were persuaded against their better judgement – and by the very tabloid and studio big-hitters now leading the witch-hunt – that this time victory was possible… probable?
Now as England fans make their way dejectedly through the post-exit debris of broken dreams and discarded car flags like a tear through face-paint, the spotlight switches to our true national sport: the hysterical search for a scapegoat.
Because someone must be to blame for this unacceptable, shameful historic failure. Let the show trials begin… the accused: Capello for his scared selection and tired tactics, Rob Green for his butter-fingered fumble, the team for a collective failure against Algeria and the inability to score one more against Slovenia that gave them the “hard” route (and the chance to lose to Ghana instead), John Terry for his failed coup, Sepp Blatter, the referee, the ball, Gareth Southgate. Take your pick.
But while we try to pin the crime on someone – anyone – we are missing the point: England are nowhere near good enough to win the World Cup. They were never going to win. We have not been denied our birthright. It is not an historic aberration, it was a completely predictable exit that fits all the evidence of football history.
England are ranked by FIFA somewhere between eighth and 12th in the world so a place in the last 16 is just meeting expectations. Going any further is relative success.
England’s tournament default it to stumble through the group stage then go against the first technically competent side they come up against.
Sometimes the draw is kind and they get past a Cameroon or a Belgium but then when they meet a Germany, Brazil or Argentina they go out. That is the harsh reality. The idea that England are an international football superpower is a nonsense.
Since grinding out victory on home turf in 1966 (courtesy of a dodgy goal that didn’t prompt demands for a FIFA inquiry) England have reached the semi-final ONCE – that last four high-water puts them on a par with giants South Korea, Croatia, Belgium, Sweden, Turkey and Bulgaria.
England have even failed to qualify for the finals at all on three occasions.
Since 1966 Germany have always gone further than England. They have won two finals and been runners-up three times plus they have won three European Championships and been runners-up in three more. They have the right to expectations. We don’t.
But why were England never going to win? Surely the Premier League is the best in the world? Sky Sports says it is.
Certainly it is the most popular. The Premier League puts bums on seats and earns the biggest TV rights from more countries than any other competition and it is peppered with global superstars playing the fastest, most physical and goal spattered football in the world. And that’s great.
But club and country are not the same. Premier League domination of the Champions League and the global armchair audience has been based on a wage explosion that has prompted the wholesale importation of foreign talent.
English football has become like the Harlem Globetrotters with a string of big teams packed with expensive exhibitionists bamboozling a parade of willing patsies from middling makeweights delighted just to be there.
And the talented tricksters that make it all tick are overwhelming not eligible for England. The step-overs, the sublime skills, the deft touches and visionary distribution are foreign attributes grafted onto a chassis of English industry and passion.
Shorn of the European, African and Latin American elements the English game is a limited, creaking one dimensional one based on graft, passion and the long ball forward and it is repeatedly exposed on the international stage by teams from smaller lower ranks nations who are technically far more proficient and tactically literate.
Insular England have been isolated from the coaching and cultural developments in the wider game for decades and have made a virtue of it. There is a quite explicit distrust of coaching badges and tactical variation within the ranks of the professionals and a disdain within the managerial community for ‘flair’ in favour of workrate and commitment.
The modern era has brought a globalisation of the game. Television has spread once localised and indiginous styles to a wider audience, jet travel and post-Bosman free movement of labour has encouraged a melting pot of talent and a tumult of footballing ideas while the money and prestige of the European game has sucked in talent from across the world. Players and coaches have carried with them elements of their own national game around the world and their distinct tactics, training, tempo and culture have been expanded and exploited and enriched into an exciting new whole.
Reticent English clubs have nervously dipped their toes into this pool, not for ideas but for players or the occasional coach – who are usually regarded as wierd mystics, alchemists or revolutionaries because they think and talk about diet, tactics, training and technique – but they remain wedded to the traditional direct, high tempo pressing game.
Any dangerous deviation, any attempt to keep the ball for 20 minutes with a slow, cautious approach based on possession across the back prompts booing and shouts of “get it forward” from the crowd and the press box while “tinker man” tactical changes of shape too far from the mandatory 442 are seen as a direct unmitigated philosophical assault on all the English game holds dear.
In the domestic game the debilitating results of that historic exclusion have been hidden by importing players to paper over the cracks – but England can’t sign a bunch of foreigners. Although watch this space if Harry gets the job.
We get told constantly that England have “a Golden Generation” of world class stars coveted by the continental giants. We don’t. We have a very small of outstanding players who may or may not survive in more technically demanding leagues and prove themselves worthy of the media bestowed “world class” label and we have another clutch of good but not great players.
And they are all made to look far better than they actually are, or at least are protected from having their weaknesses so ruthless or regularly exposed, because at their clubs they are surrounded by technically superior imports who help bridge the skills gap.
There is a culturally ingrained emphasis on physique, commitment and passion. Given a football lesson by Algeria? Boo. There was a lack of commitment said the pundits. Show more passion! No. Show more skill. England must learn to play the way the rest of the world do, using close control, technique and flexible tactics and tempos as needed.
If England were serious about being a superpower the FA would rip apart results driven youth football to put the emphasis on coaching technique from a very early age.
In Germany, Spain and Holland kids play small sided games on small pitches and are encouraged to control, pass and move from an early age. They don’t play an organised 11-a-side game on a full-sized pitch until they are 14 or 15. In England we already have the nucleus of future national teams built around the biggest lads – not the most skilful – hoofing it up field on adult pitches long before then.
The biggest, strongest and most athletic flourish in results driven junior teams whatever their technical limitation while the scrawny but skilful don’t even get picked. Even at that level coaches – and parents – want victories and the pressure is on to pick the strongest kids rather than the skilful and find a short cut to success.
If the FA were serious then that would change and a new system of youth football, of genuine academies and feeder clubs with the emphasis on skill rather than results would be put in place alongside a cultural revolution in the national teams at every level. That would take a generation and would require an integrated approach from the clubs, the FA and junior football and it would take a massive investment in coaching excellence with very little prospect of any quick financial return and no guarentees.
But the FA are the creature of the piper paying clubs who want to continue to import the very best to get results in the short term and so keep the gravy train rolling along.
Owners and chairmen don’t care about England, only the success of their own club. Sky Sports and the media will take whatever commercial advantage there is from Team England but their core bums on seats product is club competition and star names battling it out in endless Super Showdown Grandslam Sundays. They don’t want change.
And ultimately fans are the same. Almost unanimously first and foremost fans want their own club to flourish. They want the stars. They want the quality. They want success. For club not country. That is just a summer time bonus.
If the price of a vibrant domestic scene is having to endure an agonised empty inquest over England’s endemic failure every two years, so be it.
**AV writes: This is a Pewter Generation Remix of this week’s Big Picture column.


114 thoughts on “England Expects… But Can’t Deliver

  1. “There’s no pleasing some people. With what seems like 2 good signings, the doom mongers are already out.”
    The doom monger explained why he thought the team wasn’t that good but some Fan Bois dont like the truth.
    Some people are TOO easily pleased. This present Boro team is a mile behind the one that started in the Championship last season. Boyd, Halliday and Bailey are no where near as good as the likes of Johnson, Tuncay and Huth.
    (Anyway, my guess is that you dont even go to the Riverside these days living where you do so wrap up yourself.)

  2. I was pleasantly surprised that Boro managed to sign Kris Boyd given how attractive a proven goal scorer is to clubs who are already in the PL.
    As he arrived on a free, no doubt he’ll be on decent wages – but I think he is an important signing that will indicate to other potential signings that Boro are serious about their promotion ambitions and may well sway one or two who may have had doubts about coming to Teesside.
    With McManus and Bailey looking like signing soon then Boro are fast approaching having a good nucleus to the side that sounds also like it has a good team spirit potential.
    So let’s hope we have a good start to the season and build a tough winning mentality that Strachan craves for.

  3. Peter –
    I agree that at face value Johnson, Tuncay and Huth are better than Haliday, Boyd and Bailey.
    Johnson did his bit for us last season but went to further his career. Tuncay had made no secret of the fact he was leaving but when he came on did his best. Huth was the best centre back in the Championship.
    None of them were staying, helped get us relegated and we received a decent amount of money for them.
    We were never going to recruit the same level of quality as a Championship side. If, as looks likely, McManus does come here we will have done some decent recruiting.
    We have needed someone like Barry Robson for several years. He is the best signing by Strachan by some distance. McManus alongside Wheater is about as good as we are likely to get. And McDonald and Boyd should get us the goals we have been missing up front.
    Tuncay was great to watch when he was on his game but he missed a hat full of chances. Some one asked me the difference between Jimmy Greaves and Denis Law, my answer was that Jimmy Greaves was a great goalscorer whilst Dennis Law was a scorer of great goals. I wish Tuncay was still with us but if you think back to some of the sitters Tuncay missed it makes your toes curl.
    I havent been impressed by Miller. Flood looks a good aquisition. Bailey, assuming he actually appears, is a hard worker and scores goals – he may be the person that means O’Neil can leave. Halliday may well come through in time – probably an impact sub in the same way as both Downing and Johnson made their marks.
    In our current financial circumstances it is difficult to see what else can be done. There will always be other targets we are chasing but getting some players in early is better than last minute. There will be players who choose to go elswhere for whatever reason. The last time we completed a fair amount of transfer business early was the season we finished 7th in the prem.
    You suspect the rest of the business is dependent on getting players off the books to create some headroom.
    Any chance of an overview of where we are without breaking confidences.
    **AV writes: McManus should be in very soon and then they will step up the pressure on Dawson while switching attention to getting out a few big earners who are not in their plans. The club are very happy with progress at the smithy.

  4. Just read that Newcastle goalie Fraser Forster will not be going to Norwich next season and that he will be number 2 at the Toon as Tim Krul is expected to be loaned out.
    What are we waiting for? Go get Timmy.

  5. Peter
    The other thing I should have mentioned was that once Tuncay and Huth had gone (and even when they were there) the team was a flimsy affair that had little bottle when things got a little tougher.
    We were outplayed by the better sides and bullied by the stronger sides. Exactly the same reasons we got relegated. We were not fit enough mentally or physically.
    I dont enjoy being in this division, I think the club caused its own downfall but it is difficult to fault what they are doing now. Time may show the decisions being taken are wrong, the players may not work out but it is not like the last two summers where we could clearly see the mistakes that were being made.
    I am more optimistic than before the last couple of seasons even if it turns to cack.

  6. Drat and double drat! There I was happily going along in a sea of melancholy when the Boro go and make signings,just when the window is barely open as opposed to when it is slamming shut.
    I know it is wrong but I have found myself checking my calender and trying to arrange a visit up to the Riverside for the opening fixture. The A word is now in my consciousness, anticipation! It has slowly sneaked up behind me when my defences were down. So in the full flush of new season fervour….
    Come on Boro!

  7. Mick is the next piece of the jigsaw.
    AV do you think our signings have increased ticket sales and have you heard any news on the numbers sold? Would love to see a full house for the opener if that can happen then we just need the team to turn up and we are on our way.
    **AV writes: Full house? No chance. Last I heard was 10,500 a week or so ago and I can’t see Kris Boyd sparking a Juninho style rush of delirious zealots wearing kilts and half/half Boro/tartan beanies.

  8. Looked at the picture on MFC showing pre season training and there was Midough. He looks slimmer than for some time though I wasnt certain if I could detect a bit of a spare tyre.
    No doubt he is one of the items that the club are looking to offload. I just cannot see him and Strachan hitting it off.
    GHW – Careful now, you could take the edge off your finishing. You should keep focussing on the here and now otherwise you wont be ready for the next 100.
    The good thing about this blog is that it is like playing for ManU, even if you miss a chance the next ‘100’ is just round the corner. Sadly I appear to be Diego Forlan to GHW’s Dit Van Nistleboy.

  9. We can all play ‘fantasy football’ and notionally compare players ‘on their day’ against potential new players coming in. ‘On his day’ Alan Foggon was a world beater – scored more goals than Tuncay, so we clearly are a team in constant decline since the heady days of the mid-70’s. Aren’t we?
    Point is – we need consistency, attitude, conviction, courage, skill, tenacity and a bit of luck in getting a successful season under our belt, not just ‘on their day’ players. I’m actively encouraged, indeed positively optimistic, at these signings and can see a side forming that hits a range of these sweet spots. We saw in the England team a squad admittedly limited by skill but lacking many of the other qualities too – and look what happened to them.
    In fact, I am feeling positively bouyant. Would like a ‘creative’ midfielder to make the goals – but I’m sure the well pawed catalogue down at the Smithy has the answer – any chance of a sight of it??
    Incidentally – at this rate our Smithy is on for the ‘Forger of the Year’ award!

  10. Suddenly I’m filled with optimism for the coming season and wish I could get to the Riverside more often if at all this year rather than having to see the team on its travels in London and the South.
    I note Peter’s above comments, but it’s time for a new page to be turned.I agee with Ian Gill that the club (mostly) caused it’s own downfall, as has been discussed so many times and will no doubt continue to be the subject of much debate.
    However, the club is where it is ie in the Championship. As such Peter, who do you think might be better striking options than Boyd,Macdonald and possibly Hooper(who’s already done it in this league).

  11. With the signing of Kris Boyd, does AV now believe the signing of Gary Hooper will not happen now?
    I think a strong strikeforce will be the key to promotion this season and competition important. Boyd / McDonald / Hooper would be perfect.
    Hooper in, or not..that is the question!
    **AV writes: See my new blog. Should be up and visible by now.

  12. Richard said: “Nicely timed Powmill!”
    I just happened to be strolling past when the ball just kind of deflected off me and into the net ….. That’s been a long wait for my hat-trick !
    Let us hope we do not have so long to wait for Boro’s first hat-trick of the season ….. whoever may score it.

  13. AV said “while switching attention to getting out a few big earners who are not in their plans”
    Mido, Emnes, Digard no secrets there. Taylor possibly out of favour? Any more guys that are more than likely to go? Was anyone highlighted from the La Manga trip as “not up for it”? Is O’Neil likely to stay or he finances other deals?
    What is the ore-inspirational (sorry!) news from the smithy on these fronts?

  14. Hello – cage rattler here!
    I don’t go to the Riverside anymore, but I was a season ticket holder for 11 years (I even qualified for a Eufa cup final ticket which I gave to a worthier cause). All whilst living in the Peterborough.
    Does that warrant credibility?

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