England too insular for World Cup success

BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil —

In many ways, it’s a head-scratcher: the country that invented football and which has the richest, most watched and, many would agree, best league in global football is also one of the worst performers at this World Cup. How can that be?

We are, of course, talking here about England — that self-important nation which is no longer very good at football but is quite brilliant at marketing it.

And that, right there, is part of its problem.

The argument goes like this and by now is familiar: Because the Premier League is so good at selling itself, its wealthy clubs can pay huge salaries to attract the best footballers. These foreign imports then elbow aside young Englishmen who don’t develop as they should because they don’t play enough. The resulting weakening of the English game, according to this logic, helps explain why England is now flying home winless from Brazil. Twenty years ago, two-thirds of players who started Premier League matches were eligible to play for England. Now, just one-third are, the Football Association said in a report released before this World Cup debacle, sounding the alarm and getting its excuses in early.

In short, the pool of top English talent is becoming too shallow. But there’s also another reason that the English don’t talk about: their players are too English, too insular, and they’re failing to use the globalization of football to better themselves, as other nations are doing with such spectacular results at this World Cup.

Many protagonists at this tournament are players who had to move overseas to further their careers. Faced with a choice of learning to become better footballers with clubs abroad or staying close to friends, family and familiarity at home, they chose football. Too few English players make that same choice.

Take Luis Suarez, scorer of both Uruguay goals that sent England packing. At 19, he moved to the Netherlands to play football and improve. Edinson Cavani, whose delightful cross set up Suarez’s first goal against England, also hadn’t celebrated his 20th birthday when he moved to Italy.

Mario Balotelli, the scorer of Italy’s winner against England, moved to Manchester. Costa Rica, which stunned everyone except itself by qualifying top of the England-Italy-Uruguay group, got its first goal in Brazil from well-travelled striker Joel Campbell, who before his 22nd birthday later this week has already played for clubs in France, Spain and Greece.

England players, by comparison, are stick-in-the-muds. All but one of Roy Hodgson’s squad of 23 play in England. The exception, reserve goalkeeper Fraser Forster, didn’t stray far: he’s with Celtic in Scotland. This is surely part of the reason why England players often seem to travel so poorly compared to more worldly-wise rivals with broader horizons from other nations.

The English island mentality was also on display in the FA’s proposals for arresting the decline of the national squad. Pulling up the drawbridge, it proposed stricter limits on the numbers of foreign players coming to England.

But here’s an alternative idea: If English players are struggling to get enough games with teams in England, then why don’t more of them pack their bags and try their luck overseas, just as so many non-English players do?

The FA report noted that the Champions League group stage this season featured 47 Brazilian players, even though that is a European competition. That is just one indication of how readily players from other countries move overseas. Historically, the English as a people have been intrepid travelers. In the Amazon city of Manaus, where England played its first match of this World Cup, English engineers left behind a sewage system, among other things. But the list of English footballers who have made names for themselves abroad is a short one.

“It would be positive, I think, if they are not getting the chance to play in the Premier League with their club team, if they are able to find a good team abroad that would give them that experience, a chance to play regularly. Of course it would be very positive,” Hodgson said after England played a drab 0-0 draw with Costa Rica on Tuesday to end its forgettable World Cup, yet another one.

Hodgson is a prime example of how foreign experience can enhance a career in football: he previously managed an array of foreign clubs and the Swiss national team. He gave a compelling reason why more English players don’t follow his lead: money. In England, players might not develop as well as they might if they got more regular games with foreign clubs, but at least they’re well paid.

“Quite a few of our young players will already be on salaries which maybe some of these foreign clubs might find hard to match, because there is literally no comparison,” Hodgson said. “Our salaries are so much higher.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Author Infomation

John Leicester
John Leicester
  • 0

    TigersTokyoDome

    This getting far too deep into what is a very simple reason. This coach (Hodgson) made tactical errors. Simple as that.

    You don't survive a group stage by playing attacking attractive football with young players. Not against Italy and Uruguay. Hodgson went to Brazil saying that we did not expect to win anything and talking up his young attacking squad. Another mistake. Draws against Italy and Uruguay after levelling in both games would have left England in a strong position to qualify.

    England played 3 strikers (Sturridge, Rooney, and Welbeck) plus an attacking winger (Sterling) leaving only 2 midfielders totally isolated. The only cover for Baines at left back was a striker (Rooney). The Italians took advantage and Hodgson still didn't get Milner on. Tactically naive.

    English football is fine. Sturridge, Sterling, Wilshere, Oxlade, Hart, Walcott, Townsend, Barkley. All great young players that any country would want.

  • 1

    thepersoniamnow

    @TigersTokyoDome

    But the writer is talking about a long history of failures in international tournaments. I don't think being a couch analyst for a couple games will suffice. Otherwise the FA would have solved it a long time ago.

  • 1

    philsandoz

    "Take Luis Suarez, scorer of both Uruguay goals that sent England packing..." Wow, is this biting sarcasm or what?

  • 1

    Probie

    Hodgson is a prime example of how foreign experience can enhance a career in football: he previously managed an array of foreign clubs and the Swiss national team.

    No. Hodgson is a prime example of how not to be a decent manager anymore. He did some good work in the past, but ha has been awful for a while now. They should have kept Fabio Capello. The constant firing of managers after the inevitable exit of the England team at a tournament should have stopped then. How anyone could think Hodgson would be better than Capello is amazing to me.

  • 2

    Asakura Cowboy

    There are a whole number of reasons why England failed yet again but one of them is the fact that England rarely travel well, and the proof is that when we did win the World Cup it was on home soil. We haven't got a hope in the heat of Africa or South America, the players just aren't used to such an environment - you could see it from their slow-paced play, not like the the Premier League at all. Unless England play at a high tempo, they are doomed because they can't play effective possession football. The skill level of the players is also lacking and the passion to play for the national team is just not the same as with other nations. While the South American teams have their arms round each others' shoulders and belt out their national anthem before kick off, the England players just stand there listlessly mumbling God Save the Queen and looking bored, nervous or both. Motivation is definitely an issue here, no matter how many times Gerrard says how proud he is to play for England. He spent most of his time on the pitch grimacing - when he wasn't giving the ball to the opposition that is. Some role-model. In contrast Beckham clearly loved representing his country and being the captain. The debate will go on and on of course, but I doubt much will change while the same people continue to control the FA and players continue to earn astronomical salaries even when they aren't regularly in the first team. Oh well, the next two tournaments are closer to home at least and in cooler countries.

  • -2

    Brooks Slaybaugh

    Maybe there should be a Great Britain team. Seems that the Welsh, Scots and Northern Irish could help instead of playing separately and failing to qualify.

  • -1

    Bryan Cooper

    This article raises some great points. Lazio improved Gazza, Barca improved Lineker, Bayern Munich gave us a cultured defensive midfielder in Owen Hargreaves.

    Rather than sweep things under the carpet by blaming Hodgson, who had such a shallow pool to select from that Glen Johnson was the only right back worth bringing, we should not only look at how our league affects our players, but how our players can be educated in other cultures.

  • 0

    Laguna

    ...that self-important nation....

    I actually find Britain admirably reserved compared with other countries.

  • -2

    StormR

    English don't do sports well, name a sport they are world champions in, right thought so.

    They had their heyday back in 66 and have won nothing since in world football, not likely to win anything else soon either. The USA has more chance of winning anything in football than eng does.

    Their rugby team just got trounced 3 nill in a series and often get beaten by weaker nations like wales france and Ireland, their cricket team used to get smashed all over by the aussies and indian teams, anything else these English men cant do ?

  • -2

    Probie

    Rather than sweep things under the carpet by blaming Hodgson, who had such a shallow pool to select from that Glen Johnson was the only right back worth bringing, we should not only look at how our league affects our players, but how our players can be educated in other cultures.

    I'm almost certain that Capello would have done a better job with the players he had. Especially if the FA had given him another 4 years in the job instead of the usual knee jerk reaction of firing the manager. Hodgson should go though. Because he's crap.

  • 2

    lucabrasi

    @Storm

    Last time I checked we were still world marbles champions! ; )

  • 2

    zichi

    and Maypole dancing champs! Conker bashing is another!

  • 2

    cleo

    Snooker

  • 0

    LeTizz

    The problem is not so much that players are insular - it's that the FA and attitudes towards technical development are insular. England needs to look at the countries that are successful, determine why they're successful and do the same! It's simple. In fact, the English FA did implement a ten year programme similar to the Spanish Football Association in the late 1990s, but it was abandoned after 5 years. Just think what Spain achieved. And think what England could have achieved if they'd continued with that programme.

    England needs to implement a consistent youth development strategy as well as a consistent style of football. Players who are used to a regular style or philosophy at club level are expected to adapt to a different style when they join up with England. This is OK when the national team has a consistent style, culture or philosophy (like Spain or Germany), however in England each manager has tried to develop his own way.

    Research shows that it doesn’t matter if the national team plays differently to the clubs, as long as the way the national team plays is consistent. The problem with England is that when each successive manager changes the strategy the players have to relearn or adapt.

    No matter which clubs the players come from in Spain (remember some of them have played in England) the national teams in Spain all play in a consistent way at all age groups.

    The England manager should be appointed because he buys into the strategy not because he is expected to revolutionize it. The England manager is always appointed ton the basis that they have some secret, magic formula that they are going to bring to the table and the players will automatically over achieve. When they fail, they're sacked and the next manager is picked out of a hat.

    Like Belgium, which has spent years in the wilderness but is emerging with a golden generation of players, England will need to take a few steps back before it can progress on the world stage. Or just continue in the current cycle of mediocrity, replacing their manager every 2-4 years and celebrating the occasional quarter final.

  • 2

    TigersTokyoDome

    But the writer is talking about a long history of failures in international tournaments. I don't think being a couch analyst for a couple games will suffice. Otherwise the FA would have solved it a long time ago.

    I find these knee-jerk reactions comical. Maybe some of these posters should learn a little more about football history. England are ranked 5th in the all-time FIFA World Cup rankings. The reached the quarter-finals in 2006 and 2002 and reached the semi-finals in 2000. The y reached the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and 2004. So my couch analysis of this very recent failure stands up to the incorrect analogy of a long history of failure. Only 8 different nations have won the World Cup since 1930 so England's long history stands up.

    English don't do sports well, name a sport they are world champions in, right thought so.

    They had their heyday back in 66 and have won nothing since in world football, not likely to win anything else soon either. The USA has more chance of winning anything in football than eng does.

    Their rugby team just got trounced 3 nill in a series and often get beaten by weaker nations like wales france and Ireland, their cricket team used to get smashed all over by the aussies and indian teams, anything else these English men cant do ?

    12 rimes European club champions (4 times since 1999)/ Mo Farah reigning 5k and 10k world champion and double Olympics Gold 5k and 10k Golds/ Current Womens Keirin, Sprint, & Team Pursuit World Champions/ 2012 and 2013 Tour de France winners/ Current Mens Keirin & Track Points World Champions/ current IBF Super Middleweight, IBF Bantamweight, WBA Bantamweight, WBA Junior Featherweight World Champions/ 3rd in the most recent 2012 Olympics medal table with 29 gold medal winners.

    Must be rubbish at sport.

  • 0

    Jimizo

    'Their rugby team just got trounced 3 nill in a series and often get beaten by weaker nations like wales france and Ireland, their cricket team used to get smashed all over by the aussies and indian teams, anything else these English men cant do ?'

    Please don't put forward the idea that most English people give a toss about rugby or cricket. That is an insult to the tastes of English people like myself. Like the majority of people on the planet, the majority in England see these so-called sports for the utter nonsense they are. The English are renowned for their frequent apologies, and we owe the world an apology for rugby and cricket. As for football, we don't have a divine right to win at it because we invented it. Most countries with taste on the planet play it seriously and competition is fierce. That can't be said for other the sports you mentioned.

  • 0

    Benji7

    Going overseas to gain experience should not be limited to English players only but English coaches also. The only english coach i can think of that has the immediate qualifications is Brendan Rodgers, he should be appointed as a long term strategy to work with the current young crop of players which is what he is known for. But being selfish i dont want him to leave Liverpool, ynwa!

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