The national team may not be on everybody’s mind at the moment as we are slap bang in the middle of another enthralling and compelling domestic league season. I however found myself late last Wednesday night unable to sleep and my thoughts turned to England in major tournaments. It almost seems like a pointless topic; everything has been said and everyone’s opinion answered.
Millions have been spent by the FA trying to end 47 years of hurt. They have spent millions not just on the world’s best managers like Sven, Capello and Steve McClaren… (did I say the world’s best!?!) but also on ensuring the players have the best facilities. No stone has been left unturned and different styles have been tried- from Capello’s regimented boot camp in South Africa to Roy Hodgson’s relaxed walk about with the locals in Poland.
So after all this investment, why haven’t England won a major tournament since 1966? The simple answer is because they haven’t been good enough. That’s fine but England have some of the best players, the best paid and the best looked after and they should be good enough to win 6/7 games on the bounce when only half of those will realistically be against teams at the same level or better. There is a lot of talk about luck: “You need a bit of luck to win a major tournament Jeff.” Are we really saying England have been unlucky for 47 years? No way. The answer lies more deeply and I propose 2 key reasons.
Firstly, as exciting as the Premiership is, it is arguably the most unlike international football of all the major top flight divisions. Certainly Spain, Germany and Italy and you could argue the Brazilian and French leagues are more like the international game. The Premier league is all about pace and power. International football on the other hand is about cunning and patience. In Summer tournaments possession is key as energy is sapped away twice as quickly in say Rio De Janeiro in June than Stoke in December. The gung-ho, end to end stuff of the English top flight simply won’t work in international football. For those who argue for a Winter break let me briefly just say that while it would be beneficial I don’t see it as major reason for England’s lack of success. Squads are big and players rotated.
There is much a bigger issue than Winter breaks, which leads me to my second point. The English mentality. Why aren’t we more street wise in major tournaments? To quote Ballotelli (nearly) “Why Always Us??” I am referring to the Maradona Handball, the Beckham sending off and the Rooney sending off. Not to mention the dreaded penalty shoot outs v Argentina, Germany and Italy in recent years. England play with their hearts not their heads. While red hot passion runs through England players you get the sense the veins of the Argentines, Italians and Germans are ice cold. This point was summed up last Summer with Pirlo’s audacious falling leaf chip against Joe Hart. The Italian player maker’s composure is exactly what England lack. Which England player would have even thought about doing it?
If England are ever going to lift the 47 year old curse, one or more of our players are going to have to “keep his head when all around them are losing their’s.”