Monday, June 28, 2010
The road forward for England
Audi's famous slogan of 'Vorsprung durch Technik' ('Progress Through Technology') is one that informs English stereotypes of an efficient, effective and typically German machine. But after a 4-1 humbling in Bloemfontein, in which England were completely and utterly outclassed and outmanoeuvred, it must be hoped that the FA - and those that run the English game - realise that the mantra that drives Joachim Low's side, and the one they must emulate, is 'Vorsrpung durch Technique'.
• Brewin: Deep flaws exposed
• Jolly: Four years on?
• Jolly: No time for scapegoats
• England blog: My lowest point
• Top Five: World Cup controversies
When losing to a vibrant, young and tactically-astute German side, England were shown a glimpse of the heights a powerful football nation should be able to aspire to; the technical excellence that should be within reach, but is not. Then again, it has happened time and again throughout history. A 6-3 defeat to Hungary famously exposed shortcomings in 1953, and following the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 the FA promised a "root-and-branch" review of the national setup. It must be hoped the fruits of that particular project are yet to be seen.
Two years on, and with the long and painful demise of the so-called 'Golden Generation' now complete, there is a chance for renewal, but the signs are not promising. Nearly every major tournament brings with it a fleeting hope that the English mentality will be transformed, improved, only for them to resort, in the defiant words of that caricature of the outdated England coach, Mike Bassett, to "four-four-f*****g-two."
But how can England progress from here? What steps can be taken to ensure the national game is dragged out of the dark ages?
1. Ditch Capello
No England manager has enjoyed a more impressive qualification campaign than the Italian, but he floundered at the World Cup finals and is tainted by association with this crop of underperforming players. From reverting to 4-4-2 and eschewing a more modern approach, to failing to bring the best out of Rooney and allowing a mini-revolt, led by John 'Che Guevara' Terry, to disrupt preparations, Capello oversaw an abject failure in South Africa. The players may be more culpable, but Capello takes ultimate responsibility for the fact that a 1-0 win over Slovenia was the outstanding performance of the campaign.
2. Consign the 'Golden Generation' to the history books
It is time to rip things up and start again. Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, David James, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand are unlikely to be present in four years time, so England should be contemplating a gradual a cull now. Someone like Lampard is a superb Premier League and Champions League player, with a huge reputation in the game, but what has he really done at international level? Some will argue that England have Euro 2012 in their sights, and change should not be undertaken with undue haste, but a long-term approach is required for once. This generation's chance has come and gone, and they should be phased out.
3. Bring in fresh blood
The need for this course of action is clear, but concerns abound. FA director of football development Sir Trevor Brooking recently spoke of "an immediate void in the standard of the team" and expressed his fears that "World Cup 2014 will be very difficult for England". It seems sensible, then, to start fostering this talent now. Jack Wilshere - the closest thing England have to a Mesut Ozil - should head a list of players like Jack Rodwell, Adam Johnson, Kieran Gibbs, Joe Hart and James Milner who are either immediately entrusted with first-team responsibilities or eased into the international arena, as circumstance dictates.
4. Focus on the National Football Centre in Burton
The FA was finally given planning permission for the much-anticipated hub of excellence in May, though the idea to centralise coaching and expertise was first raised as early as 1972. England's failure to boast a centre to match that of France's Clairefontaine or Italy's Coverciano has for some time been a matter of consternation, and only by investing in coaching and nurturing a talented core of young talents can progress be guaranteed. This must be a priority for the FA.
5. Change the English mentality
The fifth and final point is by far and away the most difficult to achieve, the most intangible and possibly the most important. For some time is has been apparent that the English reliance on grit, spirit and strength is inadequate - how else to explain the fact that the only time England have reached a major final was on home turf in 1966? Franz Beckenbauer said after a 1-1 draw with USA that England had reverted to "the bad old times of kick and rush" and this current team are clearly a world away from the kind of football being played by their contemporaries in Germany, Spain or Brazil.
But a change of attitude is also required - the kind of insular attitude that leads commentators to claim that only one or two German players would get in the England team, or Frank Lampard to insist that "nobody can stand here and tell me that Germany were a lot better than us." England are not one of football's leading lights any more, and humility is key to a brighter future.