The Underlying Problem…

29 06 2010

For me, Capello has got it right. His comments about the dearth of English quality coming through the ranks of the top teams really do hit the nail squarely on the head. And it is this which ties in with what I wrote a couple of days ago. The big guns of the England team (Terry, Lampard, Ferdinand, Gerrard) are all on their way out. They should be peripheral figures come the European Championships in 2012 (assuming, of course, that England make it there). The absence of good young players is a concern for Fabio, and only serves to prove, I think, that England should consider themselves at best a mediocre team.

Don’t get me wrong, there is, as Capello has acknowledged, some potential. Jack Wilshere and Kieron Gibbs of Arsenal look promising, but still too raw for the pressures of international football. Likewise Dan Gosling and Jack Rodwell at Everton look to have potential. However, these cases are few and far between. That Capello has admitted he would have taken Zamora if he had been fit is indicative of the level this country is at in footballing terms. Zamora had a good season, don’t get me wrong, but he is not a world-class striker, and never has been. One good season does not compensate for the comparatively poor ones which went before (I think he scored only a handful of goals the season before last in pretty much the same Fulham team).

There is no-one coming through the ranks at the top sides which makes you sit up and think that England may have a bright future. FIFA’s home-grown players initiative may help the cause of the English youth, but being an obligatory name on a squad sheet is very different to being a regular club starter with world-class potential. And herein lies the problem, working out what else can be done? If the genuinely world-class talent isn’t there, there is nothing that can be done about it. All the top clubs are scouting kids as young as 7 or 8, and signing them up. The clubs put these kids through the ranks, teach them and train them in the ways of football, and yet they very often fail to make the grade as a top-class pro. They are just not good enough.

There’s an old footballing mantra which says that if you are good enough, you are old enough. The reason Rooney was picked for the Everton team was because he was good enough for it. Likewise there is a reason why the top teams do not have many Englishmen in them. Because of this, the national team is forced to take players to major tournaments who are not world-class, but are either peripheral club figures (Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips), or just patently not good enough (Matthew Upson or Emile Heskey). Hence, really it should be no surprise that we struggled to a 4-1 defeat in the last 16 tie.

The footballing future of England is not bright, it is barely a dull glow. All the problems in terms of tactics and team selections which I wrote about the other day do matter, but if there is nothing coming through the ranks for the future then these problems become almost¬†minor. It has been very frustrating to hear the commentators talking about the ‘next big thing’ from other nations throughout the tournament, all the while wondering where our ‘next big thing’ is. The point is, our last ‘big things’ have thus far failed, and whilst Rooney (still without a World Cup goal) and Walcott (not even on the plane) may have to carry this label for a little while longer, this expectation is on two players who (especially in the latter’s case) have thus far failed to prove anything more than the fact that they are pretty good ¬†club players. The concern for England should not be about this years failure, it should be about the likely failure in years to come.

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One Law to Rule Them All…

23 02 2010

So last week my team, Wolverhampton Wanderers were fined for fielding a weakened team against Manchester United back in December. Mick McCarthy chose a team which prioritised the following match with Burnley. That he proved vindicated by his selection is neither here nor there. It was, apparently, not within the spirit of the Premier League, who insist that teams should field their strongest XI wherever possible. Ok.

Tonight Manchester United have played West Ham. Manchester United made five changes to the team which lost at Everton on Saturday. The team which Sir Alex Ferguson put out was by no means his strongest eleven. It included fringe players (Foster, Gibson, Anderson), who, whilst internationals, are not, for all intents and purposes, part of Manchester United’s first choice team.

Now, in an ideal world the FA will send a letter to Manchester United tomorrow morning asking them to explain why the team fielded was not as close to first choice as possible, which it obviously wasn’t. The answer is obvious. Ferguson has prioritised his next match (The league cup final), ahead of this match, one which Manchester United were always likely to win at a canter.

In the real world nothing will be done about this. Manchester United are a big club in the league. A club that the FA doesn’t really want to be on the wrong side of. They have weight to throw around. Wolves on the other hand, do not. They are cannon fodder, there to be used as an example to other clubs, without the rule being applied fairly across the board. ‘This is what could happen, but if you’re a big enough club then we will accept that at times you have to prioritise matches’. Or so seems the attitude. That Wolves are not a big club carries the implication that we do not prioritise matches. Except that of course, we do. The only difference is that the priority is different. It’s relegation which threatens us so emphasising matches we can win over ones we are unlikely to get anything other than stuffed is natural. The trouble is that this attitude is somehow less romantic than Manchester United’s ‘we’re trying to win something, so we are making that the priority’.

If the FA are going to fine Wolves for fielding a weakened team then that’s fine. The rule is there and the precedent set. They must however be consistant with the execution of the punishment. It cannot be one rule for one and another for the rest. That’s not law-enforcement, it’s bullying. In a week where the issue of bullying has been in the press, the FA now need to show consistancy in their approach to this sort of issue. They need to fine Manchester United for fielding an under-strength team and thereby de-valuing the Premier League. I’ll eat my hat if they do.





Respect…to be earned…

1 10 2008

The continuing frustrations with the performance of referees is one which will not disappear following another week of dodgy decisions. The trouble is the FA live in an isolated bubble, far removed from the realities of the world. My big gripe is that managers are not allowed to criticise referees for fear of being handed a touchline ban (thus hampering their team). Referees make mistakes, referees do not apologise for these mistakes. A few bad decisions could ultimately contribute to losing someone their job. I firmly believe that referees should be held accountable for their decisions. They should come out in the media and admit to making a bad call. Managers should also be allowed to question the decisions in their post-match interviews, without the fear of a ban hanging over their heads.

A lot has been written about the respect campaign, but I very firmly fall into the camp that argues respect needs to be earned. It seems no good that referees can continue to make bad decisions, with the only punishment being a demotion to a lower league (which, in itself seems hardly fair on the lower teams). Referees need to be encouraged to hold their hands up and admit to mistakes, and the FA should not be so strict on managers expressing an opinion (the decision to ban Aidy Boothroyd following the ‘phantom goal’ at Reading was an absolute disgrace).

Of course the manner in which the opinion is expressed is important, and mouthing off about a referee is still not good practice, but there should be the right, as a manager (who is ultimately accountable for results) to voice an opinion about the referee, especially if they have just cost them the game- see Gary Megson at Old Trafford last weekend.