Monday, 20 October 2014

He'll never do enough



How time flies when you are watching football? Life is what happens to you when you are watching Ryan Giggs, agree all.

Twelve years ago yesterday Wayne Rooney became the youngest ever goalscorer in the Premier League. The hubbub around him was immense at the start of that season and by scoring that goal, against that Arsenal team, he showed the world what he thought of the hype: it didn't faze him at all.

12 years on it is inevitable that at some point soon Wayne Rooney will become England's all-time topscorer. Unless, he leaves Manchester United he will almost certainly break their scoring record too. Both of these are achievements worthy of praise and adulation. If you had said, in 2002, that he would be England's top scorer before his 30th birthday most would have agreed that his potential had been fulfilled. Alas that isn't how English football works, laddie. It isn't enough. Whatever you've done it isn't enough. 

Let's not underestimate these achievements. The England record is huge. Anyone under the age of 45 will not recall a time when Sir Bobby Charlton wasn't England's all time top-scorer. He has held the record since 1968. It is one of those grand old features of British footballing life that generations of schoolboys can recount at will - Arbroath's 36 goals againt Bon Accord, Ted Drake's seven goals against Aston Villa, Dixie Dean's 60 goals in a season. Monuments, and touchstones, that have stood for so long they seem part of footballing life itself.

Only Lineker has really got close to Charlton but he holed out one short. It seemed, for a time, inevitable he would break the record. Michael Owen too looked a racing certainty. He raced to 36 England goals by the age of 26 but finished his career with only four more. Shearer was hamstrung by injury, missed out on the World Cup 1994 due to non-qualification, and had no qualifying games for Euro 1996.

Yet there'll be plenty of sniffing about Rooney when he does break the record and some of it will be justified. Charlton won the World Cup. Lineker was the top scorer at one World Cup (with 6) and scored 4 at the next. At both World Cups, England could reasonably think of themselves as a touch unlucky - probably not good enough to win but at least good enough to make the fans dream. Shearer top-scored at Euro 1996 as England, again, got to the mountaintop but couldn't quite make it across the River Jordan.

But Rooney? He shone, briefly and brightly, at Euro 2004 and, since then, has helped drag England to tournaments before going missing in them. He isn't quite - at international level - in the same league as those he would like to be compared to (Suarez, Ibrahimovic, Neymar, Villa, Berbatov, Eto'o, Villa, Drogba et al) let alone Messi or Ronaldo. His England record will not, I fear, be viewed as a monument to excellence but, rather, to volume - give a striker enough caps and he'll score enough goals. Few take Ali Daei's 109 international goals seriously. It just isn't viewed like Puskas's 84 in 85, Pele's 77 in 92 or Klose's 71 in 137. I fear Rooney's achievement will be like that. There's a smidge of fairness about that but only a smidge.

Despite that, it isn't really fair on Rooney. He has been a magnificent player for Manchester United and, generally, a very good one for England - though his performances at tournaments are questionable. He will, forever, be haunted by the future we painted for him as a teenager. He was never going to live up to that however brilliant he became. The future we threw over him now hangs over him. It is time we forgave him for not becoming the player we thought he would become.

RCM

Friday, 17 October 2014

Ched Evans

This morning Ched Evans was released from prison and is now a free man. This has upset a number of commentators both within the football world and beyond. This is understandable and inevitable.

Quite a few footballers have been entertained at Her Majesty's Pleasure over the years and most return to the game with a stain on their character, a sheepish look on their face and chants designed around their moment of infamy ringing in their ears. Some - like Tony Adams - truly are rehabilitated and go on to show that to the world. Others live with their crime hanging over them forever. 

The difference with Evans - different even from Graham Rix who was sentenced to 12 months in prison for having sex with a 15-year-old girl and who, upon his release from prison, rejoined Chelsea as a coach - is that he committed rape. 

That is not to deny the seriousness of the crimes of footballers who have seen the inside of a cell for dangerous driving, or drink driving, or assault, or affray but to note that rape is different and is to many people, including myself, the most horrific of crimes

Evans maintains his innocence and there are a cohort of fans who believe that he is innocent. None of us who are commenting listened to all the evidence so we must go with what the court said. He was found guilty in a court of law and his conviction was upheld by the Court of Appeal.  He was found guilty of a crime that is notoriously difficult to prosecute. Far too often men who are guilty of rape are not arrested, not prosecuted and not found guilty in a court of law. That Evans was found guilty matters.

Regardless of whether he accepts he committed a crime, he has been found guilty of committing that crime, he has subsequently served his time and has been released back into the community. There are lots of voices in the media, and elsewhere, saying that he should not be able to resume his career as a professional footballer. That is the big question: should he?

The reason for their objections seems to be three-fold.

Firstly, that professional footballers - even distinctly average ones like Evans - make exorbitant amounts of money. This sticks in the craw of many people. It feels intuitively wrong that a man who has committed such a heinous crime should be wealthy. 

Secondly, that given the status of footballers in this country that he will be viewed as a role model by lots of young football fans but, particularly, young male football fans. There are worries about the signals that will be sent to those fans. 


Thirdly, that his sentence wasn't long enough. That is a legitimate opinion but, ultimately, Evans had no say in his sentencing. Maybe he should have served longer. Maybe all rapists should. We are, however, where we are. 

These are understandable concerns and should be respected. Ultimately, though, they should be put to one side.

Taking each in turn:

When someone commits a criminal offence and they serve their time they are released back in amongst us. They have to reintegrate into society. They have to earn money. They have to pay bills, taxes and all the other humdrum things we all have to do. They are, we hope, rehabilitated. We hope that they do not reoffend and that they spend the rest of their lives contributing to the wider public good or, at the very least, not breaking the law again.

It seems perverse to say then that a person that we hope has been rehabilitated cannot undertake certain jobs because of the likely rewards of that job. This is like moaning when an ex-offender wins the lottery. Once they are outside, by and large, they have the rights and freedoms that we all have.

It might not seem fair that Evans will earn lots of money but 'it not seeming fair' isn't a good enough reason to stop it. What was the point of sending him to jail otherwise? Punishment alone? Disgust at what he had done? Yes, both fine reasons but we need more than that. If we believe in the rehabilitation for the offenders we believe in it for rich ones and talented ones too.We believe in it for the one who can kick a ball about. Our principles aren't really principles until they make us think about things or make us feel uncomfortable.

It is extremely unlikely he will be a role model for many people. We know from experience that players who have been found guilty of a crime will, for the rest of their days, get an extremely hard time from opposing fans and (in some instances) from home fans. Evans will be booed at every ground in the land. He may be booed by his own fans. He may have protests outside his ground. There may be shirts burnt, petitions lodged and fans refusing to watch them until Evans leaves. It is extremely unlikely he will play for his country again. It is extremely likely that many clubs will look at him and say ''not worth the bother''. That is their right - he should have the opportunity to make a living but, like everyone else, it is neither owed to him nor guaranteed.

When the young fan turns to their dad and says ''why are they booing him, dad?' there will have to be an answer. And that answer will likely be ''because he raped someone''. When the young fan turns to their mum and says ''why can't Ched play for Wales?'' there will have to be an answer. And that answer will likely be ''because he raped someone''. When the young fan says ''why can't I get Evans number 9 on my shirt'' it will be because their parents don't want their child walking around in a shirt with a convicted rapist's name on the back.

Saying that he should be allowed to play isn't to forgive Evans or forget what he has done. Nor does it condone his actions. It is to say that I believe that people deserve a second chance and deserve to be treated like others who are released from prison. It is the hard cases that matter. Nor does a belief in rehabilitation of the offender mean we shouldn't think about the victim.

We should always remember that a young woman's life was ruined and torn apart by Evans. For all the crying from some fans about Evans' life being ruined, he will likely be comfortable for the rest of his life even if he is haunted by prison. Any trauma he feels is of his own making.

That is the price he pays for his crime. For me, and I concede I am guilty of this in my post, too much time is given to Evans and not enough focus on his victim (I won't name her - it was despicable enough that a newspaper named her and I will not be part of that). Nor is enough thought given to what happens when we focus on ''how does this affect the rapist who has been released'' rather than ''how do we help his victim lead as normal a life as possible''. Evans will be booed up and down the land (if a club takes him on). This will affect and upset him but that is as nothing to the long-term psychological effects his victim will be facing - and that will, no doubt, have been brought into sharp focus seeing his name in the press endlessly this week. Rape - even more so than most crimes - does have severe long-term psychological impact but too much focus suggests that it was merely an event. Little focus is given to the aftermath. 

It is human to consider Evans' feelings - even if we are repulsed by his crime - when he is called every name under the sun yet too little thought is given to the feelings and life of his victim. It is difficult for anyone to imagine how hard her life has been in recent years. Just because it is difficult doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to do so.

Too often when young athletes are found guilty of sexual crimes we hear tales of ''he was a young man with a promising future'. Well, yes, he was until he committed a vile and repulsive crime. The promising future was ruined but it was ruined by his own heinous behaviour. Sympathy should be low. We are asked by the media to mourn the loss of their futures but rarely are we asked to consider the future of his victim. It is a little like those cricket fans one meets from time to time who complain about the injustice that various South African superstars didn't play enough test cricket because of the boycott on apartheid South Africa. It is - as a sports lover - a shame we didn't see more of Pollock, Proctor and co at the highest level. It is, however, bizarre to focus on that injustice when, you know, we are considering apartheid!

All that said, I wouldn't want Evans playing for my club. I am sure many fans would feel similarly reluctant about seeing him in their shirt. It may be that clubs don't touch him. 

Ultimately, though, you either believe in rehabilitation or you don't. You either believe in giving offenders - however despicable their crime and however wealthy they are - a second chance of you don't. On both counts, I do. The Football Association, or the Football Association of Wales, could ban him, I suppose. They have decided not to. Unless and until they choose to do so he should be allowed to play.

If you want to make a difference why not  donate to Rape Crisis England and Wales, Rape Crisis Scotland, or Rape Crisus Northern Ireland.

RCM

Monday, 11 August 2014

Hiatus

I'll be taking a bit of a break from the blog. Two weeks ago I became a father and, as you will either know or can imagine, this has left me previous little blogging time.

I shall return.

RCM

Friday, 25 July 2014

Birthday

It is, Lord help us all, my 32nd birthday today. A little present from me to those happy band of brothers and sisters who still log in to see what drivel I've written.... a video of Dejan Savicevic dribbling. Enjoy!



RCM

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A thing of beauty

This blog isn't usually one for kit porn but the new Universitario kit is a thing of beauty. The 26 stars represent their 26 league titles. Wonderful stuff.

RCM

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

A quick post on Germany

Lots will be written in the coming days about any number of aspect of German football that England should replicate - the ownership of clubs, the number of youth coaches, the promotion of young talent at big clubs, the trusting of that talent rather than acquiring superstars globally and so forth. 

La Masia is out of the window as a model. As is Clairefontaine. As is Coverciano. The new model must be German. Unless and until someone else wins something. We need an English solution to this English problem - taking things like magpies from around the world and adapting them.

I won't add to that juggernaut. I will merely note that like all other leading nations German footballers are far more global in their outlook than English footballers. If everyone else is doing something and we aren't maybe that should be the place to start? I know I bang on about this but the point is obvious - we import but we don't export.

From the squad which won the World Cup, seven players play in major leagues elsewhere in Europe (Mertesacker, Özil and Podolski at Arsenal and Schürrle at Chelsea in England, Klose at Lazio and Mustafi at Sampdoria in Italy, and Khedira for Real Madrid). 

To that number, Toni Kroos will start next season at Real Madrid whilst both Boateng and Zieler have played overseas whilst the likes of Hummels, Reus (injured but he would have gone but for that) and Draxler are also subject to interest from clubs around the continent.

Outside the squad, ter Stegen and Gomez are playing abroad. Younger players like Can, Kreuzer, Gnabry, Yesil and Jesgarzewski.

England? At the highest level, Mancienne, Defoe, Cole and Dier. We need to up our game.

RCM

Monday, 14 July 2014

The LBITCR Team of the Tournament

So it is over - a joyous, reinvigorating World Cup is done and dusted. For some lucky devils that was their first ever World Cup. They will be in love for a long time yet and, in twenty years time, they'll be reminiscing over James Rodriguez, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and co.

Who will be this year's Viola - the best player on the pitch in the 1994 World Cup Final (for the 14 minutes he was on the pitch) but never heard of again?

Will there be players who had a fine tournament but who will be forever defined by their moments in Brazil? Surely there must be. Skuhravý, Polster, and Schillaci all had fine careers but it was their exploits in Italia '90 which will see them remembered.

Who will be the Saeed Al-Owairan - the scorer of a wondergoal but now little more than a footnote in footballing history*?

Will Higuain become synonymous with a sitter missed? The van Vossen, Rosenthal or Smith for the Snapchat generation.

There is plenty to write about this World Cup - hopefully a hundred or so bloggers will write a piece entitled 'in defence of Messi' - but today let's celebrate the stars. Who, if we were in the position to pick the best team of the tournament, would we pick?

Goalkeeper


Before the final most observers thought that Keylor Navas of Costa Rica was the goalkeeper of the tournament. After the final, when Neuer didn't save a shot and, in my opinion, should have been sent off the punditariat thought that Neuer should win the golden glove hands down.

On balance, this shift to the winner is right. Neuer was overlooked earlier when he had been immense throughout. He looked, at points, like he was inventing a position (not really - Jongbloed played a similar role 40 years ago. There is nothing new in footbal).

Neuer is everything one would want in a goalkeeper and rather a lot more. Numerous other goalkeepers performed well - Navas, Howard, Ochoa etc - but Neuer was outstanding. There's an argument, whisper it quietly, that he will be mentioned in the same breath as Yashin, Banks, Zoff and Maier.


Defence

Equally gifted was the German captain. Guardiola noticed that Lahm could play in the midfield as well as on either side of the defence - he was the outstanding throughout, barely putting a foot wrong. Like Neuer, and Muller, Lahm is redefining what players in his position can do.

On the other side, Daley Blind. It was his deep crosses that defenestrated Spain - first for van Persie's wonder header and then for Robben's goal. A solid defensive player who added so much to the Dutch going forward.

The only Brazilian in the 11 is Thiago Silva. He was impressive throughout the tournament but it was in absentia where his true value was shown. Without him, Brazil looked like schoolboys. With him, they looked like potential winners.


The team that charmed the world was Costa Rica. There standout player, particularly against the Dutch, was Giancarlo Gonzalez. The Group of Death barely troubled him at all and, over the course of the tournament, the defence he organised let in two goals. Against the Dutch, his performance was outstanding - one of the best of the tournament.

Central midfield

It is always difficult looking into the eyes of a player whose team lost the World Cup final. That was particularly true of Mascherano. He was the best player in the knock-out stages of the tournament - wonderful in the semi-final and final in particular - and if there was such a thing as desert in football one would say he deserved a winners' medal. The German team which won out was a superb attacking team at points. They eviscerated Portugal and Brazil. That they were limited to so few chances against Argentina was largely down to Mascherano's reading of the game, vision and work-rate. The vision was a two-way thing - not only did he have a radar like quality to snuff out attacks his passing was, at points, outstanding. No one was more offended by the ''one man team' jibe that was often levelled at Argentina - they were behind, in the entire tournament, for 7 minutes. The last 7 minutes..

Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos could all sit next to Mascherano but Schweinsteiger was the pick of the bunch. A deep-lying destroyer, like Mascherano, who showed that sumptuous skill can be allied with determination and grit. For years, he has been under-rated but that has changed forever.

Attacking trio


Given the passing, solidity and work-rate in the base of midfield there is a bit more freedom up front.

James Rodriguez had the tournament that many of us wanted Messi to have. Running games, running past players and playing football with a grin plastered across his face. His goal against Japan was the finest in the tournament - yes, there were some wonderful blasts from distance (including one from Rodriguez) - because it was so nonchalant. Few players make scoring so beautifully so easy. He was the Cruyff of this tournament.



At points people seemed to think he had arrived from nowhere. That wasn't true - he's been a wonderful player for some time - but he announced himself to the world with a series of jaw-dropping displays.

Lionel Messi starts alongside him. If only the genius had won the tournament! Then we wouldn't have to listen to the blowhards forever more about him not being an all-time great - they are to be despised. It was he who scored the late goal that won against Bosnia, he did the same against Iran and then scored two against Nigeria. It isn't inconceivable to think that Argentina wouldn't have got out the group stage without him. Instead they finished with 9 points.

Against Switzerland, he set up the winner with a sumptuous pass. He started the move that set up the goal against Belgium and played, in that game, one of the finest passes I've ever seen played at a World Cup. Admittedly, he wasn't at his best against the Netherlands or Germany (though there were flashes of his genius in both games) but he seemed to be labouring - either under pressure or fitness. The latter seems probable. Some will argue he should have won Argentina the World Cup. Others will point out that he seemed to be struggling with injury, did a Baggio in getting Argentina out of the group stages, and it wasn't as if the team that beat Argentina were a bunch of duffers.

Next to him is the second Dutchman Arjen Robben. There will be some who will never forgive him his diving but the man is a phenomenon on the football pitch. A whirling dervish who, at various points, was utterly unplayable. Some players - too man wearing the white of England - shrink in their national shirts. Robben, like most of the Germans and like Alexis Sanchez, seems to perform at his absolute peak when playing international football.

Up front, we pick the man who isn't quite a striker but who can't stop scoring goals: 
Thomas Müller. Few other players globally have his sense of awareness and sense of space. Where others chase the ball, he senses where the ball be or, if not, opens the game up for others. Probably the cleverest and cutest player playing the game. He's a one-off.

So the team is:

  1. M. Neuer (Germany)
  2. P. Lahm (Germany)
  3. D. Blind (Netherlands)
  4. G. Gonzalez (Costa Rica)
  5. Thiago Silva (Brazil)
  6. J. Mascherano (Argentina)
  7. B. Schweinsteiger (Germany)
  8. J. Rodriguez (Colombia)
  9. L. Messi (Argentina)
  10. T. Muller (Germany)
  11. A. Robben (Netherlands)

Subs: Medel (Chile), Boateng (Germany), Kroos (Germany), Herrara (Mexico), Valbuena (France), Neymar (Brazil), Navas (Costa Rica)

RCM

*No insult to Al-Owairan there. Most of us would crawl over broken glass to be a footnote in the history of this game!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Brazil - the end of a long era

There are times in football when a defeat is more than a defeat - it is a disintegration that, over time, becomes a recurring nightmare that changes how that nation thinks about football.

England against Hungary in 1953, Scotland against England in 1961, Netherlands against Germany in 1974 and - now - Brazil against Germany.

These results don't have to be huge reverses. They don't even need to be games where the loser is comphrehensively outplayed. Netherlands lost narrowly in 1974 and weren't outplayed. The result, though, echoes down the generations. English football still smarts at the name 'Hungary'.

Brazil were humiliated last night - outplayed, out thought, out fought, and thrashed hopelessly at home in a World Cup semi. It is difficult to think how it could have been worse - in the final, perhaps, or against Argentina. It wasn't the booing that would have hurt but rather the Brazilian fans applauding German passing late on in the game. That is the moment that Brazil changed forever.

Some have criticised Hansen for his comments that 'this was a low point' for the game. He was right. Not in terms of quality - Germany were magnificent and it  is scary to think Draxler, Schurrle, and Gotze on the bench (and Reus elsewhere) - but because the idea of Brazil is important to the game and that idea has been destroyed. Those who cherish that ideal will feel low today even if you are applauding the German magnificence - they were as far from the stereotype as Brazil were. The Germans were as brilliant as the Brazilians were woeful.

They are supposed to be joyous, supposed to play a certain way, supposed to be brilliant. They were rotten and wretched last night. They were leaden. They couldn't pass, couldn't tackle, couldn't organise themselves and - at points - looked as if they didn't know how to play the game. These are Brazilian players who play in some of the top sides in the world and they were amateurish.

Many will note Brazil haven't really played like Brazil since the Socrates, Eder, Falcao, Zico and Cerezo team of 1982. I was born in 1982. They haven't played as we feel they should in my lifetime. There have been great players and there have been very fine teams from the men in yellow but when did they really make the heart sing? When did they play differently from the rest of the world? No. The last truly Brazilian team was 1982.

Going forward young fans will not think of the Brazilian greats even the recent ones like Ronaldo and Kaka or the current ones like Neymar. They will just think of them as what they are: a team with a stellar history and the occasional mesmeric player. They will be remembered as a team who lucked and tricked their way to a semi-final where they were shown to be a sham. It is sad for those of us who enjoy the idea of a Brazil but this humbling has been a long time coming.

RCM

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Ryan Gauld - a hero to us all

It looks like young Ryan Gauld - featured on this blog a few months ago - might be signing for Sporting Lisbon.

I've lamented often that our footballing culture is too introverted. My last piece went into some depth on it - it isn't too many foreigners that is killing our game but rather our utterly inward approach. In this regard (and without entering the stultifying referendum debate) Scotland and England are remarkably similar - Scottish youngsters tend to aim for the Old Firm or England. English youngsters tend to aim for England. Too few dare to leave This Sceptred Isle.

When a young talent eschews the Old Firm and the Premier League we should praise them (in the same way Bale should be applauded for his move to Real Madrid) and hope they succeed.

A failure for Gauld, I'm sorry to say, will only reinforce negative attitudes. Remember what happened to Gauld? Just go to Cetic, son. He'll get the smug knowing looks from men who have achieved nothing in their lives and who say 'aye, kent he wouldn't do it. Telt you'.

We don't want to give them any sustenance. We won't to shut them up. Aim for the sky, boys, aim for the sky!

So let's hope it works out for young Mr Gauld - for him, for Scotland and for England. He might very well spark a trend. That, my friends, would help both England and Scotland in the future. We might stop losing.

RCM

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

This Little England


When, exactly, did the rot set in?

Was it when Liverpool, in 1892, fielded a team of Scots? Was it Max Seeburg starting for Spurs in 1906? Was it Bert Trautmann winning player of the year in 1956? Was it Ipswich signing two Dutchmen in the late 1970s? Was it Jan Molby? Was it Jesper Olsen? Was it Pat van den Hauwe? Was it Erik Thorsvedt? Was it the Premier League kicking off?

Or is it impossible to point to a specific moment? After all, who amongst us can point to the precise moment that a gibson turns into a dry martini. We can't but we know that it has. So it might  be that there is not a precise moment where, those who view that there are ''too many foreigners'', can point to but they think foreigners at some stage went from being a charming addition to ruining the entire barrel.

The first thing to acknowledge is that English football has always had a large non-English element.

In the old days that was largely Scots, Irish and Welshmen (though not exclusively). There is little doubt that the numbers have grown but this is part and parcel of the game. We are all richer, and our game's heritage, is richer for having seen the likes of Trautmann, Best, Law, Souness, Cantona, Henry, van Persie and Suarez. The view of some in our game though is that the sheer numbers of foreign players have gone from beneficial to pernicious. It isn't Henry, Drogba, or van Persie that are the problems - few would argue that they have given us much enjoyment during their time in England - but rather the average plodders that clubs buy as squad players.

But why all the fuss? Because plenty of people have, in the aftermath of England's defeats to Italy and Uruguay, turned their ire on foreign players. Coming over here and ruining our national game just like Paddington Bear came over here and ate our marmalade sandwiches.

My own view is that this isn't a problem. It is merely a convenient excuse.

Listening to some of the views on this matter one would believe that there was some golden age of English football where we dominated the world, where we happily gathered World Cups and European Championships. Nations lay at our feet as we bestrode the world. We were the Brazil of the North. The All Blacks of football.

The problem is such a golden age hasn't been curtailed by foreign footballers because the golden age didn't really exist. The closest we got was a few happy years in the late 1960s which was largely down to happenstance which England exploited. As we shall see.

Before the Second World War, we were too aloof to enter the World Cup. There is a case for saying England would have done well at the three pre-War World Cups but it isn't a given that we would have won them. Anyway, who cares? We were too damned pig-headed and we didn't enter. The decisions are made by people who turn up. Unsurprisingly, tournaments are won by the chaps who decide to kick a ball rather than those who decide not to do so.

After the Second World War, at our first world cup - and with a clutch of legends of the English game in the squad (including arguably the finest ever England player, Sir Tom Finney) - we were beaten by the USA in Brazil.

A few years later we were humiliated home and away by Hungary. The Puskas dragback is still, arguably, the most important moment in English footballing history - it was the moment we realised, albeit briefly, that not only had the rest of the world caught up they were actually some way ahead. When people argue that English players are not as technically adept as those from elsewhere in the world the depressing thing is we've been saying this for over 60 years. Remember that the leading striker in the English game at the time was a Chilean.

Interestingly, though, England went from humiliation in the early 1950s to World Champions in 30 years. How and why? And why does it matter in this debate?

Between 1965 to 1970 we were one of the best teams in world football. A relatively short period of time but we were a genuinely world class team. It wasn't just the World Cup win. We did well at the 1968 European Championships and were one of the finest teams to grace a World Cup and go out early in 1970.
The late 1960s saw success in European Club Football too. In the years between 1965 and 1970, two British clubs won the European Cup (Celtic 1967 and then Manchester United 1968 whilst Celtic lost the final in 1970). West Ham won the Cup Winners Cup in 1965, Liverpool were runners up in 1966, City won it in 1970 (and, in fact, the next three years saw Chelsea win, Rangers win, and Leeds lose). 
Why was British football so comparatively good at that point? Because the stars aligned across Britain. This wasn't, and isn't, the natural state of things (as we have come to believe). We lucked out.

After the Second World War, there were a series of occurrences which caused a talent boom

Rationing during World War 2, and for several years afterwards, created the best-nourished generation of British children there'd ever been. Add to that the mindset which put a huge societal emphasis on sport for all: this mindset, and a general obsession with football, meant more boys played more football than ever before. Participation levels were vast. Speak to men of that era - stories of schools putting out five teams per year at school are not unheard of. They are routine.

This was all supported by Governmental activity - the Education Act 1944, the creation of the NHS, and the provision of fruit juice and milk at schools all added up to healthier young folk.

The result: Lots of healthy boys playing lots of football who then exploded into football teams across the UK in the late 1950s and throughout the 1960s. They were helped, no doubt, by the fact the managers at the top end of the game became better. Chapman was a colossus before the war but consider who was managing in English football in the 1960s - Busby, Shankly, Revie, Ramsey, Catterick and a young Clough. Add to that Stein and Ormond in Scotland. It was a unique time - likely, never to be repeated.

The important thing to note that is that this wasn't just a brief golden age for English football. 
 It was a brief golden age for British football. Wales had some fine players in that era (Cliff Jones, John Charles, Ivor Allchurch), Northern Ireland too (McParland, Blanchflower and Best) and Scotland (well, more names than you could shake a stick at. They produced the best side not to qualify for a World Cup. The Scottish team of the mid-1960s was frightening). 

(As an aside: One wonders what English football, in particular, might have done at the 1958 and 1962 World Cups with Duncan Edwards, Tommy Taylor, Roger Byrne and David Pegg who all lost their lives in the Munich Air Disaster. It is also interesting to think what a Team GB would have done in 1958, 1962 and 1966. If England won the World Cup that year, a combined team would have walked it)

So the golden age we hark back to was a boomtime for British footballers but it was never going to last forever. Other countries developed structures and caught up (or surpassed) the UK teams. England's genius was that she took advantage of circumstances. The signs of decline were there in the mid-1960s when Shankly's men were humbled by a young Cruyff and Ajax. The end was signalled before we'd begun to enjoy ourselves.


The problem is the British game - the English game in particular - has never got its head around why they were so successful in the 1960s and, having failed to understand the why they were successful, has assumed that was the natural state of the world which in some sunny future we will return to. If only we have an English manager for the England team. If only we play 4-4-2. If only, if only, if only. 

It may seem a digression but it is fundamental to our understanding of the game today. The golden age was fleeting and we took advantage of the situation. But the very existence of that fleeting golden age skews our view of today. It casts a shadow over everything. We think we can return to those happy days. We can't.

Ways in which this manifests itself include we think there are too many foreigners in the game, we have a superiority complex (which happily seems to be subsiding) and we think we need an England manager. The last is the most baffling. Henry Winter at the weekend claimed that 'the argument has been settled' on that issue. Really? Settled? Forever?

On foreigners coming into the game the view is: here is a trend that has happened and, it seems, at the same time England have got worse. QED. This trend is holding us back.

Of course, that isn't to say that English clubs, in this day and age, do not sign overseas players. They do - and they do so in great numbers (and, even, in greater numbers than ever before). But why?

In a global market, it is possible to find players elsewhere in the world that can do the job you want them to do more cheaply than a homegrown equivalent. It is usually cheaper to buy a seasoned international than it is to give a younger player a run of games. This is as true in Italy, France, Spain, Germany or Mexico as it is in England. Why does it seemingly hurt England so much more than other nations?

There are a number of reasons. Partly the Premier League's success. 
Partly the nature of English football. Partly the rules of the game.  Partly the nature of English life. They all interconnect.

The Premier League's success - in generating money particularly from television rights - has led to clubs of all sizes being able to spend significant amounts on players. This is hardly revelatory (we all know the team that finished bottom of the Premier League got more in TV monies that the winners of the Bundesliga). This means it is more efficient and effective for Cardiff, say, to buy Gary Medel than to buy an English or Welsh equivalent. It means that Liverpool buy a player like Iago Aspas, with a fine season under his belt in Spain, rather than promoting their own youngster or buying a talented player from the down the divisions.

The money that swishes around the Premier League also means it has a particular draw that few other leagues can match. It might not have the weather of Spain but the money available at a mid-tier English club is likely to be better than a Spanish equivalent.Given the Premier League's global success it means that even moderate success in England will put a player in the shop window more obviously. We are a magnet to talented players around the world.

This is a good thing. We get to see world-class players play football.

Whilst English clubs, and English fans, have benefited from this globalisation some would argue that our national team hasn't. (This might not be true, of course: this World Cup has been disappointing but we have qualified for five World Cups in a row for the first time in our history. We didn't qualify in 1974 or 1978. We didn't qualify in 1994. On one reading, we are producing enough talent to qualify relatively easily each time but not enough talent to win the tournament).

What is striking though is in an import/export market, England does a lot of importation but does not really export. That is the biggest issue in the game and one we don't ever talk about.


England, little, insular England.

Of the 23 men in the England squad, only Forster plies his trade outwith England (and even then he still hasn't left the UK). Only Russia is less globalised (with all of its squad playing in the domestic league). If one scans around the 'possibles' for England only Jermaine Defoe is playing outwith England and, even then, it is arguable that a player moving towards the end of his career to a league at the MLS' stage of development is what we are looking for. Not one of the current squad has played outside the UK. At Under 21s, only Eric Dier is playing outside England (in Portugal) whilst, again, other nations are more global in their U21 outlook.

Look at the squads: France, Germany, Chile, Netherlands, Spain, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, Mexico and Argentina. All have sizeable cohorts playing around the world in numerous leagues. Even Italy, traditionally a country that doesn't export huge numbers of players, has a clutch playing at PSG and has other players (Aquilani, Balotelli, Cassano) who have played in other major European leagues. Those around the squad include Criscito (Russia), Giaccherini, Borini, Osvaldo (England) and Diamanti (China).


As young players from around the world come to England (often to finish their footballing education), our young players do not go the other way. This is partly due to cultural aspects no doubt, partly down to the belief that it is only the Premier League that matters, partly down to money (you'll earn more here on the bench than playing in Belgium, son) and partly down to languages. (The same is true of managers - when managers complain they don't get the big jobs in England you rarely seeing them try and manage overseas... as Pochettino, Martinez et al have managed with aplomb). 
English footballers do not, therefore, give themselves the best chance but we do not help them. 

To be fair to English clubs this isn't necessarily their fault. The way the market has progressed we know that English players are massively overvalued in the market. This inevitably puts off foreign buyers whilst there are clear benefits to clubs to buy home-grown players (partly because they are necessary under UEFA rules) but partly also because clubs know that home-grown players are unlikely to leave overseas and they, for whatever reason, retain value.

As with all debates about immigration those who complain about player migration are worried legitimately and it is wrong to cast them as loons (as many do).

It would be far better, in my view, to accept that the lack of English footballers at the highest level is a worry but then also accept that the highest level is wider than the 20 clubs in the English Premier League. This could include - gasp - the Championship but it must include encouraging players to play football globally. This used to happen (look at how many of the England 1990 squad played abroad - Walker, Platt, Steven, Waddle, Gascoigne, Lineker etc) but it seems, at the peak of a young players career, to be all but extinct. Let us hope Sterling, Barkley and co are a little braver on and off the pitch than some of their forebears.

Gareth Bale is an admirable exception to British isolationism but surely more of our talented youngsters could make it in the top divisions (if not at the very top of those divisions) around Europe. Ultimately, if a young Italian international can play for Sunderland why can't a young English international play for Genoa? 


So what can we do? 


I'd suggest that young English footballers should, as part of their footballing development, learn one or potentially two languages. The worst that happens? They get released into the wider economy when they are 18... and can speak numerous languages. For those who make it in football but not at the highest level? They open up football leagues across Europe as a potential direction. For our youngsters trying to break through? Loans become more obviously viable. And, heaven forbid, some of our players might do what players from the rest of the world do all the time: make their career abroad.
We need to be more open to new ideas. Consider how Sir Clive Woodward was treated by Redknapp when he was trying to innovate in the game. Consider how the English media hate cleverness. Consider the smirking grins when the likes of AvB and co fail. It is better, isn't it, when Harry and the boys are in charge. Except it isn't?

We also need to think globally. We need to stop this isolationism, be open to the idea of a foreign manager and be open to our players and managers going around the world. Those that do so should be celebrated. Are we really saying - as Winter hinted - that we wouldn't hire Mourinho? Is that the culture we want to foster? We need to think about this. We need to be better.

What sort of footballing culture do we want? We can choose. Because so much of our debate is doesn't help. It only perpetuates this England. This little England.

RCM