England are light-years behind many other national teams, ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
The dismal display by the Under-21 side is a reflection of the dire state of English football.
The Three Lions crashed out of the tournament bottom of their group with no points and no goals from open play in what was a miserable and insipid performance. Stuart Pearce’s side went into the competition with high hopes but three straight defeats condemned them to last place and an early flight back home. Italy, Norway and Israel all handed them defeats that have brought into sharp focus the dire status of English football both continentally and globally.
England were completely dominated by the Azzurini in their opening group game and went into the break level only due to poor finishing from the Italians and a controversial decision by referee Antony Gautier denying what looked like a clear penalty.
They were more resurgent in the second period however, and had two goals chalked off by the officials. Wickham was first flagged offside before Craig Dawson’s header was disallowed for an infringement. The Italians eventually composed themselves and took all three points, deservedly too, when Insigne curled a wonderfully struck free-kick past keeper Butland.
That result was the beginning of the end for the Three Lions as they crashed into a 3-1 feat to Norway. England were clueless, hapless and helpless. Stuart Pearce tried to shake up the squad but there wasn’t much difference.
The Norwegians pressed them to submission and were three goals up before a late penalty was awarded to them. This result confirmed their exit and by the time they faced Israel in their last group match, all they were playing for was pride. Ofir Kriaf’s long range strike for Israel ensured England left the tournament with no wins, points and no pride.
It was the final nail in the coffin of what has been a disastrous outing.
English football, from a local sense, has never been in such a hapless state. The Premier League, bandied about as the ‘best in the world’, has, in all honesty, been elevated and kept at that level by a foreign influx of players. It has been somewhat a betrayal of the English national team.
It possesses the lowest number of players eligible for the country’s national team. As of last month, less than 35% of starters in the English top-flight were nationals. That figure is dwarfed by Serie A, the Bundesliga (both with around 45%), Ligue 1 with 57% and La Liga with 60%. Therein lies the problem.
England just isn’t producing talent at the same rate and level as other continental big-hitters. The England squad in the recently concluded Under -21s contributed to only 2% of playing time in the League. Unlike other countries, there are virtually no internationals playing abroad, well, with the exception of Joey Barton.
This means they have a constricted talent pool which is underwhelming to say the least. They are lacking a decent supply of technically-gifted players which has led to past and present England managers struggling to put a competitive team together for major tournaments.
England’s recent displays have been typical, playing with ten men behind the ball and hoping to catch opponents on the break, a tactic that would normally be associated with teams much, much lower the FIFA rankings. It has become their identity.
Roy Hodgson’s insistence on playing a rigid 4-4-2 formation only exacerbates the problem. The Three Lions face a scrap to even qualify for the World Cup, as they sit second behind Montenegro, a nation that has roughly 600,000 people. They have only beaten San Marino and Moldova who are with all due respect modest sides.
They managed a credible 2-2 draw with world cup hosts Brazil but they were largely pedestrians in the encounter, with the Samba Boys dominating proceedings.
They still do possess some players who would step up to any other national sides, Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere and the ageing stalwarts Lampard and Gerrard. However, that is about as good as it gets. There is an over-reliance on Rooney who is physically declining, Lampard, Gerrard and the recently re-introduced, Michael Carrick are way past their peaks, Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill, the first-choice centre-back pairing are not as fine as past English defenders.
Danny Welbeck is a starter even though he could only manage two goals in the whole of last season and Jermain Defoe is struggling to nail a spot at Tottenham. There is a paucity of forward options for the national team. Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge and ‘wonder-kid’ Wilfried Zaha have seven international goals between them in 40 caps.
England’s embarrassing exit at the Under-21 finals this month has demonstrated that there are no youngsters ready to graduate and make a mark for the senior side. Rivals such as Italy have starlets such as Veratti and Insigne, Spain has the brilliant Isco and Thiago, England’s manager is left to work with the likes of Henderson and Wickham. In their defence, players such as Chamberlain, Wilshere and Jones missed the Euros but that does not take away the fact that the conveyor belt of talent is neither producing quantity nor more importantly, quality. The gulf in class has never been this large.
Spain, who already boast the best midfield in world footballl, still have Isco, Thiago, Callejon, Cuenca and the likes waiting on the wings. Germany has an abundance of youthful talented players such as Gotze, Reus, Gundogan, Kroos, Muller who are world-class. Brazil have the likes of Paulinho, Oscar, Neymar, Lucas and Ramires, Netherlands and France are building teams for the future around a solid nucleus of Luuk de Jong, Strootman, Ola John and others.
A lot can happen over the course of the next twelve months but realistically, the current status of English football is nothing to write home about. A lot needs to be done at academy level in terms of nurturing talent with special emphasis on possession, technique, forward passing, pressing and team ethic for England to have any chance at glory.
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