England. We have given the world so much; from the Beatles to boxing, steam engines to the Spitfire.
We also came up with a rather popular sport; football.
Football is in the blood of this nation. In our parks and our pubs, football reigns supreme. We live and breathe it. It is truly inescapable, every weekend, people flock in their thousands to travel large distances and spend eye-watering sums of money, purely to enjoy football.
Across the European countries, England has the second highest average weekly attendance across it's top two divisions, behind only Germany. English weekly attendance stands at around 54,400 on average, compared to the German average of 59,800. Of course this disparity can be quite easily explained with reference to three things.
Firstly, the cost of going to a game in each country. In the Bundesliga, the average cost of a ticket is £22 per game, compared with £27 in the Premier League, higher prices will clearly result in a fall in demand. Secondly, it is worth pointing out that Germany has a higher population than England by around 20 million. And thirdly, the comparatively higher spending power of German fans compared to English fans. Germany has had a higher GDP per capita (Total amount of domestic income divided by the population), meaning that, broadly speaking, Germans will have more spare money available to go and watch their local teams.
The two financial aspects here serve to reinforce just how dedicated English fans are, and, digging even further, comparing the GINI coefficients of the two nations (A measure of the spread of income within the country), reveals a large gap. With 0 being a perfectly equal society, and 1 a perfectly unequal; the United Kingdom comes in at 0.34, compared to Germany's 0.28. Of course to make use of this statistic, we have to make the assumption that football is the sport of the common man, and is forgone by the wealthy. Of course this isn't true, football unites individuals of all backgrounds, but it's not unfair to assume the bulk of football support is made up by those of a more averagely inclined wealth.
This then tells us that the average English football supporter is actually worse off than the GDP statistics let on. And despite all this, we are only a narrow second in terms of weekly attendance. To put this into perspective, Italy, the nation who comfortably beat us, have an average of 29,900. And, digging the nail further into the coffin, I was unable to find statistics for Uruguayan average attendance, however, after some research, (Including a look at the popular Football Manager simulator) I managed to estimate around 11,000 a week, under a fifth of the average English attendance.
But what does this mean in terms of the actual England squad? Well, it gives us a rare glimmer of hope. The issue of our footballing failures is not a cultural one, meaning that changes that need to be made, be they financial or structural, can be made. Whereas, if we tried to turn England into the number one force in, say, basketball, we would have to try and significantly alter our cultural attitudes towards that sport.
In short, our country is by far one of the most fertile grounds for growing footballers, of that there can be no doubt. Our problem lies in our tools, we are still farming with horse and plough, whilst the Deutsch bauer rides around on his tractor, chuckling to himself at the plucky but ultimately flawed Englishman. To cut loose from the agricultural analogy, we have the resources necessary to make us the greatest footballing nation on the planet. Transforming those resources into 23 individuals capable of winning the World Cup however, appears to be beyond the abilities of those in charge of the national game.
The matter of youth (Under 16's) development is an issue, however in my belief it's not the factor which is critically damping the cyclical production of footballers. The main stumbling block for the very top young players, is making the transition firstly into the top level of English football, the Premier League, and secondly into the elite level, the Champions League.
To get an idea of this, take a look at the squad list for the England U21's team. The potential on this list is huge, Chalobah, Woodrow, and the Keane twins all have the ability to go amazingly far in the game. But how many of that list will be playing in, firstly, the Premier League, and secondly, the Champions League in five years time? Any of them? Two, maybe three? It's simply not good enough.
Many would say that the FA's hands are tied in regards to this, if Premier League clubs aren't willing to buy, and more importantly, play, young English players, why should we force them to?
Because, in the long run, it's for their benefit.
Looking at Manchester City, the recent FFP sanctions imposed upon them have placed a serious strain on their ability to meet the required quota of home grown players, thereby seriously hampering their ability to compete on the international stage. The sanctions of course occurring as a result of over expenditure in the transfer market, which would have been avoided if they had produced their own players. If the available pool of English players depletes as a result of barriers to entry at the top level, it will ultimately hinder the ability of our domestic clubs to compete continentally, consequently harming the quality and value of the Premier League as a marketable brand. In the end, it's a cyclically harming process, of which we are at the beginning and end of.
Escalating the argument even further, we can begin to look at the actual England management structure and the squad itself.
The England squad itself is full of talented players. There can be no doubt about that. Sturridge, Sterling, Johnson, Gerrard, and Henderson played pivotal roles in Liverpool's brave (But doomed) title charge. Rooney is the highest paid player in the Premier League, with Manchester United believing he is worth £300,000a-week.
Now, compare this with the Costa Rican side. Can we honestly say that any individual in the Costa Rican team would, on a like-for-like basis, replace a player in the England squad, let alone the starting eleven? No. This claim is emphatically backed up by a recent study:
The study by Lloyd's and the Centre for Economics and Business Research lists the average value of one England player as more than the whole Costa Rica team.
Just let that sink in. In a study where a footballer's wealth and value is predominantly decided by his footballing abilities and performances, the entire Costa Rican team is worth less than a single English player.
Of course, Costa Rica have already qualified. At the expense of both England and either Italy or Uruguay. Playing a simple high pressure game, Costa Rica have a defined strategy, system and philosophy that has allowed the bantamweights to go toe to toe with two of the world's heavy weights.
Compare this to England, our system looks in-cohesive, incoherent, and ineffective. Rooney, arguably our best striker, was played in a role which required him to get up and down the wing in order to protect his full back. Firstly, the effect that had on his confidence was clear to see, and secondly, he was hugely ineffective in the defensive side of his role. Our full backs on both flanks were constantly exposed and Mario Balotelli's header in the initial game against Italy was scored when Baines was beaten.
Sir Alex Ferguson, who now gives lectures at the prestigious Harvard University, preaches that a system should always be created for the players at your disposal. At international level, the saying couldn't ring clearer. England have adopted a formation for no apparent reason, our full backs are probably one of the weaknesses of our team, and yet we have left them to bear for all to see.
The tactical failures of Roy Hodgson have been largely overlooked, with there being a general shrugging of shoulders to the dismal duo of performances we have given thus far.
Cast your minds back to 2010. Going into the World Cup, we were strangely optimistic. We had talented players in their prime, and a top level manager to boot, performances in the build up weren't amazing, but yet we believed. Of course we were beaten by Germany, but we cared, we shouted, we screamed, with every fibre in our body urging our players onwards, we suffered with them, and, most importantly, we lost with them.
Since Roy was appointed, the message has been that of defeatism. The dynamic duo of himself and Greg Dyke have sought to quite strangely, sterilise our passion for the English national team. However it's plainly obvious why Hodgson has sought to constantly play down our chances; job safety. He is after all on a rather tidy £3million a year. Who can blame him? After all, someone who failed miserably with Liverpool doesn't get many chances to earn that much in football. Perhaps it's for a reason?
The constant pessimism was meant to relax our team, allow them the freedom to play to the best of their abilities. In psychology there is a term called 'Learned helplessness."
The theory dictates that: When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change.
England's players have been constantly reminded by the English media and even their own manager that they have no chance at this World Cup. Did anyone honestly think that lack of confidence would benefit them?
The ground beneath our feet is strong and sturdy, yet, we have not even started laying the foundations to compete in a modern footballing world. What will spark our desire to change? A loss to Costa Rica? One would hope so.
Our regulations with regards to home grown talent must be tougher, despite the cries of the spoilt Premier League clubs. If we are forced to clip them around the ears and turn their heads to the home grown successes of Barcelona and Die Bayern, then do that we must.
A system must be put in place in the higher echelons of the FA that perpetuates a constant footballing philosophy that precedes and succeeds changes in manager and back room staff. This allows for a more defined and consistent footballing development and structure at the the embryonic stage of youth development, similar to the way Barcelona's young talents are nurtured.
And lastly, Roy Hodgson must be sacked, before our passion for England is forcefully drained, and we all start watching golf.
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