Sunday, 27 June 2010

Four More Years of Hurt: The FA ought to dig deeper in its inquest into the state of English football

England's footballers are on their way back home after a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Germany capped off what was a poor tournament in South Africa. Casual racism and loutish behaviour will once again been pushed to the periphery of acceptability and all England fans will have their opinions on where it all went wrong.

On the day the players and the fans will inevitably look to the goal that never was as the key turning point in the match and, to an extent, they would be right to do so. Had Lampard's shot - that clipped the crossbar before bouncing a foot behind line - rightly been awarded as a goal the match would have certainly been very different. At 2-2 England would not have committed such great numbers forward and left themselves so exposed to the counter-attacks from which the German's third and fourth goals came.

Perhaps Mauricio Espinosa's decision not to give the goal will be the straw that breaks Sepp Blatter's back and sees goal-line technology or officials introduced to international football. It is always a shame when avoidable errors effect games of this magnitude and now calls for football's governing body to once again reconsider their stance on such issues will only gain support. Ultimately, however, the blame will lie with England and not with the row over goal-line technology. It is now for the FA and not FIFA to implement the much needed changes. From the players to the management their were faults throughout England's trip to South Africa.

I stated in my last post that it was difficult to assess either sides credentials after the opposition they faced in the group stage. Many felt as though Germany had defensive weaknesses that could be exploited. They did but, more importantly, so did England. Conceding two early goals gave England an extremely difficult task and thus the fingers can be directed towards a faltering defence for England's loss. Glen Johnson found himself out of position on a number of occasions. The centre-back partnership lacked pace and David James made several mistakes in what will probably be his last appearance for his country. Rooney looked uncharacteristically flat again and the attacking play generally was slow and unimaginative. England, once again, succeeding only in frustrating and under-performing.

Credit ought not to be taken away from Germany though. As much as it would pain any Englishmen to say, they were the better team on the day and probably in the tournament. As per tradition the country was filled with patriotic optimism in the build up to the game. People were of the opinion that the German's were weaker and that England were stronger than they realistically were. Germany had youthful pace and enthusiasm. They broke superbly, pressured England for 90 minutes and, despite frailties at the back, they were a more threatening attacking force. 4-1 was a flattering scoreline but the result was not unfair.

On paper, as you so often hear, we may have had the better players, marginally. But if we have learnt anything from the last 15 days it is that our great players do not make a great team. England showed promise in qualification but since arriving in the Rainbow Nation they have looked little more than ordinary. What went wrong? No doubt the inquest is imminent.

England were at fault for not making the quarter-finals largely because of their sub-par performances in their opening three matches. Had they beaten Algeria or the USA they would have avoided Germany in the last 16. Instead they would have had as attractive a path to the World Cup semi-finals as a team could wish for. The mistakes, the turning points, the chances and the misses from the loss to Germany will be replayed endlessly and over analysed in the immediate future.

The future of Capello and the senior players in the squad will be drawn into question as radical action will no doubt be called for. A change of personnel, on and off the pitch, will be suggested but what good will it do? Tactically Capello was not without fault. He insisted on playing Gerrard on the left which prevented possibly England's best player from having any real influence on the game. Rather than hastily enforce wholesale changes, however, the FA would be better off looking towards stability.

What seems clear to me is that now more than ever English football needs to look to long-term solutions in favour of attempts to find a quick fix to quench the mobs thirst for blood. Improving grass-roots football in England ought to be an absolute priority as many around the world of English football have been saying for a long time now. England's current squad may have contained many players who were part of the supposed 'golden generation'. It was, however, a generation of habitual under-performers on the international stage and now the 'golden generation' have, unfortunately, had their last chance to shine. Are there players waiting in the shadows to make up a new generation of talent which will produce greater strength in depth and help bring England that ever elusive World or European Cup glory?

I am no place to attempt to suggest specific action that the FA need take nor could I confidently say where exactly the blame ought to lie for England's disappointing World Cup campaign. But as we face four more years of hurt it has become obvious that attention must now be focused on producing a new generation of footballers for Brazil 2014. How one would go about fixing the infrastructure of English football I do not know but the time for applying more paper over the cracks has hopefully now finally elapsed. Big name managers can come and go as figureheads for our national team but the changes must ultimately be made much lower down the English footballing hierarchy.

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