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Old 23rd June 2010, 03:18   #1
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Houston Texas
Posts: 1,537
Default The Football Association's Own Goal

The Football Association’s Own Goal

So another World Cup effort by England stands on the brink of failing miserably and of course the English press and media are preparing the team’s obituary before the last match in the Group Series has taken place. No doubt, should it happen that England do not progress after next Wednesday’s game against Slovenia, then that same predatory crowd will surely be calling for Fabio Capello’s head as well.

Let’s be brutally honest. Drawn in a Group that was supposedly very easy, England was expected to progress without too much trouble. The other teams that comprised the Group, Algeria, Slovenia, and the USA, are hardly recognized as teams that would strike fear into a team highly ranked in the official FIFA ratings. Before a ball was kicked in South Africa, or the team had even left London, there was so much hype in the English media, that it was inevitable it would bring pressure should England not get off to a good start. To read, listen, and watch what the so called “experts” had to say, qualification would come with very little problem.

It has always been a source of irritation to me that most sports writers in general, particularly those that specialize in covering football, change their minds and opinions about things more than they change their under ware or their socks. Sports journalism has changed so much in the 60 years that I have been watching the game, and personally there are now only a handful of journalists that I actually take note of and read or listen to their reports in depth. The rest of them? 50% of what they write I take with a pinch of salt, and the other 50% I just don’t believe. Most look for angles in which to be sensationalist or headline making, and the good match report now is sadly few and far between. Managers and players have to be so careful today when talking to the press and media, because so often their quotes are taken out of context and twisted to make headlines that will sell copy.

It never used to be like that. Years ago there was a great mutual trust between the journalistic corps and the managers and players, and there was also great camaraderie between them. They knew what was off limits and they respected a manager/player’s private life. That all went out of the window years ago and for journalists today, they feel that anything is fair game irrespective of the consequences to people’s lives. I smile when I read some of the labels that they attach to themselves, e.g. “the Voice of Football”; “Britain’s Premier Football Writer”; and so on. Yeah, right, who said they are? But I digress.

England’s current campaign hasn’t got off to the start most people expected. Two draws in games that they could so easily have lost, and two performances that haven’t set the world alight, nor have they put any modicum of fear into any of the other teams playing in the tournament. To describe both performances as ordinary is being kind. There has been a distinct lethargy in the team’s play, and there has been little or no creativity, flair, or imagination shown, the team appears disjointed, and after today’s game, even low spirited and so lacking in confidence.

The tabloids have already started their mud slinging. “Never in the field of World Cup conflict, has so little been offered by so few, to so many” is The Sun’s offering. The Mirror is even more damning; “Cape Clowns” and “Not Fit to Wear the Shirt” are their leads. “Earn your Corn – 6 million a year boss loses the plot” is the Mail’s contribution. “England Lost on the Road to Nowhere” states the Express. “England in Chaos” comes from the Independent. “Yet another Carry On” states the Guardian. So the knives are already being sharpened and fingers are already being pointed. Lose or even draw against Slovenia, and the USA get at least a draw against Algeria next Wednesday, and there will be an eruption in the English press and media to compare with the erupting Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland!

But will it all be more than a little unfair? I have to be honest, I have not expected England to do well at all in this tournament, and have thought that most of those pundits that have actually tipped, or said that England are good enough to win the World Cup have been on a prescription of “waccy baccy.” In my own honest opinion the England team have being going backwards for the last 10 years, and the Manager’s job gets harder with each passing year. There is no doubt that it is indeed a “poisoned chalice”. So what is the cause?

As I see it, you can trace it back to the day in 1991 when the Football Association got into bed with the people who proposed the breakaway Premier League, a league that was founded on nothing but pure greed and not for the good and benefit of the game of association football. The main protaganists being the Chairmen of the so called “Big Five”, Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool, Everton, and Tottenham Hotspur. Ironical now, some 19 years later, that only two of those clubs could be called “big’ and that all five shelter under an umbrella of an unconceivable amount of debt! The real reason for the formation of the Premier League was that the top clubs wanted all the television monies for themselves. The FA, by getting into bed with them sold its soul to the devil and betrayed its history. Gone was over 100 years of governing the game, of having checks and balances in place to guard the game against predators, and making sure that there was a distribution of wealth throughout the whole Football League. You reap what you sow, and slowly but surely the tail began to wag the dog, and the England team began to have little or no relevance to the powers within the Premiership. In effect, the FA, over the years has become inert and failed in its duties as the game’s watchdog.

According to the FA’s document produced that year, “The Blueprint for the Future of British Football”, one of the main reasons for embracing the concept of the new Premier League was that it would tie into, and promote a system which would produce excellence and in doing so, would help the England national team excel. Has this happened? Patently not. What it has done if the truth is known, is help the development of players for foreign national teams whilst at the same time seeing opportunities for home grown English players to develop disappear like rats from a sinking ship!

When you look at the opening day of the 1992/93 season, only 11 foreign players were in the lineups of the 22 teams that formed the initial Premier League. Can you remember them? If not here they are:
Peter Schmeichel (Denmark & Manchester United)
Andrei Kanchelskis (Russia and Manchester United)
Jan Stejskal (Czechoslovakia and QPR)
Roland Nilsson (Sweden & Sheff Wed)
Michel Vonk (Holland & Manchester City)
John Jensen (Denmark &Arsenal)
Anders Limpar (Sweden & Arsenal)
Hans Segers (Holland &Wimbledon)
Tony Dorigo (Australia & Leeds)
Eric Cantona (France and Leeds)
Gunnar Halle (Norway and Oldham Ath)

So on that opening day, of the 242 players (not counting players on the substitute’s bench) who started the games, 231 were from the United Kingdom or Ireland. Since that time, the wheel has turned a full circle and I wonder what those figures will look like on the opening day of the 2010/2011 season in August?

So many great foreign players have graced the Premiership, there is no doubt about that and their contribution is enormous and has certainly enhanced the League. The Premiership is now reckoned to be the strongest and best in the World. But what has happened, is that over the last 10 years especially, there has been such an influx of foreign players into the English teams, that in my opinion, it has stopped the progress of our own home grown players developing. It’s staggering to think that since its inception, over 3500 foreign players have played in the Premiership. The majority of them have been journeymen. Most stay in England for two to three years at most. Most have been no better than many of the young players clubs have had on their own books.

In today’s “success now/win at all costs” culture in the Premiership, Managers have found that they do not have time for developing their own young players or their teams. They are under so much pressure from all angles. From owners, directors, fans, agents, etc etc. Consequently what happens is that young players get to a certain age around 18/19 and they hit a brick wall. They are also now having to compete with the cream of foreign youngsters who are being recruited from around the world, and let’s be fair, who also tend to get a little more favoured. Many young kids do find careers in the lower leagues, but many, many more are completely lost to the game, and that is the real tragedy.

For those that do have careers at the lower level, their chances of making the England team are certainly almost non-existent. England managers do not look outside of the Premiership – so it’s very much a closed shop. But the big problem for the England team manager now, is that as each season passes, the number of quality English players that are available to him for selection gets smaller, and smaller as more foreign imports arrive.

The other problem is that as most of our top teams are top heavy with foreign players, and it is those players that are getting the real exposure to top quality first class football, week in and week out. In other words we are fostering the top class development of foreign players on a consistent basis, for the very teams we face in international competition, whilst at the same time, neglecting our own. Look at the England team today – who could replace with conviction, Ferdinand, Terry, Gerrard, Ashley Cole, Lampard, Rooney? Who in our younger players are really pushing the players in the England team now for their places? Had Beckham been fit, it’s my guess that he would have played a role in this World Cup on the field as both Lennon and Shaun Wright Phillips still can’t produce.

The value of the international game has been systematically downgraded as clubs today serve their own interests. The task of developing their own young players is now shunned in place of foreign investment to produce the so called ready made article. As I said earlier, the FA are flaccidly impotent and inert, and the arrogance of the Premiership has made them largely irrelevant – and yes, you do reap what you sow.

So I am not too surprised at the performances of the current England team, and to be honest, I fear for the future, even if they do qualify next week. The biggest problem is where are the future real quality England players going to come from?
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