What must England do to find success on the International stage?

June 26, 2007

Despite having undeniably talented players, lots of money and of course a passionate fanbase, England have only won the World Cup once, way back in 1966, and have never won the European Championships- reaching the semi finals only twice in those. Ranked a lowly eighth by FIFA, it is a surprise that the country with the most watched league in the world finishes below the likes of Portugal and France- teams that have a very weak domestic league when compared to the English Premiership. Two things have haunted England at major tournaments, the first being a lack of technical skill possessed by their counterparts on the international stage; the second being failure to take penalties well at the highest level. Too often, such as in 1998 and 2006 World Cups as well as in the 1996, 2004 European Championships England have failed to deliver when it comes to penalty time, and the national team has suffered because of it. This inability to take penalties is not just a feature of the full national team- recently the England U21 team was knocked out of the European tournament for their age group after losing to eventual winners Holland in a penalty shootout. With regards to penalties, there is not much England can do to help them score more at international tournaments bar practising, practising and practising some more in pressure situations. In that respect, it was heartening to see the England U21 squad playing a penalty shootout against Slovakia after a friendly at Stuart Pearce’s request, as these types of shootouts can only help players handle the pressure.

The other matter however, which is the lack of technical skill possessed by most top flight England players mean they are destined to fail unless they fix this weaknesses, and fast. Of the current England setup, only Joe Cole and Aaron Lennon possess the quick feet and ability to play in small spaces that most of their foreign counterparts do. More work needs to be put in at youth level by the Football Association in order to try and fix this, and youngsters need to be encouraged to play with the ball at their feet, concentrating on playing a good game rather than just the win. In Brazil, younger players play as they wish, being encouraged to beat their man and make short passes rather than mindlessly hoofing the ball up front. Positions in a formation are given once the players are older and wiser and even then it is the players that choose where and how they would like to play rather than a coach giving orders. As the players grow up, not just a will to play Brazilian’s “samba style” is instilled in them but also the confidence to keep their cool even when the clock is running down and a goal is needed. Statistics prove how little English players are at the forefront of trophies compared to the other countries they compete with. Just 16 English players have played in a UEFA Champions League final since its inception, compared to the 90 Italians that have featured in the same amount of time. Surely this shows that something needs to be done?

Even for all these problems, England still have a strong team and that is because of one thing- the availability of foreign players to clubs in the Premiership. Although most argue that this is the reason England do poorly in international competitions, they fail to realise England did not win anything from the World Cup win in 1966 to the first influx of foreign players in the Premiership. The large amount of foreign talent available means only the best English players will survive, as they likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney have shown. Also, English talent is able to compete with players from Spain, France , Italy and Brazil as well as learn skills from them- something they would never have been able to do had the league only allowed British players. England fans may despair as they do not look like winning anything under McClaren’s reign- but with the likes of Theo Walcott, Micah Richards and Wayne Rooney emerging it is hard to see how they will remain starved of success for much longer. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa would seem the best place to start as by then the precocious Rooney, Lennon and Ashton will be in their pomp, ably supported by the experienced Gerrard and Hargreaves and backed by the developing Walcott and Richards.

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