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COS contributor Odhran Harrison delves into the age old argument of why Premier League brilliance leads of national team mediocrity.
With England, again, falling short in a major international competition, the debate rages anew. Who to blame- the system or its components? The manager or his players?
The reflex reaction to these situations in England is a barely-disguised xenophobia, an insistence that they need return to English managers. Capello’s impeccable record in qualifying is forgotten, as is Steve McClaren’s dismal failure to guide his charges to Euro 2008.
Capello is not innocent- his refusal to switch to a five-man midfield may have contributed to England’s demise- but the truth is that the players are simply not good enough.
Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in particular have always been beneficiaries of the Premiership hype machine. If this is the You Tube Age, they are You Tube footballers- great in highlights packages, anonymous for a large part of every game. Midfield play is far more nuanced than simply being a matter of getting forward and scoring goals. Both excel at that, but lack in the fundamentals.
How, then, do they perform so well in the Premiership? Here we reach the crux of the matter. At Chelsea, Lampard has been complimented by the dynamic Michael Essien and the clever Michael Ballack. Before that, the industry of Claude Makalele allowed him the freedom to roam and do what he does best- shoot for goal.
At Liverpool, Gerrard was always made look better by the brilliant Xabi Alonso. It is surely no coincidence that when Alonso departed, Gerrard and his team collapsed. His supposed ability to run games is a myth. He is a talented player but his talent is to provide dramatic, decisive moments in the final third, not to dominate the midfield.
This is emblematic of England’s troubles. They have good, but one-dimensional players. This comes to the fore at international level, where they are not surrounded by quality foreign talent to provide the skills that they lack.
Wayne Rooney has suffered a lot of criticism, in some ways fair, and yet the contrast between Manchester United and England is telling. Even in the worst United side in years, Rooney was on the end of chance after chance, and had his best ever season in terms of goals. For England in the World Cup, he was frustrated and isolated, starved of the quality service Giggs, Valencia, Scholes and Nani could provide him at club level.
Paul Scholes retired from playing for England because he was tired of being underappreciated and misused. England have stopped producing technical players- now the onus is on physicality.
What England now need, above all else, is humility. They are still touted, before every major tournament, as potential winners. This does not tally with the simple fact that the last time they reached the last four of such a tournament was on home turf at Euro ’96. In recent World Cups, they have proven at best a last eight team, who are unable to defeat the true giants of world football. The reason most often put forward is that there is a mental block on such occasions, but the truth is even more straightforward. English footballers are not as good as foreign ones, and the game needs reform from the bottom up, so that there is less emphasis on physicality and more on the fundamentals of technique.
How they must wish that Aaron Ramsey, shattered leg notwithstanding, was English and not Welsh. They must also yearn for the breaking through of the talented Jack Wilshere, still only eighteen, and the powerful Jack Rodwell. Yet these promising youngsters are the exception to the rule. There might be more dark days ahead for England. Sweeping changes are needed, but sacking the manager would not be the quick fix that some seem to imagine.
You can read more from Odhran at his excellent blog MoralCourage.com by CLICKING HERE