Why England are going nowhere

Why England are going nowhere

The clear grinding of teeth wasn't Luis Suarez giving Giorgio Chiellini a love bite, but Roy Hodgson biting his tongue this morning (Singapore time).

He risked drawing blood as he held back, restrained himself, towed the party line; the perfect man for the English Football Association.

England had just stumbled again to supposed World Cup stumblebums; panting and plodding towards a dreadful 0-0 draw in the midday sun of Belo Horizonte. The city's name means beautiful horizon. For the Three Lions, there isn't one.

They suffered another premature exit; another tepid display against limited automatons; another day of stultifying mediocrity at the England manager's office. Few still lump Hodgson's (above) men among the mighty, but they had fallen to minnows nonetheless.

Like the game's outcome, the question was expected in the press conference.

Why do countries with a fraction of the resources, both physical and financial, continue to embarrass England?

"One simple insight is that Costa Rica - like Iran - have been able to keep their teams together for months, doing the type of work that we've been able to do in only three weeks," Hodgson replied, choosing his words carefully.

"We haven't played badly, but we still haven't got the results, which usually comes down to two things.

"Mistakes give goals away in your box. Or mistakes in their box mean you miss chances. And we are working on this.

But we will never get access to our players in the way that Iran and Costa Rica do. We just won't."

He leaned forward, clearly warming to his theme, but bit back. A loyal company man, he remembered his place and that of the English FA; playing second fiddle to the global ATM of the English Premier League.

His brief insight was as revealing as it was childlike, which certainly wasn't contradictory. His rudimentary analysis "if you make mistakes in both boxes, you don't win" - was entirely relevant.

Schoolboy errors killed England's campaign.

They had the plush training complex in Rio, restricted access to the pestering public and the right fizzy fitness drinks, but they were ultimately undone by the kind of basic blunders that wouldn't be tolerated on a dusty patch among favela kids.


Schoolboy errors were committed by men whose professional workplace still treats them like minors.

With the obvious exceptions of Ross Barkley and Raheem Sterling, most young Englishmen are rarely heard or seen in the English Premier League.

They are babies left in the youth team creches, while foreign imports are parachuted into the first team by panic-stricken foreign owners ruled by short-termism and the bottom line.

Iran and Costa Rica lack the cash but overcompensate by fixating on their national sides.

Hodgson's sudden emphasis on native youth is not a philosophy necessarily shared by clubs away from Liverpool and Southampton.

His future contenders for Euro 2016 selection are not always guaranteed a place in their Premier League first teams, but are pacified by their pay packets.

"I'd love to see younger English players travel more to learn more about the game, like foreign players do," he said.

"Of course, we should send young players overseas, if they can't play regularly in the Premier League. But there's no comparison in the salaries, in general terms. I'm not talking about the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, but the rest.

That tends to keep players in the country because they get a lot more money."

The Premier League feeds the hyperbole but starves young Englishmen of regular playing opportunities. And yet, their salaries shackle them to the bench.

Hodgson muttered something about the English FA moving in the right direction, alluding to the £340 million (S$903 million) Elite Player Performance Plan and the opening of St George's Park, which should bear fruit in World Cups to come. But the Premier League remains the elephant in the room.

And it's making a monkey of the England side.

We were criticised two years ago for being too defensive, having no courage or bravery going forward. I'm more optimistic as an England player and fan now than I was two years ago. The margins are smaller now. - Steven Gerrard.

The England team landed in Manchester yesterday.


This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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