I was fortunate enough to have missed England’s depressing 1-0 Wembley defeat to Germany, which followed a 2-0 loss to Chile just days earlier. However, on my way home that night I found myself listening to Talksport and to what was a fairly heated debate about the shortcomings of England. Adrian Durham, a man known for his bold and often frankly ridiculous opinions stated that the problem with England over the years has been poor managers, writing off the likes of Sven Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren(fair point), Fabio Capello(won everything there is to win in the game) and Roy Hodgson.
This statement really ticked me off as he went on to say that Bobby Robson and Terry Venables were the only decent managers we have had. Fair enough, they were the only two that lead us to tournament semi finals, but they were competing against teams with 1 or 2 world class players, not today’s mega powers who have a squad full of them. The standard of international teams as a whole is unquestionably higher than ever, but his opinion seemed to sidestep the fact that during this time England as a team have got progressively worse. We have struggled to match the quality of football played by the likes of Spain and Germany, but it comes down to more than simple tactical ineptness.
You only have to look at the England squad to see where the problems lie. In years gone by, we’ve always had one problem position(usually left midfield), but at the minute we have a whole host of problems. In goal, our number one for many years Joe Hart has seemingly lost the plot, losing his starting place at Man City following a series of catastrophic errors. The only thing certain about poor Joe is that he has dandruff free hair. It has meant the focus has switched to his England backups and they are few and far between. The leading contender is Fraser Forster, a regular for Celtic in a league which barely provides a challenge following the demise of Rangers. He’s clearly a talented keeper but you have to question why he never made it at Newcastle if he was genuinely top class. Other contenders include John Ruddy at Norwich, again unproven at the highest level and U21 keeper Jack Butland who can’t get near a game at Stoke.
In defence, we seemed blessed with attacking full backs, but question marks remain over their defensive abilities. Glen Johnson in particular is a threat going forward but seems prone to a lapse in concentration when it comes to defending. his alternative Kyle Walker even gets abuse from his own Spurs fans for the exact same reason. Phil Jagielka and Gary Cahill appear to be the preferred defensive partnership, but you can imagine the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi licking their lips at the prospect of playing against the pair. Again reinforcements don’t fill you with confidence, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have yet to cement their place in the Manchester United team as centre backs yet they’re England’s backups, worrying. The one bonus is they can play a variety of positions which may prove an advantage if injuries strike during the tournament. There have been calls for John Terry to be recalled. But does that really provide a solution that can take us forward and can he be trusted around other players wives!?!?
England’s defensive worries are more concerning when unlike pretty much every other major nation, we lack a genuine defensive midfielder. Some will argue that Michael Carrick can do the job, yet I don’t see him being that destructive force and defensive shield that is so popular with teams today. Spain have Busquets/Martinez, Italy have De Rossi, Germany have Khedira, the list is endless. Sure Carrick can play a nice sideways pass and can slow a game down, but can he protect two centre backs who are likely to be exposed by the best players in the world?
Stevie Gerrard is playing a more withdrawn role these days and it’s clear that his attacking powers are waning. Alongside him in midfield, you only have to read our Twitter timeline to see the constant abuse levelled at players like Tom Cleverley, Jordan Henderson and even Jack Wilshere. The latter needs to step up and realise his potential as he is probably the only man who can provide the creative spark so desperately missing.
In attacking areas it seems we are going to go with Danny Welbeck and Andros Townsend. Again, neither is likely to strike fear into the heart of quality opposition and they will probably spend more time defending than attacking. To be fair, Townsend and Welbeck have had a few good moments in an England shirt this year, but can they do it consistently? Beyond Rooney and Sturridge, we again lack depth with Defoe, Lambert and Jay Rodriguez our current options. We desperately lack an out an out goalscorer in the mould of a Lineker or Shearer and the signs so far are that the Sturridge/Rooney partnership needs plenty of work. Their backups are a long way from international quality in my opinion and the callup of Jay Rodriguez took me by surprise, but they are quite frankly the best we have.
So the current crop contains many areas of concern and our younger level squads have not provided much reason to look forward to the future. A lack of English players in the Premier League is killing our national team and as a result our managers are having to pick from a limited group of players. If you look down the lower leagues, more foreign players can be found than ever before, preventing our best young talent from playing regular football. The recent furore about the FA trying to persuade Adnan Januzaj to play for England is a clear indication of where things are heading. The fact is we don’t have enough quality players playing regularly at the highest level and those that are doing seem to shrink in stature when they pull on the England shirt. Maybe it’s because they don’t have to fight for their place in the squad, maybe they just don’t give as much of a shit as some other nationalities do. Watch the passion of the Italian and Brazilian players during their national anthem, then watch ours, a group of nervous schoolboys embarrassed to sing in front of an audience. One thing is for sure, England’s problems run a lot deeper than simply being the manager’s fault.