10 September, 2007

The Lion Roars

Now call me a cynic or Scrooge, but in preparation for this weekend’s England game I already had prepared a mild rant to post if we had lost. I don’t think I’m alone is feeling constant disillusionment with the International side after years of being told how incredible all our players are and how well we are going to do in the next World Cup/European Championships, only to be met with the same crushing failure.

However, this weekend’s performance was one of the most encouraging in recent memory, albeit against a surprisingly poor Israel team who caused literally no problems throughout the 90 minutes. We looked genuinely dangerous going forward, attacking down the wings with pace and trickery, and the forward pair of Owen and Heskey linked up better than any duo for a good while. All this without Frank Lampard too, imagine how many we would’ve beaten them by had he been on the field!

Is that it though, problems all solved? Or will we once more paper over the cracks, fluke past Russia, qualify for next year’s tournament, and fail on the grand stage in Austria/Switzerland?

In the long term, I honestly believe it is best for the England national team and English football in general, to not qualify, and perhaps to even not qualify for the 2010 World Cup also. Failure is the only way the F.A. will take notice and hopefully a major shake-up will take place, both on the pitch and behind the scenes.

We need a manager who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers in his team selection, and pick players based on their actual form rather than just reputation. This problem of having the club managers, the FA and the press dictate who plays and who doesn’t has gone on far too long, leading to a relatively uninspired squad whose passion is in question. We need players who want to play for their country, and not just see it as a distraction from club football. Perhaps to restore some much needed pride in the shirt we should remove the pay for international appearances?

Furthermore, something needs to be done in bridging the gap between the always impressive Under-21s side and the full International team. Surely we should be looking forward, perhaps 3 years ahead to the World Cup, or even 5 years ahead to the next European Championships. We have an excellent pool of young English players at the moment, yet instead of drafting some of this talent into the full squad now, and getting them used to playing together for the country, we seem to insist of recalling former players instead…Beckham, Heskey, DJ, Big Sol etc.

If we look to the Dutch national team, I admire their approach under Marco van Basten. Having failed to qualify for the 2002 World Cup, van Basten took charge and famously dropped regulars such as Seedorf, Kluivert, Davids, Makaay and Mark van Bommel, because he believed that they were either past their prime or constantly underachieving. Now he has a young squad, used to all playing together and you can put a monkey on them being there or thereabouts in both major competitions in the next three years.