National team football

England out….and now Hodgson’s work really begins

Justice was done, although losing on penalties is a bitter pill to swallow. After all this time, you would think England just might be able to handle these occasions. One win in eight penalty shoot-outs. Considering the amount of penalties in the English game, it’s strange that the national team just can’t get its head around a shoot-out. Each defeat by this method inevitably leads to a call for “a better way to decide matches”, but you don’t hear the same outcry from other nations. If you don’t like it, then why not play to win the game within 90/120 minutes?

England were certainly second best against Italy, who dominated for most of the game and deserved to go through in normal time. England were hanging on for penalties, but then when it came to the crunch, once more their nerve went.

Where does that leave England? The future is not very bright. Joe Hart is a good keeper and should stay in the team for some years. Of the defence, only Johnson may hang around for any length of time. The midfield is dire – no pace and no creativity. Up front, Rooney will remain, but who else? No, this England squad will not be together in 2014. But Hodgson’s problem is – who will fill their places?

England exceeded most expectations at Euro 2012, but in truth they are only clinging to a place in the top 8-10 in European football. They are way behind the likes of Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal – even sides like Croatia, Russia and France are ahead of them when it comes to ability.

And one of the reasons why is that in England, we do not allow youngsters to flourish, preferring to allow our top clubs to fill their huge squads with foreigners, even down to youth team level. This simply does not make sense.

It is time to restrict the use of foreigners in English football. England has to implement proper schools of excellence to develop the next generation of England players.

It’s not as if there is no demand. All over the country, there are hordes of academies, soccer schools and training camps. But the wrong people are running them. Youth football is being run by enthusiastic Dads who usually have their son in the team. They often have no qualifications to run football teams, other than a love of the game. The other negative element is the entrepreneurial coaches who run soccer schools in conjunction with academic facilities that receive a sum of money for each boy or girl on the course. These “academies” are not being run for the children, but for the people operating the “school”. They make a tidy living out of it and promise the kids the earth. One Hertfordshire-based non-league club has hundreds of these children on its books, very few of which will ever play a senior football match.

Just look at the countless teenagers taking so-called “sports science” degrees at universities and colleges. Supposedly tied-in with academic studies, some of these mis-led youngsters believe they are taking a first step into professional football or the peripheral industries that surround the game. In many cases, they are merely deferring the moment when they join the dole queue.

There are glimmers of hope, though. From 2014, competitions for youngsters will be more child-friendly, with smaller teams and smaller pitches. There is also talk of a 15-20 year programme for long-term player development. The FA is looking to stop parents and coaches enforcing a “win at all costs” attitude for youth football. Nurturing skills and technique will the the priority. This is just the start, but unless our major clubs in England change their habits and look beyond short-termism, it will not work.

Every time an England team tumbles out of a tournament, the inevitable calls for “revolution”, “change”, “transformation” and a host of other demands get thrown around the media. This time it’s serious. English football is on the brink of disaster. If only it truly realised it.

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