International Football

England have qualified for Euro 2016. Unofficial

St-Jakob-ParkPremature evaluation? Not really. Even this ill-equipped England side, with its mixture of Championship-level players and yesterday’s men, will have trouble not getting out of arguably the weakest group they’ve been drawn in for a major tournament. Just look at these FIFA rankings: Estonia (93rd), Slovenia (39th), San Marino (208th) and Lithuania (103rd), as well as Switzerland (9th).

Even as a relatively lowly 20th placed side, England should have no difficulty in overcoming the mighty Baltic states. The difficult games were always going to be against the Swiss and it is job done in the first of those meetings. And given the top two go through, plus a sprinkling of third-place teams, it will be virtually impossible for England to be eliminated.

The qualifying group has already been rendered worthless – the marketing boys will have their challenges getting sizeable crowds in at Wem-ber-ley for Tallin and Vilnius’ finest, not to mention the mighty San Marino. Cut the prices, oh national stadium, and you might stand a chance.

But England fans should not be raising their hopes too much. The Swiss are over-rated and over-ranked. Winning 2-0 in Basle should be applauded, but only quite politely. Danny Welbeck has not turned into an international striker to be feared because he scored twice in the St.Jakob Stadium. Look at the quality of the England team and wait for your heart to sink. More worryingly, look at the bench. And Rooney was chucked the armband by default. Last man standing in very leaky shoes.

You can’t blame Uncle Roy, he didn’t create the Klondike that English football has become. In more delusional times, Roy would have been sacked for the World Cup humbling, but even the blazers know that the model is out of control. Thanks to the World Cup, a shambolic, soul-destroying England fortnight that ended with congratulatory slaps on the back after a 0-0 draw with…..Costa Rica, people have woken up to the reality that England’s national team is decidedly second rate.

As the old guard step aside, there are some good reasons why Rooney should have been one of the players being given a carriage clock and exit press conference announcing his retirement from international football. As it stands, he’s going to be there for a while longer, because his replacements don’t really exist.

Even if St.Georges Park conjures up a conveyor belt of talent that could fill 20 Premier teams, unless the clubs give the opportunities to young players, the England team is not going to improve. They need to play somewhere and because Premier clubs pay so much even to players with no chance of career progression, where is the motivation to move abroad to guarantee some form of top level football?

One example of how a player can be elevated to have the fate of the nation resting on his shoulders, but a year or so later, be unable to guarantee a place at his club – for various reasons – is Andros Townsend. He performed well in the early Europa League games last season, got promoted into the England squad on the strength of it, and was the poster child for the Three Lions. Only a week or two ago, Spurs were looking to unload him.

The Football Association has to get hold of the clubs and insist on a higher quota of English players on their books. It’s the only way. If football talent can be equated to the country’s balance of payments, England is an importer and has virtually no exports. It won’t get sorted in the near, not even the medium, but if England want to avoid a repeat of Brazil 2014, they have to act soon.

Looking at the new players coming into the England squad, the future looks bleak. Scotland, when they qualified for six of the seven World Cups between 1974 and 1998 probably never thought they would become also-rans, but sadly, they have. In six or seven World Cups’ time, will England have gone the same way?

But rejoice. They are almost there for 2016 for the Platini bunfight…

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