Friday, 2 September 2011

England are Number 1 - Lessons for our football team

Stuart Broad Englands man of the series against India

Having completed a 4-0 series over India the English cricket team are now the top test playing nation. Make no mistake this is a fantastic achievement and not something that they claim in the modern era and even further back than that to a degree. You'd probably have to go back to the early 60's to say England were the number one nation.

This would have seemed a million miles away in early 2009 in Jamiaca as England were shot out for 51 to lose the first test. In April 2009, Andy Flower was appointed head coach and the team has blossomed from there. None of this was by chance of course. Flower assembled a strong team around him and everyone has worked incredibly hard. In addition, they've made use of the modern technology and methods.

We've now reached the stage where the Aussies are looking into our methods to see what lessons can be learned for them. Blimey ! Who have ever thought that would happen ?

Sadly the Indian team never seemed up for the battle which is disappointing on a number of fronts not least when you consdier what was at stake. The lack of effort was never more clearly highlighted than in the pre-match preparation; it was shocking and normally far removed from any side led by ex-England supremo Duncan Fletcher.

Our most recent success has been dleivered by two Zimbaweans and in cricket, at least, it seems an overseas coach can be a success. Contrast that and almost every other aspect of the sport with our national football team.  

In comparison with the footballers the cricketers get peanuts, spend months, if not years, away from home and largely have to mkae their own arrangements even down to travel. We don't have enough time to go into all the issues surrounding our foreign manager who obviously isn't getting paid enough to learn the language !

We've known for a long time that the majority of England's football players are far from what you'd call role models ( although several can find a role for a model when needed ). We've also known that most aren't remotely good enough and in recent years only one or two would even get close to most nations starting eleven.

Gary Neville has now declared that playing for England was a waste of time. Wonderful ! I've felt for a long time that for the majority of players representing our country didn't mean much other than increased media exposure and more money.

Neville has further gone onto say that he knew the 2010 world cup squad wasn't good enough. Well tell us something we dont know. For the second world cup running we sent our team to a world cup finals with coach who knew he wasn't going to be in charge at the next one. What did we expect !

Luckily for English cricket the folk in charge of it who far from getting most things right, were spot on in their approach and recognising the changes needed and appointments required. They didn't give up or, like Neville, say it'll take us 10 years to get there. In addition, I don't see any acceptance from Neville that it was down to him or any of his team-mates to accept responsibility to try improve themselves or the team.

Neville says that our approach of bang the ball up and down the pitch won't work ( if it ever did ! ). Well hello Sherlock ! We need to be patient and pass the ball more and better. Dong ! Nail hit on the head. You might wonder why English players who are amongs the most well-paid in the world ( Eto'o and one or two others aside ) can't do that. Probably but not entirely down to the work ethic again I suspect.

However, that alone is not the case that our football finds itself floundering on the international stage. The whole structure needs looking at and as is often mooted starting at grass roots level. The FA has consistently ignored Sir Trevor Brooking's plan for grassroots football. Amongst the suggestions is to make junior football less competitive and not go from 7 a side to 11 a side in one fell swoop.

Aside from anything else we don't have the pitches to do so in reality. Most juniors when moving to 11 a side suddenly find themselves playing on something approaching a full size pitch. Ludicrous ! No wonder we're still banging balls all over the place.

That leap from 7 to 11 players also means an awful lot less touches of the ball........something to the opposite of what we're trying to see at senior level in that we want players to be comfortable on the ball.

You watch the vast majority of junior games over a weekend and the over-riding aim is to win. All parents shouting, usually not in a positive way, desperate for their kids not to lose but be victiorious in a way most of them never were. Ah, the reflected glory !

Of course there's nothing wrong with wanting to win at a young age and defeat builds character. However, we should encourage them and the youngsters themselves should have the confidence and freedom to play with flair. They shouldn't be worried about trying a new skill or doing something other than hoof the ball out if it's in their own area. Sadly due to the pressure from parents or some coaches that rarely happens which is ironic because they've no doubt spent many hours teaching them different skills only for them to be left behind on the training pitch.

They should be encouraging them to express themselves.....who cares if they lose......they've got a lifetime of football and games to play and taste both victory and defeat in something apporaching equal measure.

England will no doubt beat Bulgaria tonight and ultimately qualify for the Euro finals, however, once there we know they won't be remotely good enough to win it. Further to that we won't play in a manner that's pleasing on the eye or matches the technical skill of the top teams.

Until players take more responsibility for themselves, get paid an awful lot less, get more in touch with the reality of normal life in England and the FA totally reshapes junior / grassroots football we won't be able to say of our football team as we can of our cricket team " we're number one in the world ! " .


  1. Good post, but a couple of comments re the cricket team. England could arguably have last been called number one during the late 19060's/early 1970's when they beat West Indies (Cowdrey) and Australia (Illingworth) away, and drew home series. SA were out of cricket then, and India/Pakistan and NZ were nowhere. Prior to that, the Bokkies were better, and England were not much better (if at all) than Aus/WI.
    Second, the England team are pretty mollycoddled on the travel front as I have witnessed. John Snow (hero of the 1970 side) booked the travel and accommodation for the squad for much of the 1980/90's and now other travel companies do so; this "administrative benefit" even encompasses WAG's and the kids.
    Footballers do have a high opinion of themselves, and let's hope Strauss never lets that happen to the cricketers!

  2. You're probably right Pete. That was a wonderful win in Oz in 1970. The team contained four Kent players, Luckhurst, Cowdrey, Knott and Underwood. They played 7 tests and would still have been 8 ball overs then too !

  3. Fascinating post Phil. On kids football I'd agree with some of your views and disagree on others.

    I help manage an U11 side in Pembury, and we play in the Crowborough Junior District league. I'm please to say we rarely encounter a "win at all costs" attitude from parents of sides we play against - our own parents are first class and I never hear a whisper of such an attitude from them.

    It does happen but is incredibly rare - good sportsmanship from players and coaches is the norm, and is very much encouraged by the league. But I know that will change as the players get older, based on my colleagues' experience.

    We switch to 11 aside this season, and you are very right about the detrimental effects upon players as a consequence. You also make a highly valid point about having enough pitch space - in an ideal world you would graduate upwards in pitch size and numbers and progress over several years to 11 aside. Due to lack of room we have mini soccer pitches and then the vast 11 aside pitch - although more imaginative pitch marking could overcome this.

    The other problem we encounter is the number of league games - I use the word manager above as we rarely get the chance to coach in training on Saturdays - we have tried mid week training but don't have the take up - perhaps we ought to try harder though.

    one last positive thought - the bigger pitches are currently encouraging the players to pass more - they don't have the engine to cover the distances, or the power to knock the ball long - every cloud!

    Pembury Addick

  4. PA, I'm pleased and encouraged that you don't have the same experience as me of junior football. That's encouraging. Don't get me wrong our local league has worked hard in promoting a fair play ethos but sadly with most teams it wasn't evident.
    It sounds as though you're enjoying the management of the team. I did my lad's team for about 10 years and despite my involvement they did progress and it was great to see. It is such a rewarding thing to do despite the associated difficulties in trying to please all parents and players etc.
    It's nice because I now get lads in their late teens / early twenties thank me for my efforts and it's good to know it was appreciated.
    I hope you continue to enjoy the coaching and that the team does well with the move to 11 a side.