A month or two removed from the Deutsch demolition at Bloemfontein, English football stands at a perilous juncture, though the casual observer might be forgiven for forgetting it. After all, the stiff corpse of England’s execrable World Cup campaign will soon be buried, cast aside and swept away from the pristine path of the Premier League and its travelling circus, national interest absconding for at least 2 long and seemingly uncertain years. But, what better antidote to the horrorshow, so the argument goes, than the return of the self-crowned “Best League In The World”?
As ever, the country’s summer fling with international football ends in tears and hangovers and re-razed delusions of success, an embarrassment, another shameful notch on the bedpost of our being done over at the sport’s highest level. And yet, despite pitiful performances that evoked as much shock as abject disappointment, the FA’s meagre excuse for an exhaustive post-mortem amounts to some petty finger-pointing and a belated soul-searching over Capello’s obese contract, and not much else besides.
A dissection of the Three cowardly Lions evinces some simple truths: no heart, no guts, and no football brains. Added to this cocktail for sporting failure was an element of the supernatural, of the flat-out inexplicable- how else can we account for the staggering desertion of Rooney’s first touch against Algeria? The droning vuvuzelas were ominously funereal for the cadaver of our so-called Golden Generation, an inflated epigram that should’ve died with Sven but achieved its ironic apotheosis in South Africa.
My problem, though, centres upon the useless attempts at a constructive debrief, both from within the FA’s own walls and from the wider media. Yes, it’s true that the boom of the Premier League, attracting legions of talented immigrants like moths to a spectacularly lucrative flame, has diluted the football gene-pool of English talent: fewer opportunities exist to secure a squad-number and a contract, let alone minutes on the pitch or even a space on the bench. Artificial attempts to remedy this process are frequent and sincere, but the engine of international business is not lightly stalled: City’s Sheikhs and Chelsea’s oligarch do not lose sleep over the search for Steven Gerrard’s long-term replacement, do they?
Recently, then, a useless assumption has brazenly infected even the most intelligent of our sports journalists: that we cannot expect to upkeep a truly world-class domestic league and simultaneously nurture a successful national team- in other words, we should be grateful for one, not greedy for both.
This is nonsense, of course: Spain are now world and European champions, and La Liga is, in many important aspects, vastly superior to the Premier League. Spain triumphs where England fails in the delicate balance of its top division; foreign commodities are imported when necessary, but young Spaniards are given genuine opportunities to flourish and mature. English clubs will sooner recruit from Brazilian backwaters than from their own reserve teams, or at least it appears that way: one senses that Arsenal’s impressive Wilshere might already be a global name if he were a Juan instead of a Jack.
Excuses proliferate, but action must be taken, and soon. Spain is the ideal prototype for emulation, and we can certainly learn something from the Germans, too. The country should be capable of delivering an international product that does justice to the quality, excitement and attraction of its domestic competition: the FA, Capello, and England’s players need to discover a resolution to this heinous perennial problem, the quandary of our repeated failure at all the big dances.