Tag Archives: england

Southgate’s England Teams

You know how when you watch the England football team, it feels as though the players have never even met before? You wonder why there’s no anticipation of each other’s passes or movement, why crosses arrive into barren wildernesses, hopeful 60 yard balls bounce into touch, and it seems like the ball has one of those security devices installed in it that supermarkets use to prevent their trolleys from being stolen – it looks like it can only travel sideways or backwards. As for tempo, have you ever listened to a Nick Drake album?

There’s a very simple explanation for this; the players quite possibly haven’t met on the pitch before. During the 12 matches that the current England manager, Gareth Southgate, has been in charge, he has averaged four changes to the starting line-up from one match to the next. As Joe Hart has played in 10 of the 12 games, these changes have almost always been to outfield players. Consequently, almost half the outfield team is different each time the national side plays – and often more so.

Surely though, to steal the hapless Prime Minister’s slogan, strong and stable leadership on the pitch should be able to overcome this to some extent, you might be thinking? Maybe so, but unfortunately Southgate has switched the captaincy eight times during his tenure. Wayne Rooney, Jordan Henderson, Joe Hart, Gary Cahill and Harry Kane have all had a play with the skippers’ armband – none of them more than four times.

But this doesn’t account for why our top class attacking players haven’t been able to establish a working relationship and hammer home the goals against very weak opposition, you may rightly suggest. Of our attack-minded players, only Dele Alli has begun more than half the matches (nine) since Southgate took over. Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling have both started six times, Adam Lallana five times, Marcus Rashford four times, Daniel Sturridge three times, Jamie Vardy twice and Jermaine Defoe once.

In fact, only seven outfield players have started more than half the games (and not necessarily at the same time) and only one outfield player has started more than 75% of the matches (Gary Cahill).

These statistics are devastating for multiple reasons. Motivation and team spirit are built around feeling like part of a team – as is a players’ respect for the manager. If you are constantly being dropped, you are likely to feel resentment toward both the manager and the player(s) replacing you. In such a haphazard selection system, a player is also less likely to feel an affinity with the shirt or play his heart out to retain it when he gets his chance, partly no doubt due to fears that he will be dropped next time, regardless of his performance. If England caps are made to feel like a lottery, don’t be surprised when performances resemble a lucky dip.

Bizarrely, as shown above, these problems are only exaggerated when a light is shone upon the forward selections, and with predictable results. This England team were only been able to score 18 times in 10 matches in a group that included Malta, Lithuania and Slovenia. To give this some context, Germany and Belgium netted 43 times, Spain 36 times and Portugal 32 times. Only Iceland scored fewer goals (16) than England as group winners but they had quite a tough group.

This awful reality that leaves the fans so dispirited, presumably further undermining the teams’ performances, can only be due to Southgate selecting a different attacking line-up in every game, given the general poor quality of England’s opponents in the qualifying group. How can they possibly develop the necessary understanding or confidence required to breakdown stubborn international defences? Ironically, Southgate has often pointed towards opposing teams ‘parking the bus’ as a reason for our lack of success in front of goal, without apparently being aware that the one solution available to solve this conundrum is being thwarted by him.

Most people’s ideal attacking four for the world cup next year, injuries aside, will be Lallana, Alli, Rashford and Kane, yet they have never played 90 minutes together to date. They did all start once – four months ago against Scotland, but two of them were substituted in the second half – just before Scotland scored two goals!

At a glance it appears as though England qualified comfortably for Russia 2018. But injury time goals against both Scotland and Slovenia, and only a penalty against Lithuania, give gloss to what was actually a rather uncomfortable affair.

If England wants to avoid the embarrassment of the last two international tournaments, Southgate must settle upon his best team and formation and play it in every game going forward between now and June next year. International football is not the same as club football. You don’t get months to work on different systems and you don’t need to rotate the squad due to the amount of matches played. Being able to focus on the very best scenario ought to be viewed as a luxury, yet successive England managers seem to be utterly befuddled by this and contrive to turn an advantage into a disadvantage. Focus Gareth, focus.

Are Foreign Players In The Premiership Hindering England’s Chances Of Success?

Cantona

I must apologise to many of my subscribers, as I realise this is not what you signed up for, but nonetheless I’m going to write about football.  I’ll be as brief as I can.

In the 1970’s England failed to qualify for four major international tournaments in a row, and this at a time when International football was far less competitive than it is nowadays.  In short, we were rubbish.  During the early 1980’s we fared little better, exiting at the group stage of Euro ’80, the second round stage of the 1982 World Cup and failing to qualify for Euro ’84.  Largely due to the heroics of Gary Lineker, the England team managed to create something to cheer about during the 1986 & 1990 World Cup Finals, but ultimately one man was not enough.  That these performances were a break from the norm is highlighted never more starkly than by the fact that we finished bottom of our group at both Euro ’88 and Euro ’92, registering the dismal return of four losses and two draws.  We then failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup Finals.  1966 sure seemed a long time ago.

But then something amazing happened (if you’re an English football fan).  In August 1992, there was a change in our domestic game.  The top division of the Football League broke away to form The Premiership, and huge sponsorship deals soon followed.  An inevitable consequence of this was the attraction of players from all over the world due to the large sums of money on offer.  From now on, kids across the country could watch the likes of Eric Cantona and Jürgen Klinsmann every week on television.  This sudden exposure to the superior technique and skill of continental players seemed to take effect in no time.  By the late nineties and early noughties we had players such as Shearer, Owen, Beckham, Scholes, Gerrard, Lampard, and Rooney to select from.  Predictably, all of these players went on to score hatful’s of goals for England (almost 200 between them to date).  Even our defenders could finally control and pass the ball.  The contrast between the England of 1991 and 2001 was breath-taking – now we could play!  The England team had become a genuine contender at major tournaments for the first time since the heady days of the mid-sixties.

Some might point out that surely we always had players of genuine ability – what about Waddle, Hoddle or Barnes?  Well none of these players ever scored at a major tournament, they have a combined scoring record of only one goal in every ten games and their overall contributions can at best be described as frustrating.  Kevin Keegan also never scored at a major tournament and had a one in four goal scoring record for England – way short of the world’s elite strikers.  Ray Wilkins managed only three goals in his 84 appearances.  These were players who were flattered by the old First Division and whom were unable to excel on the world stage.  Bryan Robson and Paul Gascoigne were of course the genuine articles, and along with the aforementioned Gary Lineker, standout as exceptions to the norm between 1976 and 1995.  However, both Robson and Gascoigne were continually hampered by injuries at vital moments, with Robson effectively missing two World Cup Finals.  Gascoigne was brilliant at two major tournaments (Italia ‘90 and Euro ’96) but was often unavailable between these two career peaks, and in the end managed only seven competitive goals for England, almost all of them during demolitions of Turkey and Moldova.

So this is the England story that the facts inform us of.  Of course, right from its inception there were grumblings about foreign players in the Premiership, but as this seemed to have no point to it other than xenophobia or racism for its own sake, I assumed it was just an embarrassing remnant of a bygone era and the moment these fools expired, so to would the grumbles.  But then something else amazing happened – these protests gained favour with a new generation, only this time they had a philosophy attached to their complaint that appeared to have nothing to do with hatred or prejudice.  Apparently, so we are being told, foreign players in the Premiership are ruining the England National Team.  Here is what Joey Barton says on his blog page:

Joey Barton Blog1

However, what really spurred me into writing this article was the piece printed in the Mail On Sunday on 01/12/13.  Former Manchester United player Gary Neville conducted an interview with Paul Scholes, also a former Manchester United player, and Eric Harrison, the Manchester United youth scout who helped guide Neville and Scholes at the start of their careers.  Here are the relevant parts:

Neville Column

I have at least three problems with the statements from Joey Barton, Paul Scholes and Eric Harrison.  Firstly, as a matter of principle, I must insist upon some evidence!  However, neither article provides any.  They simply state in various different ways (none of which are particularly ingratiating or inclusive sounding) that there are less English players in the Premiership now than 20 years ago – and then predict impending disaster.  Perhaps they have the evidence for all this doom and gloom, but chose not to share it.

Personally, I fail to see how restricting the pool that Premier League Clubs can select from will maintain the quality therein, and I’m not aware of a statistical model that supports such a thesis.  To state it in footballing terms, promoting a Championship or League One player to the Premiership will not suddenly make him play like Hazard or Yaya Toure – or Rooney for that matter.

Secondly, noticing that 75 is not 32% of 220, I thought I’d better do my own research.  The actual number of English players who started for their clubs in the first matches of the 2013/14 season is 72, which rounds more accurately to 33%.  But the point is that this is not a numerical emergency.  You only need 11 players for a football team.  72 is more than enough to choose from.  Isn’t it better that these 72 are pushed to reach the highest possible standards?  This will only occur if competition is at its most potent – that’s just capitalism 101.

Thirdly, as I’ve hinted at already, I feel it’s more likely that the evidence for the influence of foreign players in our leagues on the National team points in the opposite direction to that which is suggested by Neville, Scholes, Harrison and Barton – at a minimum the consequences must surely be zero sum.  But let’s see what the numbers tell us:

England International Statistics

England Major Tournament Performance1

These numbers do not represent the collapse of the English National team in the wake of an influx of foreign players to our domestic teams.  It’s true we had a terrible 2014 World Cup (though we qualified in impressive style without losing a game) but who doesn’t experience short term dips in results – Spain and Italy also went out at the group stages and no one is suggesting they are in a moment of crisis.

Clearly football cannot allow itself to drag its knuckles behind other industries.  No one would have a problem with a talented young oncologist wishing to ply their life saving trade in this country – so neither should they have a problem when it comes to professional sportsmen and women wishing to do so.  And just as there is a common misunderstanding with regards to immigrants in general, who contrary to popular belief provide a net benefit to our economy, there is also no reason at all to fear the influence of foreign players on our National football team.  In fact, a brief study of the history of immigration ought to teach us to be rather unsurprised by the fact that foreign players are having a positive effect.  Fear is a useful survival tool, but it becomes self-defeating if it is not tempered by an honest consultation of the facts.