Friday, 16 November 2007

Football, Failure and Foreigners

You can tell it's international week by the lack of REAL football news circulating. As I sit down on this Friday evening preparing to view the non-event that is England's friendly against Euro 2008 co-hosts Austria, I reflect on week of continuous useless and boring soundbites concerning Steve McClaren and the whole should he stay or should he go fiasco.

Most England fans have have resigned themselves to the fact next summer's tournament will be the first one we will have missed since 1994. Will Israel cause an upset tomorrow evening? Maybe I'm wishfully tempting fate but I certainly wouldn't recommend putting much money on it. There is also the unthinkable scenario that Russia will drop points but England then go and do something stupid like losing to Croatia.

I must also point out the absurdity of McClaren fully expecting England to qualify despite the fact he is relying on other results. The one time he shows confidence is the one time he has no right to.

But I digress. You'll find all the permutations discussed elsewhere. The point I was making was about the dearth of decent football news.

As a result, what we got was a re-hash of the old 'too many foreigners' argument. Immigration stories are no longer reserved for the Daily Mail. Everyone wants to have their say about how 'Them Poles/Bulgarians/Hungarians is takin' all are jobs'. Not wanting to feel left out, football feels compelled to stick it's beak in. In a week when the failures of the national side are being exposed for all to see, it seems quite convenient to blame the foreign influences in our game as if there is some sort direct correlation between the two.

Steven Gerrard among others have spoken up about quotas and the like. The argument: Too many overseas players are apparently hindering the progress of the national game apparently. Young English talent is supposedly being stifled by the imports. If we some how limit the numbers coming in, the national team will somehow get better.

Like I said, this seems an all too convenient excuse. Aside from very few exceptions, English players in general just are not as good as their international counterparts. Is there an English centre forward as powerful and effective as Didier Drogba? Is there an English keeper as consistent as Petr Cech? Will this country ever produce a talent like Cristiano Ronaldo? How many English 20 year olds can do what Cesc Fabregas does?

The argument usually often starts and centres around the 'controversial' team selections by Arsene Wenger who rarely seems to allow English talent to flourish at Arsenal. Since his arrival 11 years ago the English contingent at the club has dwindled significantly but trophies, acolades and entertaining football has most certainly been on the increase during this time.

People need to remember that Wenger's job is to provide this success for the club who pay him to do so. He has no obligation to provide talent to the English national side. If, according to his judgement, players do not fit into his idea of how he wants his side to play, English or not, he wont play them.

Managers throughout the league, I cite Sam Allerdyce and Harry Redknapp as prime examples, frequently look overseas because of the lack of quality over here. It's not a case that English players are bad because of foreign players but rather foriegners are recruited because of a lack of home-grown quality.

It's not a new thing either. The influx of overseas talent over the last decade has seen English clubs actually improve on the European stage bringing back European trophies with some regularity. On the International stage however, England are performing just as inpetly now as they did 20/30 years ago. Wenger is quick (and right) to point this out too. It has little to do the nationalities of the players at the club sides.

One of the BIGGEST reasons for consistant failure at international level for our boys is the failure of English players to adapt and actually move abroad. Our top players would almost certainly improve if they were out there getting in touch with different footballing cultures and styles. France remain one of the best teams in the world for the simple reason their players get their football education from all over the continent. Years of constant failure in this country should maybe get the likes of Gerrard et al to look closer to home to place the blame. Something is fundamentally wrong with the development of English players and rather than driving the imports away, surely we should be looking to them for ideas?

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