The problem with English football

February 8 2007

England coach Steve McClarenEngland 0-1 Spain. A dismal home defeat against the notoriously underachieving Spanish, and calls for Steve McClaren’s head. There are big problems with English football. But they have nothing to do with passion or ‘balls’ or desire, and everything to do with coaching.

Chris Waddle makes some valid points in this article for the BBC from October last year. England just isn’t producing exciting players. And it’s a problem that stretches all the way down to grass roots football.

As soon as a boy shows any interest in football, he is given a shirt, put into an 11-a-side game and told that he is a goal-keeper, a full-back, a centre-half, a central midfielder, a winger or a centre forward. And he will play that position all his life, because the 4-4-2 formation always prevails. And it prevails to such a ridiculous extent that when an England manager dares to experiment with his formation, we hear stories about groups of senior players lobbying him to change his mind. A top player should be able to adapt to a change in formation.

Look at the last World Cup. Germany were the only team that achieved any kind of success playing 4-4-2. Finalists Italy and France both played a variation of the 4-4-2 that was closer to 4-2-3-1. England were the only ‘major’ nation who did not consistently employ at least one dedicated holding midfielder.

One problem is that England doesn’t produce dedicated holding midfielders. It produces all-action, box-to-box marauders like Lampard and Gerrard, but not patient, composed ball-winners like Claude Makelele and Javier Mascherano. And nor does England produce classic deep-lying centre forwards (with Wayne Rooney being the obvious recent exception). Why? The 4-4-2. If a player is a good all-rounder, he becomes a central midfielder. If he is pacy and skilful, he gets stuck out on the wing.

And the blame for this lies with the coaches. Look at the disdain with which a lot of managers regard coaching badges. Look at the mass support that Glenn Roeder and Gareth Southgate received in their battle with the League Managers Association. We in Great Britain like to think that our players know the game so well they don’t need to be taught how to become coaches. And so we allow players to go straight into management, and then decry their ineptness when their tactical limitations are inevitably revealed.

It is not so in Italy. It is not so in France. It is not so in most European countries. They understand the importance of injecting fresh thinking into the game. In Italy there is the Coverciano coaching school, where trainee coaches are taught about a plethora of different tactical systems, and encouraged to bring their own ideas to bear on how they coach. Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello, Claudio Ranieri and Marcello Lippi are all Coverciano graduates, and look at the success they have achieved.

And now look at the Premiership. The top clubs are all managed by European or Scottish managers. But there are very few genuinely innovative English managers. Too many are slaves to the 4-4-2, to the old, English way of doing things. Even Steve McClaren – a very highly regarded coach during his time at Derby County – appears to have lost his way. At least the influence of Jose Mourinho has encouraged a few more managers to experiment with the counter-attacking 4-3-3.

English football has to realise that it is no longer a world leader. The Premiership may be “the most exciting league in the world”, but that’s only because we have so many foreign players who can make up for the technical deficiencies of their homegrown colleagues. English coaches need to realise that there is no shame in being coached. And only when England learns to follow the example of places like Italy and France will it break the stranglehold of the 4-4-2 and begin to produce more players capable of producing that little piece of inspiration that is the difference between moderate success and greatness.


5 Responses to “The problem with English football”

  1. Rowland Says:

    The point is apt but the comparisons are ill-founded. The French do have a brilliant youth system (although hardly great managers – Santini, Domenech) and have produced a golden generation, but before the World Cup everyone was rightly saying that Italy were a poor team stuck in a tactical time-warp; now it seem obtuse to herald their ‘greatness’. Italy’s success demonstrates that international football is about little more than getting on a run. Good managers can inspire confidence in their players and encourage them to gel with relatively little practice time. Good managers can also take the big decisions. Sven was not a good manager; neither is Steve Maclaren. That is the only reason England will not do as well as they undoubtedly should.

  2. Tom Williams Says:

    How can it be obtuse to now herald Italy’s greatness? They are the World Champions. The fact they were a “poor team” before the competition means nothing (a poor team who put four goals past Germany in the run-up to the competition, lest we forget – if that had been England, the DVD of the victory would have been a Christmas best-seller). Great teams are measured purely by what they win. People may wax lyrical about the Hungary team of ’54 or the Brazil side of ’82, but who will remember them in 50 years?

    You are quite selective in terms of your choice of French managers as well. Santini and Domenech might not have achieved a great deal, but Jacquet, Wenger, Houllier and Le Guen (pre-Rangers, bien sur) – to name but a few – certainly did.

    I agree that neither Eriksson nor McClaren are good enough managers. Neither has the courage to make the big, risky decisions required to triumph at major tournaments. But there is more to it than that.

    There is not enough attacking variety in England’s squad. A goal, if it comes, has to come quickly, or not at all. There is no subtlety, no sleight of hand. English fans may trumpet about good old-fashioned English football, but unless England move with the times, they won’t go anywhere.

  3. blamerbell Says:

    If England are short of players I’d be more than willing to donate Steve Evans and Carl Robinson.

  4. alex Says:

    Run up to 2006 World Cup for the Azzurri: 1990 – 3rd place World Cup (where they lost on penalties to Argentina in the semis. 1994 – Finalists (where they lost to Brazil on penalties). 1998 – Quarters where they lost to France, where they lost on, you guessed it, penalties. 2000 Euro Finalists where they lost to France in OT 2-1. They flamed out in 1996 Euro and 2002 WC – controversially I might add.

    All told pretty solid. Far better than most countries and definitely superiour to England.

    Yup. Italy was “poor.”

    I think the author makes a fair point. Rowland’s comments miss the mark. I think he short changes what academies can do. How English in its mentality! And now, guess what!, Fabio Capello will bring some of that Coverciano know how to England!

    Look, it’s not the be all and end all but at least there’s an attempt to keep up. English soccer is hopelessly outdated.

    I hope to see England succeed but they need to change their attitude a little.

  5. […] the English team and trying to problem solve them, only to find it does not solve the problem! 2007 Poor coaching, 2009 Poor technique, 2010 No English players in Premier […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: