• Friday, 16 March 2012

    Run DMC and the lessons of England's European failure

    "Next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught? It's like that (huh) and that's the way it is"

    England's national team has been poor for ages. 1996 was the last time they were any cop, but since then it's been a triumph of fevered hype followed by tournament performances that resemble each other so closely that it stops looking like anything other than a predictably repeatable pattern. But that's been OK, because England has the Premier League, the self-styled Best League In The World.

    "All these players are great for their clubs", went the well-worn excuse for getting beaten on penalties by Portugal - again - at a major championships, "so why can't they do it for England?". Well the obvious answer to that, which nobody wanted to hear, was that the key players in those club sides weren't English. In light of England's European embarrassment this season - notwithstanding Chelsea finding Napoli's Achilles heel that is a total inability to defend corners - the technical deficiencies apparent in the national team seem to have filtered down to the clubs.

    The line used on creation of the Premier League was that it'd help the national team. That sounded like bollocks then and still does. The EPPP that the top clubs forced through by holding a financial cannon to the groin of lower league clubs was fed to us with the same line. That also sounds like bollocks, especially in a week where the most emphatic European result featuring an English side was Liverpool's 6-0 gubbing by Ajax in the NextGen series semi-finals. Yes, youth development is very much best off in the hands of such clubs.

    If this were any other country, we might be holding crisis talks. There may be rumours of a total overhaul of the way England produces players and, subsequently, coaches. There may be root-and-branch reviews of the entire football system in this country, you know, a bit like Germany did after poor tournaments in 1998 and 2000. Instead, what we've had so far this week is a senior FA official going on a xenophobic rant and falling into an ornamental pond and the demand for change from the culture, media and sport select committee responded to by the FA washing their hands of all footballing matters completely and handing over all power in the game to the top clubs.

    Sporting CP rode their luck at times, but were worthy winners over Manchester City. Arsenal were undone by an abject first leg in Milan. Manchester United were given a 180-minute football lesson by an incredibly exciting team. But for Napoli's enormous defensive short-comings, there would be more Cypriot teams left in Europe than English. This season, there has been a lot of teaching going on. The fear is that the response will be the usual, i.e. stick fingers in the ears and repeat the 'best league in the world' mantra until the pain goes away. Is anyone going to get taught?

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