Greg Dyke’s Inaugural Speech and the Future of the England Football Team
I said in a previous diary that I supported Greg Dyke’s speech and that I’d be writing more about it. He really spoke some home truths from the heart and has laid himself open to criticism and attack. He knows that is the case but nevertheless went ahead and said what he felt needed to be said, ignoring the risks to himself. He said that he had been planning what to say ever since he had got the job as FA Chairman.
I was delighted, not least because he covered a number of issues I had asked him to sort out in blogs I wrote at the time of his appointment. Just to remind you, he said amongst other things that there are too many foreign players at Premiership clubs. He said he was not attacking the Premiership clubs but knew some would choose to interpret it that way. They will be the same people that claim that his view is contrary to equal opportunities principles, even racist. That is not the case but it will suit those with vested interests to make it look like it is.
Greg Dyke’s purpose is to try and improve the England team. His job is to represent his country, our country, England. He said when he got the job that he has 4 years to make a difference. It is admirable that he is even going to try at his age. He will be 70 by then and obliged to move on. He looks fit and robust but God knows where he gets the energy from to take on such a task.
It is important if he is to have a chance of getting anywhere to disprove and put to one side the equal ops /racist argument. You cannot have international competition and national teams without those teams and their management sticking up for their country and putting its interests first. The government of the country needs to represent and strengthen where possible the interests of that country. This becomes more important, the bigger the industry or sport involved. The Olympics, the Ashes, the World Cup all have a clear and visible effect on the standing of a country in the world’s eyes and the morale of the people at home. Why do you think that countries like China put so much effort into the development of their athletes prior to the Beijing Olympics and in the Cold War days, the Soviet bloc?
Globalisation – there is even an argument that nations are redundant. But what is the alternative to nationhood? International franchises and businesses instead of countries. Why would that be better? What happens to loyalty and commitment and honour when the only reason that you work for someone is the financial reward? That is pretty much where we have arrived with the Premiership. It is crystal clear that if there are hardly any English players starting for Premiership clubs then there are not going to be enough top quality players in the national side. There is limited merit in casting about for someone to blame. As Greg Dyke said, we are where we are. The question is; what are we going to do about it?
It is true that in the ‘70s, when we had nearly all British representation in the first division, the international team performed poorly, failing to even qualify for major competitions. They called it the Tomascewski years on Football Focus the other day. For those of you who cannot remember, that far back, he was the Polish goalkeeper that Brian Clough called a clown and who then played a blinder at Wembley and stopped us from qualifying for the 1974 World Cup finals. So just having a load of Englishmen in the league teams is no guarantee of success in itself. That is where the other half of the equation comes in. Developing young players, not only in their individual skills but in a style of play. To stand a chance, it has to be a two-pronged approach.
You can say it’s only a game but it is more than that. Visible, recognised sporting achievement really affects a population’s morale and a country’s standing in the world. The crucial thing is finding enough people who are prepared to give of themselves for their country, not primarily for financial reward. From teachers who will work out of hours to develop their kids. Parents who will encourage their kids to play sport. Mentors who will teach them traditional sporting values. Play and train to win, but not at all and any cost. (Maradona’s handball and drugs, Henri’s handball vs. Ireland.) Self- sacrifice for the greater good. Becky Adlington, Tom Daley and their like. Children and their families who dedicate years of their life as amateurs and large portions of their income to achieving, with no sponsorship or little hope of substantial reward.
Young English Players
I was part way through typing this when Ray Wilkins threw his hat into the ring. He has written in a national paper that he has first-hand experience of young English players who are not hungry enough. By that he means that players with potential reach a certain level, way below world class, when they can earn a great deal of money by being good, so they settle for that. Unlike many foreign youngsters, they don’t push themselves on and on to become better and better; to become the best; real galacticos. It is under achieving, settling for second best, and a comfortable easy life. Whilst that attitude prevails, we will not have a successful national team.
Pundits, politicians, sociologists et al all have opinions on this phenomenon. You certainly can’t blame it all on the Premier League and the money they pay the kids. On the other hand if the rewards weren’t so great so soon, perhaps they would not ease off on the effort required to be the very best so early in their careers.
This attitude does not seem so rife amongst foreign players. It is interesting to note how many of the best originate from really impoverished backgrounds. Mud huts and shanty towns, literally. By the time they have reached world class standard and blocking first team slots in Premier League clubs, they have spent 10 years or so totally focussed on becoming the best, to climb out of poverty and proving themselves abroad in lesser leagues. The trials and challenges of the Premier League are as nothing compared to what it takes to play your way out of poverty.
Perceived Football Plan
We have to be careful not to keep chopping and changing policies when we don’t get instant results. The countries that have achieved great success over the last 20 years or so have made up their mind what kind of football they want to play and have implemented plans over a generation to bring it about through teaching that style to young children and persevering with it, through the age levels, even if it does not bring instant success. France were there or thereabout for years before they finally won the World Cup on their own soil. Spain were known for playing good football for years, even when France were champions but always fell short at major tournaments until it clicked a few years back. They persevered with their plan and their style and it eventually paid off. They stuck to the Cruyff, Barcelona tiki-taki style in the face of criticism and finally perfected it, winning the World Cup and European Championship. Germany rebuilt to a plan and a philosophy from the ground up with Klinsmann the instigator, (quite rapidly too) and are now very impressive again. They have left us behind since we defeated them 5-1 in a one-off win on their own turf. They have a different style to the Spanish; it includes a more direct punch up front to supplement the skilful midfield. The similarity is that they manage to implement it at all levels at league clubs and the national team.