Coming home


Average and outclassed at the basics. Yes, we showed heart in patches of play. Plucky but then plucky is what Costa Rica were meant to be, not us. This World Cup might not be displaying fluid team brilliance throughout but there are pockets of world class everywhere, unless the shirt being worn has three catatonic lions on it. Not good enough to best Italy and destroyed by Luis Suarez when facing Uruguay. I can almost recall the day I laughed smugly at Costa Rica being grouped up with us. Now I fear a triple defeat in what has been our worst showing in this competition in my life time and probably yours.

Fact is, we're not very good. The golden generation might have consistently failed to live up to the hope and hype but there was a genuine buzz of promise and potential and even before that particular demise if you dare to go back to '86 and '90 (with the blip of '88 in the middle), we might have known in our hearts we'd come unstuck (like in '88) but the faith and belief almost, almost took us that little bit further (unlike in '88). The heartbreak we felt was poignant. It hurt because we really did think we'd achieve greatness. I guess, being Spurs, I'm equally deluded for club and country.

This time round and for the past several years since the mid 2000s, we've never looked the part. This is now a transition that will either drag us down further or birth a new era. The latter dependent on us being brave enough to disconnect ourselves from the past - the good times and especially the not so good ones that linger on in the shell of an international enigma like Steve Gerrard.

Playing the youth isn't going to be the strongest of foundations if we haven't got more experienced players around them - and for the moment, that is where the problem exists. There are no experienced players we can tag as being world class. Game changers. Play-makers. The very best in the Premier League are foreign. Our best is Wayne Rooney. There's no doubting his ability but he wasn't as influential as the supposedly half-fit Suarez that was possessed by the ilk of desire and enthusiasm that our own players only share when breaking through the fourth wall in advertisements. We are head and shoulders above no one.

Maybe I should anchor myself to the protective wisdom that leans towards the future. 'These lads will learn from this experience' and so forth. We might not have any world class players at the moment but one or two in the England set-up (in Brazil and the youth squads) might find themselves cited that way in four years time. Might.

The riches and the expansive obsession that is the Champions League has English clubs spending wildly on continental talent and over-pricing and over-rating the English counterparts. This is only half the problem.  I wonder if perhaps the issue here isn't that the imports are stopping the English variants from breaking into top club sides - I wonder if they are simply not good enough to out them from the starting line up. That pretty much sounds like one and the same thing. Then again, the top clubs in England always look abroad first, so what chance have the kids really got? At grass-root level the investment is being made by the FA but we are a generation or two away from seeing just how influential it will be in producing talent of a national type.

If we are producing at youth level currently are we then stagnating their development because of the finished articles that arrive from abroad? This type of diminishing factor has been prominent over-seas too. Everyone is impacted to some degree. At one point in the past there were even world class Scottish footballers. There was also world class English footballers, mostly the type that never peaked for country as we failed to innovate. Ask Glenn Hoddle.

My point being, this isn't just about academy football. It's also about the culture and the template we wish to create and build on. This, unlike England's performance in Brazil, hasn't happened in my life-time. With our resources, say compared to a country like Costa Rica, you'd expect we'd have an advantage. For the most part, we do. We just don't have a handle on utilising it to gain momentum.

Maybe we should stop making it all about winning when they're ten years of age and concentrate on intelligent touch and movement. Time to wise up and embrace the fact that our players are not all naturally gifted with technical finesse meaning they don't quite match up to the ones around the world. We need to find the ones that do have a gift and to do that we need to treat them all the same from the off-set by working their grey cells before working on their long smash of the ball forward. The very best we have to offer can't always match the very best the imports have to offer.

If the FA and England want to prioritise international football then the onus would be on promoting and developing youth as the main crux of every club's ethos. But every club dreams of a different priority, one tagged by the league of Champions - meaning you're going to want the best playing for you. Best meaning non-English. Best meaning finished articles.

The hope for us now, in the immediate future, is that the young players we do have within the England set-up flourish together and become stronger for it as a collective rather than simply play out like a profitable portfolio for pre-tournament sponsorship.

This World Cup with regards to England is working as a bridge to the next season of football, mocking my pain as we get closer to another year of Tottenham Hotspur. Thankfully the rest of the competition has been vibrant and exciting, one of the most enjoyable of recent times.

As a nation, this quick fire exit hurts because as a nation we are no longer a collective pulling together with our flags in pub gardens, on cars and all sat in front of a tv singing and chanting and swearing. All that remains for those the three Lions is a fragmented waste of shattered dreams with no penalty shout-out in sight.


via Club Metro with extra padding


SpookyWorld Cup, England