World Cup

Kick and rush, 16-6-10

We have made our choice. When the Premier League sold out to Murdoch's millions in 1992 it pioneered the business model of making the PL the biggest commercial sports concern on earth. The PL has since become the most lucrative and most watched sports league in the world. All these years later, Capello understandably bemoans that he has access to only 38% of the PL's players. The unrestrained influx of foreign players has made our league the best in the world but has damaged any prospects of English national team success. It's not just that either, there are more fundamental grass roots issues with the way that young English talent is trained and moulded. Today, one of the greatest players of all time, Franz Beckenbauer, commented that England have gone back to 'kick and rush' style football, following our disappointing start to the 2010 World Cup campaign.

But were we ever able to leave kick and rush? In reality, how many players really does Capello have to choose from to make his squad? No-one doubts that he has picked the best 23 players to take to South Africa. And no-one doubts that most of the first 11 would walk into any Champions League team - individually. Collectively, they're not up to much. Of that reported 38% how many of those should be considered good enough to play for the national team anyway? Many of the poorer, in terms of ambition, talent and finance, clubs in the PL have no choice but to employ average English players. Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan, Sunderland, Fulham even. These are teams who have English players but ones that no-one would argue are good enough to grace Capello's squad. It's hardly like he has 50 or 60 players to choose his 23 from. It's more like a good 35 and decent enough 28 leading to a very good 23.

So let's blame the ball. The Jabulani, the perfectly round (what were balls before?) Adidas made ball that is now being used at the WC has been steeped in controversy. England cannot use it in the PL - a deal with Nike prevents it. England cannot use it in internationals, a deal with Umbro prevents that. But for those nations with Adidas sponsored leagues and teams - Switzerland, Argentina, France and Beckenbauer's Germany - have all been using it since February. I've watched goalkeepers fumble that ball for the last week and the ones that survived did so because of their positioning. Get your body behind the ball and you can fumble it, you'll still probably be alright. Crucially, Rob Green didn't do this. And he's been doing it all season for West Ham, his positioning is to blame - not the ball. We're even getting desperate enough to blame the altitude though I cannot figure out why the Germans, the most impressive team so far in the tournament, are training at sea level and England are training nearly 1400 metres above it. Their first match, at sea level, was almost perfect. If we're training above sea level to make later tournament games easier that's all very well but what if we're knocked out before then?

We fear heartbreak in England and history tells us it is coming. It's our own fight, our own stubborn resistance, our own uniquely English attitude to being beaten by the better teams that has actually harmed us in tournaments. We never just lose 2 or 3-0 to Portugal, Argentina, Germany et al. It might help if we did. It might force us to confront the deep seated issues that have damaged English football in the last 20 years. Is it any wonder that managers such as Wenger are claimed as geniuses? His professorial approach to training and living has changed Arsenal forever - but he chooses foreign players to carry out his visions and this cannot be a coincidence. English players, from childhood, are trained with outdated methods. Commerce rules in the PL and the expensive foreigners have been brought in to make our league the greatest in the world - precisely because the cloggers and bulls who populate the Bolton's and Blackburn's aren't going to put bums on international TV seats.

But we are English, we fight harder than anyone else. Surely no-one can claim that no less than five major tournament exits of the last 20 years via penalties are down to coincidence? We have not been beaten easily, we have fought until the last seconds against better teams and taken them to penalties. And then we lose, the nation weeps and bemoans nothing more than bad luck. It's this failure to lose fair and square, this peculiarly English desire to fight until the last penalty has been taken, that has led to our failure to truly assess why we keep failing at tournaments. It's because of bad luck, people cry. No, it's not. The penalty strewn, heartbreaking exits are the real smokescreen.

We are a nervous nation that awaits our World Cup 2010 fate. We know it will happen again. We know we will scrape to the quarters, play a decent team, fight with all our might, defy the odds with passion and hunger, bely the greater skill of our opponents and lose in some heartbreaking fashion. And rather than blaming the PL, the FA, the training of kids playing football from youth, the manager (we now have a good one, can't blame him) we will throw up our hands and say what bad luck! Again! And we'll go right back to our expensively assembled PL teams, who, if we're all honest, we care far more about than our national team. We'll just accept our failures, with a catalogue of excuses about cheating opponents and bad luck. The PL is worth so much money it's too far down the road to change, despite the cap being brought in on homegrown players. That won't change the infrastructure, how they're trained. Our first 11 might be able to walk, individually, into any CL team. But they aren't up to much all together. How will we exit the WC this time round? Who will be the villain? As ever, we will blame the penalties and close our eyes to the real reasons.