Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Thursday February 8 2007
Now normally I would not consider wasting my time or energy writing an article about the England national team. This is because the English language cannot furnish me with sufficient vocabulary to properly articluate my apathy regarding the useless shower. But over the last few days, us Gooners have had to once again refute tired arguments regarding the patriation of our squad, as the whole world goes on the defensive about the notion that Arsenal are the only English owned club in the top four.
Once again, knuckle dragging xenophobes recycle tabloid absurdities about how we are apparently destroying the future of the grass roots game in the country. Of course, none of these people have offered a convincing argument beyond tabloid buzz terms about 'English identity' blah, blah, blah etc. of course the first thing the eejits do not care to realise (probably because their copies of the Daily Mail have not told them), is that there were three Arsenal educated players in the England U-21 side on Tuesday night. Hoyte and Bentley, products of our academy, and Walcott, a teenager that is being educated in the Arsenal way (albeit a product of Southampton's conveyor belt of young talent). Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea did not produce a single player between them, while the high and mighty Spuds had one player in the U-21 ranks- Tom Huddlestone, a product of Derby County's academy. So I ask you, who actually is safeguarding the future of English players? But I digress.
With these arguments once again being rehashed in our direction, I decided to forego the France v Argentina game and actually watch the England match. My position on the whole sordid argument has been very clear for some time, but a wise man once said, 'the mark of an intelligent man is to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.' As you are all aware, I am a very intelligent man. Maybe I have been missing something? I thought. Maybe there is some mileage in Englsih players? Maybe they CAN fit into our fluid style of aesthetically liquid football? (Of course, there are the prohibitive prices to negotiate, but we'll put that on the backburner).
Well of course, I think the game confirmed what has been wrong with coaching in this country for some time in a most perfunctory manner. England's play was so directionless, so tactically inept and so techincally naive it was embarassing. The approach play had that real under tens park football mentality about it. As soon as England got the ball one of two things would happen. On the rare occasions that England did try and build an attack from the back, it was very much a case of getting the ball as enar to the goal as quickly as is humanly possible and we'll figure something out when we get there. Of course, as players such as Lampard, Gerrard, Crouch and Dyer (his name achingly apt) propelled with longing into blind alleys and cul-de-sacs, attacks would peter out. There was no patience, passes were not elected with any consideration beyond, 'he's close to the goal, I'll pass to him.' There was no patience, it was the footballing equivalent of watching a dog try to hump a stranger's leg.
Once Plan A ran its course with inevitable results, England opted for good old Plan B. Ferdinand gets the ball and hoofs it to Crouch, who, like a wasp constantly flying into a clear glass window, reptitively fouled the Spanish centre half. The monotonous procedure elucidating his complete lack of a football brain. (Remember the goal he had disallowed at the Grove? He was three yards offside, inside the six yard box, and still wheeled away in celebration. That look of half witted stupour spread across his features when he saw the erect flag). Now compare Spain's approach play. Nobody could argue that Spain were incandescant in purely aesthetic terms, they did not blow you away Brazil 1970 style, but their approach was far more measured and considered. Every pass a deliberate process, like a snooker player thinking three shots ahead. Nothing on upfront? O.k, we'll pass it backwards until opportunity presents itself. If England was the stray dog dry humping your leg, Spain were the casual, suave man at the bar, overlooking the dancefloor with composed poise. Knowing he would get his end away eventually, carrying that air of detachment and aloof that makes him so irresistable to the swaying throng of single females. (I'm starting to sound a bit like Swiss Tony here aren't I?)
The point is, the kick and run style of 'up and at 'em' football is just not suited to Arsenal's style of play. Which player in the England side has the technical ability to play for Arsenal? I would say Micah Richards looks to have the readies, but being so hyped so young, one cannot rule out the possibility of him catching a touch of the Ashley's. Carrick is a decent enough player, but he has absolutely nothing on Cesc in terms of vision and guile. The mark of a truly class player is one that makes the game look simple, slow. Observe, Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Eric Cantona, Zinedine Zidane and our own young upstart Francesc Fabregas. All blessed with that rarest of gifts, players who find time in the most chaotic midfield minefield, Zidane in particular seemed to visibly halt the hands of time. I cannot think of a single player in the current England set up, save possibly Rooney, who has anything approaching this sartorial calm that shocks you to your nebular core.
Now Arsenal's game relies on comfort with the ball, from the goalkeeper forwards, all players must feel at peace with the ball at their feet, show grace under fire. It is clear that, at grass roots level, English kids just are not coached in this way. Coaches prize size and physical power over finesse, and as a result, a causal effect can be seen on the national team. The technical ability does not even nearly match the inflated wages and supersize egoes and consequently, England will always flounder on the international stage. They will always be outthought and outmanouvered by teams who can perform the basics at a rudimentary level. If you want to win a game of football, keeping possession of the ball is such a simple factor that it does not even bare mention. Yet nations such as France, Brazil, Holland etc, etc, etc continue to leave England chugging over the finishing tape long after the rest- like Lampard in an egg and spoon race. England's player of the year is a Canadian who was raised in the Bundesliga. Having learned a continental style of play, he consummately outshone all of England's wasters last summer.
Philosophical inertia is not only restricted to football in this country, the pioneers of post Industrial Revolution England saw the inception of the tube train, of rugby, of football. Industrially as well as in the sporting arena, the British Empire were the trailblazers of the world. Yet a Century on, as other countries take the underground/metro system and take it to new heights of comfort and efficiency, as other European, South American and now African nations facilitate the evolution of the beautiful game, the English refuse to join in. The aloof, 'we invented it, so you cannot tell us what to do with it' attitude permeates our culture. In football, it has been blindingly obvious for something approaching forty years that other nations have taken 'our' product and embelished it with new ideas that we refuse to undertake. In the last twelve months, the Football Association, so paralysed by complicity with the xenophobic media, forewent the considerable footballing genius Guus Hiidink as manager and instead placated their overlords by appointing an inept Englishman.
This month the Football Association appointed Stuart Pearce as PART TIME manager of the U-21s. How can England really expect to be taken seriously on the world stage with a part timer nurturing the grass roots of the national side? Of course, Wenger knows this and has done for some time. But while we are chided for destroying English talent in a fit of prejudiced pique, Wenger is the only manager I can think of remedying this problem at grass roots level. While shunning the inflated price tags and technical hubris's of players like Lampard, Gerrard, Crouch etc, he is nurturing young English talent that is beginning to bear fruit in the academy. Players such as Matthew Connolly, Mark Randall, Jay Simpson, Paul Rodgers are tipped for big futures and have a technical ability and nonchalance with the ball. On Tuesday night, David Bentley, Justin Hoyte and Theo Walcott represented the U-21s, while other big clubs who dodge the nationalist bullet provided nothing. Wenger likes to mould players into his own style of play, observe the effects this had on Thuram, Trezeguet, WEah, Henry and Fabregas. Until the Football Association casts free from the media shackles and acknowledges the coaching inadequacies in this country, they will have to rely on a batch of one off talents like Rooney before they can ever become competitive. Bob Dylan notoriously sang 'The Times They Are A Changin', a call to arms for 1960s counter culture and revolution. The governing bodies timewarp has apparently yet to catch up, while the nationalistic media is setting the agenda, don't expect them to cross the finishing line any time soon. LD.
Date:Thursday February 8 2007
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