By Adrian Raffill
On 23rd February 2008 Birmingham City’s Martin Taylor launched himself into a challenge that took Eduardo’s foot clean off the end of his leg. Arsene Wenger had barely finished his post match criticism of the thuggery that had just been broadcast live all over the world before the English football world rose to a man to condemn… Arsene Wenger.
English players, managers, coaches, journalists, broadcasters, pundits and ‘experts’ were unanimous in their opinion that Taylor was ‘hard, but fair’ and ‘not that type of player’. Wenger and his bunch of preening fancy-dan foreigners were told to stop bleating and accept that it’s a man’s game where we get stuck in and that the only way to play a team like Arsenal is to rough them up and stop them from playing.
The question was posed more than once: “what are they supposed to do, just let Arsenal run past them?” as if there was no other option available. The possibility that opposing teams might consider passing the ball around the Arsenal players themselves was never raised. In fact, hairy-handed Sky Sports presenter Richard Keys summed up the attitude of English football perfectly with his post match question to whichever brain dead moron Sky had managed to dress up as a pundit that week: “Do you think the problem was just that Eduardo was a little bit too fast for him?”
So there we have it, the English approach to football in a nutshell: when faced with a superior opponent do not seek to emulate or better him, just cut him down to size.
In the days that followed the English media, both written and broadcast, continued in the same vein and I told anybody of my acquaintance that would listen (and several that wouldn’t) that as long as English football had this attitude and approach to football the national team would never again come close to winning the World Cup.
Fast forward two years, almost to the day, and Stoke City’s Ryan Shawcross shatters Aaron Ramsey’s leg in a disgraceful tackle that Arsene Wenger described in his post match interview as, er, “a disgrace.”
And what was the response of the English football world? “He should keep his opinions to himself”, replied Tony Pulis, Stoke’s English manager. Pulis was backed up by the usual suspects in the media, where the by now perceived wisdom that the only way to play this gifted Arsenal team is to get stuck in was trotted out by all and sundry.
They don’t like it up ‘em, they say – never mind the fact that Arsenal still finish 20 to 30 points clear of these nobodies every season.
Meanwhile, Algerian footballers are learning how to control the ball and pass it to a teammate. Which brings us nicely to the World Cup 2010 and the aforementioned Algerians. What was the response of the England players to the plainly superior opponents they were faced with? When the pressure is on England footballers revert to type, so they tried to out-muscle them and lump it to the big man up front.
Against the Germans for long periods of the game they couldn’t get close enough to the opposition to try even that approach. Of course now the recriminations begin and the post mortem is already identifying all the wrong reasons for England’s shambolic effort.
We can discount the little Englanders screaming that all these foreigners in the English league are preventing young English talent from coming through. Nonsense. All of the major leagues in Europe have as many foreigners as we do, but with one glaring difference: hardly any English players.
We just don’t produce players that are technically good enough to be considered by clubs in La Liga or elsewhere because they are all brought up on the basis of getting stuck in and anti-football.
There are calls for Fabio Capello to be sacked as well but although he’s undoubtedly made plenty of mistakes he’s been fighting a losing battle all along. No amount of tactical acumen and regimented discipline can overcome the propensity of English footballers to revert to type under pressure.
The problem cannot be solved from the top down but rather from the bottom up: English football needs to bring up a generation of players for whom playing the game is innately preferable to stopping someone else from doing so.
So where are we going to find such a generation of players? Who could possibly do this in the face of the mentality shown in the response to Eduardo and Ramsey’s injuries? Look no further. Arsenal’s youth policy has generated a squad of players that has won the Premier Academy League for the second year running. And guess what? Most of them are English.
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