Football is England’s most popular sport. Throughout the UK, football is the most popular sport too. The whole of the United Kingdom are looking forward to watching the best football talents from across the globe at the Olympics. Hoping too that the Great Britain team gets to the Finals. And be victorious!

The Euro2012 kicks-started the football off-season. It was proved  one tournament too big for the likes for Roy Hodgson’s  England. One glaring statistic throughout the tournament was that England had the least possession of all the teams that managed to get to the quarter-finals. According to the BBC, England averaged a measly 39% possession throughout the tournament. That was only better than the two great footballing nations, Ireland and Greece, who both failed to get to the quarter-finals. According to the venerable BBC Only Ukraine (2.3), Ireland (2.3) and Greece (2.0) averaged fewer shots on target per game at Euro 2012 than England. The travails of the English players were exposed in the quarter-finals against Italy. England struggled, and according to the statistics, Joe Hart had more touches (85) in that game. More than any other player. Showing how difficult the tournament proved.  England were good,but were not good enough.

Analysis and  tournament post-mortem have all concurred that the English players lacked the technical nous. A nous that is so evidently exuded by the continental players. England could not control the flow of play and were not even able to keep possession of the ball. Normally tactics could get around that.  However,  tactics may have a limited lifespan, until you are ultimately found out. One would argue surely English players, playing in the self-proclaimed ‘best league in the World’ should be able to adapt. The truth though is that not many ‘English’ players are playing in the top teams in the Premier League. The reality is that most of the top teams in the Premier League chose to buy players from abroad. There is a dearth of English at the top. Moreover, English clubs tend to over value unproven local talent and that is perhaps driving Premier League clubs chairmen to go abroad, buy cheaply and thus guarantee longevity in the Premier League. Newcastle’s performances are a case in point.They bought African and French stars,who had already proven themselves in Europe. Whereas, Liverpool attempted to Anglicise by buying over-priced local players, whom, in the glare of scrutiny found the going  too tough.

The Problem is a big success. There in lies the rub .If the price for success was not that high, the Premier League teams could invest in the youth, nurture the youth and be patient for them to succeed. There are several football academies in the country, but at the advent of any crisis, the clubs, instead of promoting from the junior ranks, would rather buy someone who is all ready playing in one of the competitive leagues. That is an international player. It makes economic sense to invest in a player all ready playing at the standard expected of the top clubs. A rookie may take a while to get used to the frenetic pace, playing  with the ‘bigger players’ , understanding tactics, and may also lack the ‘psychological strength’ that is needed when playing in front of thousands of baying supporters.

This summer, like all other summers is used by the football clubs to replenish their stock. All the major teams have been linked with either Italian, Brazilian, African, German or Spanish players. Even Canadian and Icelandic players. None of the top ten teams have been linked to any potential moves for English players plying their trade ,say in the Premiership. Or even in the Championship, apart from Newcastle’s reported interest in Andy Carroll. Currently a Liverpool player.

The current top players in the England team are either nearing their thirties or into their thirties. Players can still play at the top-level in their thirties. Italy and clubs like AC Milan have proved that. However, with stellar players like  Steven Gerrard, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Scott Parker, Ashley Cole and Gareth Barry, just to mention a few, all in their thirties it means the national team will need serious re-jigging very soon. The World Cup is only 2 years away! Admittedly there are good younger players like the  Jack Wilsheres,Wayne Rooneys, Martin Kellys, Daniel Sturridges, Adam Johnsons etc. Of these younger players, Adam Johnson barely gets a sniff at  Manchester City, Daniel Sturridge flits in and out at Chelsea, Martin Kelly is a substitute. Which highlights the enormity of the task the FA and Roy Hodgson face in reviving the national team There is an  ever-dwindling pool of English players playing in the top Premiership clubs.

Th FA are heralding the new training centre at St. Georges Park as the beginning of the revival of the game in England. Of course it should be, after all the huge financial outlays. However, success, if any will depend on whether the Premier League teams, even Championships teams are ready to even risk playing these young players from their academies in the first teams. Spain, the winners of the Euro2012 title have a wide array of players to choose from. They can pick from the cream at Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal, Valencia, Malaga, Atletico Madrid – They can pick Spanish talent from not just Spain’s La Liga, but they can also pick from the the top Leagues in Europe. That too can be said of  the French, the Portuguese,  the Germans…. Countries who are at the top in European football. Roy Hodgson, on the other hand is limited to choosing players from Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Tottenham Spurs and one or two from the Championship (Jack Butland plays for Birmingham City). Marvelous. The Chelsea team that won the Champions League (2011) had 3 English players! The pool is so small, and it is going to be even smaller because all the top teams now have ‘international’ academy teams.

England will hopefully do very well one day. That day is not soon. The long-suffering fans deserve some payback. The FA should use all its political  guile and power to get the big teams to support the development of English talent, if they genuinely want England

English: Steven Gerrard, Liverpool F.C. footballer

English: Steven Gerrard, Liverpool F.C. footballer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

to do well internationally. The Premier League is a big success commercially and entertainingly. May this continue for years tome. But it should not be at the expense of the England football team.

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