Is this the season English youngsters break into the Premier League?

The inquest into English youth football has been going on for some time now and, this season, it looks as if players previously on the fringes could be about to get their chance in a league that is more of a global league more than the English Premier League. Continue reading


Crouch for England?

No manager, no captain, no Rooney for the first two games, no visible or viable philosophy, no hope: it is fair to say that England have very few, if any, expectations going into EURO 2012.

There is plenty of realistic scepticism. Get the tournament out of the way and deal with the real issues in youth football, the quality of coaching and the general state of English football. Developing a footballing nation takes generations of development and well-structured planning, something that is completely irrelevant to the current crop of players. EURO 2012 is a write-off for England.
Whoever does become England manager will be criticised whichever way they choose to approach the tournament, such is the diverse opinion of English football collectively. Too much youth will be not taking enough experience and naively placing too much hope on young shoulders, while too much experience will be a return to the old guard. Same old, same old.
But it is a return to a player from the old guard which could be best for this tournament (and it may only be this tournament alone, which is perfectly fine).
To like Peter Crouch is unfashionable, and not just because he’s quite tall. His height makes his every movement seem comically clumsy, almost accidental, making him immediately unfavourable for the top level of international football.
He is easily mocked: the attempts at overhead kicks which almost always fail; his persistent airborne-fouling which, given his height-superiority over most players, is rather odd; his lack of aerial prowess and general heading ability; and the robotic dance moves, moving him more towards a character from a James Corden sketch rather than an actual footballer.
Make no mistake, though, Crouch is a good footballer. And this isn’t a reactionary piece after his wonder goal on Saturday, either, as Crouch has been in good, solid form for Stoke all season. Crouch is excellent at dropping deep, linking the play well and actually looking to find a man rather than just flicking the ball on blindly and hoping for the best.
Crouch is effective rather than stylish and, while it is easy to criticise the 31-year-old in this tiki-taka world, he’s very good at what he does. Let’s be clear, England can’t play like Barcelona and aren’t going to for some time (if ever at all). There’s nothing wrong with a long ball flicked on for someone to run on to and score – it might not be pretty or any use for the future of English football but, if it works, it’ll do, for now.
Taking Crouch would be another option, both personnel-wise and in terms of system. If a fluid attack of two wingers and Welbeck or Rooney centrally isn’t working, bring Crouch off the bench, have Rooney in behind, the two wingers whipping balls in and Steven Gerrard delivering from deep. A change of offensive system for England would mean a change of defensive system for their opponents – Crouch would simply give defenders something different to worry about.
It would be far too simplistic to look at Crouch’s international record and say that he only scores against the lesser nations. A hat-trick against Jamaica, two against Greece and two against Belarus are probably the highlights, and his last international goal was in a friendly match against France in 2010, but his record (22 in 42) still commands respect. And, really, England struggle to score against lesser nations even now – at least Crouch is something of a threat, no matter the opposition.
If Crouch’s weekend strike showed anything – other than a lack of intensity to close down on City’s part – it was that Crouch is supremely confident right now.
With 12 goals in 28 appearances, Crouch is Stoke’s top goalscorer this season. Of course, there are arguments for other ‘big man up top’ options – Norwich City’s Grant Holt has impressed in the Premier League, scoring 13 in 19 games. He is perhaps better in the air than Crouch and is an expert at drawing fouls. And, like Crouch, he maybe is a victim of playing for a less-than-fashionable club.
And to argue for or against one another is not the point here – they both have their plus-points, both have their significant negatives – but it is to say that Crouch is, at the very least, a viable option and should not be discredited as such simply because he has ‘had his time’ and England ‘are moving on’.
If England really want to move on they need to keep the quality on the pitch to a respectable level whilst doing some serious graft behind the scenes.
EURO 2012 might be a write-off but England, it surely goes without saying, should still be looking to put in the best performances they possibly can.
They’re not going to do that by leaving one of the most in-form strikers at home who, whether fashionable or not, can play to the strengths of certain England players. Gerrard would benefit, Rooney, Sturridge and Young would benefit from running in behind. England would benefit.
Picture from The Guardian

Why is winning not enough for England anymore?

International football for England at the moment, for those who actually care anymore, is pretty darn depressing. Fabio Capello’s head is on the block, Lampard and Gerrard are still – somehow– in genuine contention for a starting birth, England still can’t play entertaining football, and John Terry is captain. And, in amongst all of that, England actually won two games of football without conceding a goal, extending their unbeaten run to nine months.

Of course, England fans know better than to view results as enough: they need the performances too and they, for a long time, haven’t been good enough. Maybe expectations are too high, maybe the players are under-performing – maybe one of the most decorated managers of this generation doesn’t know what he’s doing – but, for whatever reason, England fans are incredibly pessimistic at the minute
The 5-1 victory over Germany in 2001 – easily one of the most cherished results in modern English footballing history – is massively overrated by England fans who have little to cheer about and so bang on about this and 1966; the game was laden with mistakes from both sides and was a pretty mediocre performance from England particularly.
Put simply, the 5-1 win over Germany could include many caveats. Oliver Kahn had a poor night in goal and probably should have saved all three of Owen’s goals and done better with Gerrard’s strike; Sebastian Deisler missed a sitter from four yards which may well have swung the game back into Germany’s favour; Germany made many silly errors both defensively and offensively and – to be blunt – weren’t very good: even Heskey scored, guffaw guffaw.
The English defending consisted of wayward brute force, lax marking and last-ditch clearances resulting from poor reading of the game. Sol Campbell and Rio Ferdinand were, at times, completely oblivious to the movement of the Germans and caught ball-watching on far too many occasions – most visibly for the early opening goal.
The main source of attack for the away side was the long ball: there was no intricate, attractive football involved, just the hurried Hollywood hoof of David Beckham looking for Michael Owen on the shoulder of the last man. Steven Gerrard and Gary Neville also joined in with the punts up field to try and find the runs of Owen or the frame of Emile Heskey. Germany tried to get the ball down and play, but England’s ruthless defending didn’t allow them to and, with Carsten Jancker up front, they – at times – reverted to the long ball too. For the football fan of the purist genre, it really was a poor game.
If the game from 2001 was played tomorrow, you get the feeling that the above negative points would all be made post-match either to prevent fans, media and players getting ahead of themselves as has happened before – only for disappointment to inevitably hit home at some stage – or because some fans clearly don’t enjoy watching England and refuse to forget the golden generation let-downs.
Clearly, it would take a miserable, fun-sucking, pessimistic and downright joyless football fan to see their country beat one of it’s biggest rivals, scoring five goals away from home in the process, and still not be happy, to still expect more. And this is obviously an extreme case. But, in the current climate that we, as England fans, find ourselves in, it’s not completely ridiculous to think that, after a result such as that in 2001, today’s fans would still find problems and would still be unhappy – and would still be baying for the manager’s blood because he’s playing Nick Barmby on the left wing – with Steve McManaman on the bench – and continuing to play Heskey whilst adopting a style that is about as much fun as watching an old women sheepishly crawl across a pedestrian crossing.
England have won four out of their last six games, drawing with Ghana (in a friendly game that was actually entertaining) and with Switzerland in a Euro qualifier. Their last loss came at home to France in November 2010 and that was their first loss since the 4-1 hammering by Germany at the World Cup in June.
Going away to Bulgaria and scoring three goals is impressive. Never mind the fact the performance was pretty dour – for now, it will do. Just as in the Wales game, England were and will continue to be ‘the team to beat’ and the ante is indeed upped – they have their obvious flaws but because of their history and world-wide brand, a win over the Three Lions would be seen as quite a scalp. So, to come out of two qualifying games with six points, four goals and two clean sheets isn’t all that bad. If your club side came out with that kind of record, it would be seen as a resounding success – with England, it’s almost the opposite.
Yes, there is context – for far too long England have been bloody awful and incredibly difficult to watch and they will probably ‘flop’ at the next major tournament. But that’s got as much to do with the expectations of fans and the media than it has the team itself. The point is: stop being miserable, enjoy the football and, when your country wins a game of football, for goodness sake celebrate it.

Why do footballers not strive for perfection?

A familiar sight

Tuesday night’s England vs. Wales game presented one of those quite common footballing occurrences: an open goal miss.

You know the sort. The one’s you, the fan, could have scored yourself. The kind of chance that, of course, your grandmother could have put away with great ease. The type of finish that makes an experienced, professional footballer – and, on this occasion, a striker no less – look positively average.
In reality, Rob Earnshaw’s miss in the latter stages of the dull 1-0 Three Lions win was by no means an “easy” chance; the ball was falling and, with all the pressure that would have been on ‘Earny’s’ shoulders, it is – perhaps – not surprising that the Welsh frontman failed to get over the ball and fire it into Joe Hart’s net, and instead lazily ballooned the ball over the bar – much to the amusement of the English portion of the Wembley crowd.
That miss had three consequences. 1 – Wales went away without a point which they – at the very least – deserved, based on their performance, and I would imagine this would annoy Welsh faithful somewhat. 2 – England, as one, were allowed the opportunity to both breath a sigh of relief and laugh at Wales all at the same time. And 3 – it provoked post-match comments which included the clichéd and quite frankly tenuous idea that, if indeed Rob Earnshaw was to be presented with that chance ten times – he would score nine of them.
Now, setting aside the fact that it is unlikely that Earnshaw would score nine out of ten of those chances (seen as though, you know, he’s not very good and, if he can waste the chance once, who’s to say he won’t waste it twice?) it really is quite odd that a player, and even manager, would happily accept that a player will miss chances, even though it means Wales go away empty handed after what was a fine performance compared with England’s relatively poor showing.
Of course, no one is perfect – that much is true. But, surely, in whatever walk of life, you should always strive to be the best that you can possibly be? Earnshaw and Gary Speed shouldn’t be coming out all happy and smiley – both should be absolutely furious with the striker and be asking themselves how on earth a professional footballer – who has been playing the game for many years – can’t score from four yards with the goal gaping. A more palatable post-match comment would have been: “I should be scoring those – I’ll be on the training ground as soon as possible to improve.”
Scoring from inside the six-yard-box might not be something that can be particularly improved (you should, really, be able to do it anyway) but there are plenty of examples of players settling for what they are – clearly not trying to be the best players they can possibly be.
The point about professional footballers – especially English footballers where it appears to be quite a major problem at the top of the game – only being able to use one foot, for example, has been brought up many times. It really is rather strange that a footballer can get to his late twenties and still be one-footed. All those summers off, all that time they spend training, playing football… and they can still only use their right foot. But it’s alright because they hit the ball with their right foot really hard.
No. Well, yes, it’s great that they can hit the ball really hard – it’s better than most. But if you can only use one foot, that’s an immediate weakness in your game, and it’s a weakness that can be eradicated quite easily. Just find a wall and kick a ball at it – right, left, right, left, repeat. I don’t care what age you are, how many medals you’ve won or how much money you earn – you’re not the best footballer you could possibly be so go and find a wall for goodness sake.
You could say the same for players who aren’t very good in the air, or players who are incapable of hitting the preverbal barn door from any sort of angle. An abhorrent number of players can only do one thing really well and ignore every other aspect of the game but live off it – and then get caught out when a better footballer comes along and beats them.
And the response to that beating would be something akin to: “well, he’s just better than me”. This is fine, of course; it’s all down to the player personally and whether they want to improve or not. But then what’s the point of doing something – and this does extend to everything, not just football – if you’re not going to strive to be the very best you can possibly be?

Lampard and Gerrard – time up on their England careers?

There are three words that, when used in the same sentence, send shivers down the collective spine of England fans. Or, rather, lead them to weep at the television as TV pundits again attempt to answer the conundrum that used to be seen as England’s biggest problem – ‘this is why England fail to win football matches’.

Those three words are “Lampard”, “Gerrard” and “England”.

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Rio gives his support to captain Terry

Former England captain Rio Ferdinand has congratulated John Terry on becoming the new leader of England, amid reports that the Manchester United defender is unhappy with the decision.

Ferdinand has struggled with injuries for the last two years and, as Terry has been on top form this season despite injury concerns, England manager Fabio Capello decided to reinstate Terry as captain after he was stripped of the armband last year.
England face Wales this Saturday in a EURO2012 Qualifier and it is expected that Terry will start. The Three Lions then play Ghana in a friendly next Tuesday.
Ferdinand and Terry would be the first-choice centre-back pairing but, with Ferdinand possibly out for the season, either Everton’s Phil Jagielka or Bolton’s Gary Cahill could partner Terry at the heart of England’s defence.

In the past couple of weeks there have been reports that Ferdinand has not been happy with the way in which the situation has been handled but, a source told The Sun, “Rio felt it was only right he gave John a call and talked things over. He wished John all the best for Saturday and told him he believed he would lead the team to a win.

“John and Rio go back years and there is a mutual respect. Maybe Capello could learn a bit from them.”

Rumours of Ferdinand quitting the international scene were quickly quashed yesterday but it is no question that the situation has been handled appallingly by Capello and his team. 

This article originally appeared on sports website Sports Haze, which is now unfortunately defunct.