England and International Football's Bleak Future
When this England team has a 100% winning record in the European Championships you can be forgiven for having a few searching questions about their opponents.
In fact, you may go so far as the question the value of international competition in the 21st century.
How much do we care about an international program featuring the most boring game in the history of the game (England’s 0-0 draw with Ireland) followed by a close-run thing with Slovenia (3-2)?
As unpatriotic as it may sound, my answer is: not much at all.
With the FIFA scandal revealing the depth of corruption with which the game is run it’s perhaps a good time to look at international football’s relevance to a sophisticated viewing public well used to watching the best players battle it out for their European clubs on a week-by-week basis.
Few of England’s players on Sunday fit into that category. Certainly, Wilshire’s two goals were world-class strikes and on his day, the Arsenal midfielder is a commanding presence. But he’s not the first player on Arsene Wenger’s team sheet. Often, he’s not even number 12.
Similarly Kieran Gibbs isn’t an automatic choice for his club and neither is Andros Townsend, Adam Lallana or Theo Walcott.
I’m not criticizing England manager Roy Hodgson’s selections; he works with what’s available. What I am wondering is whether there is still an appetite for the international game full stop.
Wouldn’t you rather watch a front three comprising of Messi, Neymar and Suarez or Costa, Hazard and Drogba or even Rooney, Van Persie and Falcao?
Growing up in England, the nation relished international matches as if every one was a cup final. It was a rare chance for us to match up our players with those from abroad who largely comprised unpronounceable names with the odd superstar like Pele, Beckenbauer or Cruyff we got to watch once every two or four years.
We weren’t familiar with these foreign stars so we looked forward with ardor the occasional snapshots of their brilliance.
The modern fan is spoilt. The English Premier League is sprinkled with the likes of Sanchez, Silva, Aguero, and De Gea. The European Champions League boasts an even greater star power.
All this is taking a heavy toll on the talent pool of English and home country players. It is no longer strong enough for the national team to be a serious contender on the world stage.
The greed of the EPL has squeezed out home grown talent to such an extend that even the most gifted face tougher than ever odds to make it into the top teams.
Only by enforcing a quota of English-born players for every team can the FA stop the rot. It’s not going to happen, there’s too much money to be made, but I believe it’s the best and most realistic opportunity to give the nation back its footballing identity.
The League Cup is now a training test for teenagers and reserves; the FA Cup – the world’s oldest football tournament, is little better.
International football is in danger of going the way of both English cup competitions and becoming a sideshow to the main attractions of the EPL and the real Champions League.
If we’re not careful, watching an England game in the future may hold all the appeal of Gillingham V Crewe Alexander on a rainy Saturday in the soccer wasteland of League One.