Monday, June 25, 2012

Why England Will Never Win the World Cup (again)

At the outset: despite the title, this post is neither about England nor is it about football. It's actually about Britain as a whole and... education? priviledge? class? I'm not sure, but it's not about football.

The short version: the reason England will never again win the football World Cup is that they don't really want to.

Now, on the face of it, that's absurd. Go ask any Englishman who follows football at all, and he'll tell you that of course they want to win it. Ask any Englishman involved in the game, and he'll tell you that of course they want to win it. Ask any UK politician in the Tory, Labour or Lib Dems, and he'll tell you that of course they want to win it. (And by all means replace 'man' with 'woman' and 'he' with 'she'.)

But there's a difference between wanting something and wanting something, at least to the point of actually doing something about it. And England don't, and won't.

The thing is, England has a population of about 60 million people. So, even if a world class player is a one-in-a-million commodity, England should have plenty of them to make up a squad.

England have, what, two?

When assembling his side for the Euros, Roy Hodgson had a very small number of players to choose from. He could put together a somewhat decent squad. But the bulk of those who were eligible were, quite frankly, not good enough. And when those who were good enough started to drop out injured, there just wasn't any reserve to call on.

Fundamentally, something is broken at the grass-roots level - young players are not being produced in sufficient numbers and in sufficient quantity. Nothing like it, in fact. Even the "Golden Generation" were never good enough, nor were they numerous enough. Frankly, there should be two or three new players coming through every year, not the dribble currently in evidence.

But why is this? Why is it that Spain can produce seemingly-endless crops of new talent, including the best players in the world? Why does Italy, with massive economic problems, a somewhat dodgy league, and a smaller population, manage to produce where England does not?

And for the answer, look at those sports in which England do excel. And look at the schools attended by the participants. What schools did the England rugby team attend? The cricket team? Our rowers? How many of our Olympic athletes were educated either privately or in otherwise-exclusive schools?

I believe that's the crux of it. In those sports in which England genuinely is at or near the top in the world, it's because the private schools attended by the athletes provide the required training facilities. Football, being the sport of the masses, recruits youngsters who attend our state schools, which have nowhere near the same investment, and so nowhere near the same facilities or training staff.

And the same applies to Scotland, of course. You can bet that if Andy Murray was born in Govan, he wouldn't now be the world #4 in tennis - it's likely the only time he would have picked up a racquet would be to batter someone with it. You see the same thing in piping contests - all the prizes in the junior grades go to private schools. It's just that Scotland will never have any chance at the World Cup, so I don't get that emotive headline. :)

Now, having said that, I'm not convinced that anything should be done about this. After all, football is also a private enterprise. And I don't really want to see massive amounts of taxpayers' money spent on enabling a tiny minority of ill-educated young men become obscenely rich.

But if England really want to win the World Cup, they need to find a way to square the circle. Either get the private schools playing football in preference to other sports (yeah, right), or encourage and allow the big clubs to inject large amounts of money into training facilities for state schools (and supply the training staff, too). Or something.

Because the current strategy - of having kids from poor backgrounds have kick-abouts on ever-shrinking green belt land, when they aren't otherwise engaged in video games or other frivolities, occasionally organised by well-meaning amateurs (hampered, of course, by our much-needed Child Protection systems), and then massively rewarding the tiny minority that make it - yeah, the current strategy isn't working, and never will.

No comments: