This is our latest box-to-box model, Mr Southgate!
Typical. You wait a lifetime for a bit of success and then, like London buses, two semi-finals come along in less than last twelve months. Surely this gives us hope and optimism. Our ridiculously overpaid, overrated and overhyped footballers are getting ever closer to ending over fifty years of famine. It might not have come home yet but at least, it seems, the beautiful game might have made a note of our address. Now I don’t want to alarm anybody out there, particularly the brainless, drunken gobshites who masquerade as football supporters and who stink up every place the team plays in, but I’m afraid that this is as good as it’s gonna get, because no matter how many platitudes are heaped upon our men, no matter what their zillion transfer fees might be, no matter what they’ve won with their clubs, no matter how many ‘never kicked a ball in their lives, football commentators, writes and armchair analysts who would convince us otherwise I just do not see England as ever being a force in the game.
After beating various incarnations of Dagenham & Rebridge, no insult intended, during the qualifying campaign and three other versions on their way to the World Cup semi-final, the usual failings that have dogged England since forever resurfaced and Croatia put us to bed. And then the inaugural Nations League where we did much the same thing before we came up against the Dutch a team that, unlike us, can actually string two passes together, don’t have central defenders who think they are Franz Beckenbauer, and athletes who are not only comfortable on the ball but have that distinct positional sense, check out all the great teams and players, that allows them to always find space and time. Oh and none of them have EVER been managed by Gareth Southgate! And so another car-crash defeat is followed by the usual already pre-prepared post mortem, the same as the last one, and ones before that, and of course the same one which will come in handy for the next one. The words never change because England never change. We spend every post-tournament failure uttering the eternal cliché of taking the positives’ before we reach the next tournament to repeat the same old failures
But here’s the thing. In this football crazy country we produce half-decent goalkeepers, defenders and the odd world class striker, but as a football fanatical nation whose majority of sober fans appreciate the finer points of creativity and skill, we just don’t do midfields! Unless that is you’re idea of a world class midfielder is someone like Michael Carrick who even wipes his arse sideways, or the numerous headless chickens al la Fabian Delph et al and a hundred others whom the media love because they ‘put a shift in’ or he’s ‘ a box to box player.’ ad nausem. These terms are very apt because our midfield frequently resembles a collection of miners having a kick about on their day off. The only things that English midfield players bring to the party are a pair of legsm and you’d see more creativity in a knitting circle.
Meanwhile the Pirlo’s the Modric’s, the Iniesta’s and more recently the Frankie De Jong’s etc are none of these things, but they are lauded as footballing icons and rightly so. And before you start, Lampard and Gerrard were NOT midfield players in the sense of linking and dictating play or being the creative force in the team in the same sense as those listed above. For them it was all about scoring goals. Scholes is probably as good as we’ve had if you ignore Gazza or, still the most skilful footballer the nation has ever produced, Glenn Hoddle. After that you’re struggling. So it begs the still unanswered question why?
Well the answer lies all around us. Simply go to your local playing field, any schools match or weekend kids’ football league replete with the accompanying, embarrassing know-it-all parents. Among the thousands of kids who turn out are the weekend managers, the wannabe Jurgen Klopps and under their control are the country’s burgeoning Messi’s, Modric’s and De Jongs’s.
But here’s the thing. At each under age level the fastest kids are put on the wings, the biggest are made centre halfs and centre forwards respectively. Those who are a bit rough and can get stuck in are put in midfield. To this very day this pattern of play can still be seen throughout the entire English game. Under age kids aren’t encouraged to hold on to the ball, to beat players and to be creative. No, the rallying cry is ‘get rid of it, Danny.’ Young boys with the gift of two footed comfort, and who can drift out of games and back in with devasting effect are viewed suspiciously, lazy, soft and unreliable. Sound familiar? And while the Dutch conveyor of midfield generals seems to have been finally repaired the English one continues to produce water carriers.
So there you go. The richest league in the entire world, that produces the world’s most under-creative, under-performing and under-achieving national side in the history of the game, a game WE gave to the world who then proceeded to tear up the entire template and shove it up our arse. It’s been lodged there ever since, but I don’t see an enema on the horizon do you?
6th June 2019