The English Premier League may be the most exciting domestic football competition in the world. TV viewing figures certainly suggest that it is. And the global reach of the world’s biggest and most popular club Manchester United is second to none. But do not let this confuse you. English football needs a root and branch revolution because it is just not good enough.
Not only is England’s national team a poor relation on the world stage, with a zero chance of winning the next World Cup in Brazil in three years time. But we will always be no hopers unless drastic changes are made to the way we coach the game.
Ironically, the upcoming regulations that are forcing our top clubs to develop home grown talent could be the best thing that has happened to the game in this country since 1966, so long as the elite do not fall into the trap of thinking money alone is the answer.
For Manchester United and Liverpool, to lead the way recruiting England’s most promising youngsters is the inevitable reaction to UEFA’s upcoming requirement for nine homegrown players in a squad of 18. But forking out huge wads of cash – Phil Jones £20M, Ashley Young £20M, Jordan Henderson £20M, Andy Carrol £35M – does not tackle the underlying flaw in our national game.
When England miraculously escaped with a draw against Spain in their European Under-21 Championship opener on Sunday, it only served to confuse the issue. Just as Barcelona played football from a different planet in their Champions League Final triumph over Manchester United last month, the Spanish youngsters demonstrated how their skill and technique is light years ahead of the game in England.
It is not that our players lack the ability to match the Spaniards. It is a fundamental flaw in the way the game is being taught from grass roots upwards. We are blinded by the rigidity of out-dated formations and the fear of losing or making a mistake. We must go back to basics and teach our young players the fundamental skills of pass and move, keeping possession, dribbling, shooting and passing with both feet.
In essence it is time to learn how to play total football. The enduring success of Barcelona – Champions League winners twice in three years – and the Spanish national team, champions of both Europe and the World is not something that money can buy. It takes a sound footballing philosophy and a commitment to mastering the skills of The Beautiful Game.
At Barca Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Zavi have grown up together learning their skills and understanding. OK, I know Catalonia’s adopted son Messi was born in Argentina, and we are talking about a club side not a nation. But the point is that the Catalans have developed a purist style of football that can be taught. Take any of the Barca players and they are at home playing in just about any position on the pitch because they are comfortable on the ball.
Until English footballers can express themselves with the same confidence they will forever be making up the numbers.