Why England's desperation should fall on deaf ears
In the national media’s predictably comprehensive post-mortem following England’s exit from the World Cup, one particular article stood out from a Football League perspective.
The Guardian selected four of its most senior football writers – Kevin McCarra, Paul Hayward, Richard Williams and Dominic Fifield – and asked them to name their England teams for the 2014 World Cup. In defence of the four writers involved in its compilation, it was probably not the only one of its kind and probably one of the most thoughtful but it also screamed hysteria more than any raging tabloid.
Articles like this are just a bit of fun, of course. Everyone likes a good list. And many football fans seem to enjoy setting out these lists on a nice little visualisation of a football pitch, sitting back with their arms folded and basking in the glory of their own unparalleled judgment.
This site is a hypocrite. This site will, in all probability, resort to the same thing in order to preview some of the lineups you can expect to see in the Football League this season. But this site will not be making many wild assumptions and this site is not read by millions of people. At least not yet anyway…
One of the abiding memories of the current World Cup for many England fans will be the sight of Wayne Rooney repeatedly unable to control a football. For all England’s many faults and failings, Rooney’s ball control is not high on the agenda. The Manchester United man may not have been fully fit but we have often seen United players, Rooney chief among them, produce masterful performances in spite of poor fitness.
That Nike advert moment never happened for Rooney in South Africa. This was partly because Franck Ribery and his French team-mates appeared to be desperate to get back to Paris in time to watch the knock-out stages on Canal Plus, but also stank of a self-fulfilling prophecy going horribly wrong.
The pressure on Rooney this summer was enormous and surely played an important part in his disappointing tournament. Yet, in that bit-of-fun Guardian article that formed part of the exploration into why England failed to live up to the media’s lofty expectations, their own chief football writer McCarra selected a 17-year-old Championship player to play alongside Rooney in his England XI for 2014, saying:
“The more experienced players who can offer guidance should include Rooney, who, at 28, will still be craving to atone for his haplessness in South Africa. Identifying his sidekick in attack is a test, but Connor Wickham of Ipswich Town is hard to ignore.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the Football Association’s development director, views the side that won the Under-17 European Championship as a treasure trove.
Wickham dazzled, striking twice in the semi-final with France and beating two men before curling home the winner against Spain in the final.”
Admittedly, Wickham is an incredibly exciting prospect and his performances for the young England team in the summer were spectacular. But Rooney had already scored a wonder goal against Arsenal by the time he was Wickham’s age and he still felt the pressure.
Ipswich Town fans will not care too much about 2014 at the moment. They will just be hoping that Wickham continues his development with them this season and that the hype that surrounds his precocious talent will not have a detrimental effect.
There is always a cautionary tale. When Wickham’s side won the Under 17 European Championships in the summer, they were the first England men’s team at any level to win a major tournament since 1993 when a side containing Robbie Fowler won the same competition.
Back then, Julian Joachim was England’s star man. But Joachim, first of Leicester City and then Aston Villa before tumbling through the leagues for the remainder of the unremarkable latter stages of his career, did not play for England at a World Cup.
Of that 1993 squad, Fowler achieved the most. Yet he missed the 1998 World Cup through injury and played only once as a substitute in the 2002 finals. By 2006, he was the wrong side of 30 and discarded by the national team as a nearly man.
This is what can happen. It is no great disgrace on the part of either Fowler or Joachim that they failed to end the seemingly unterminable years of hurt. To employ another oft-used England cliche, the “golden generation” were unable to do so either despite apparently solid evidence provided by Premiership performances.
But don’t drag the Football League into this. You can poach our players when they show promise at Academy level. Alternatively, you can wait until they have played for our first teams and performed well.
But don’t go piling the pressure onto our young players for your current heroes’ inability to turn club form into international glory. We have our own troubles too. And you don’t want to know about them.