‘If in doubt, get it out!’ It’s a cry heard from many a parent and even coaches every weekend around the country at junior football games.
It’s a cry that can sum up in a nutshell the attitude English football has carried for many years. And looking at some of England’s attempts to win major championships since 1966, it’s a slogan that the national team should have had stitched to their shirts at times.
Especially in recent times with both Sven-Göran Eriksson and Steve McClaren’s sides having the habit when under pressure, of aimless punts up field presenting the ball to an opposition more than willing to punish them. The punishing usually a lesson in how by keeping the football you can effectively dominate the game.
In the 5-1 Wembley demolishing of Croatia and the one hundred percent breeze through World Cup Qualification Fabio Capello’s team have handed the type of footballing lesson to teams that England have been on the receiving end of in the not too distant past.
Although these are promising signs, scratch beneath the surface of the first team squad, and there isn’t a large amount of established technically proficient attacking players waiting in the wings in case of injury. And don’t forget there is still the chance for England to revert to type when the pressure is truly on in South Africa, and come back full circle to “If in doubt, get it out.”
There are other reasons to be positive, and they come from the unlikeliest of sources. While training with the England team at Arsenal’s Colney training ground, he said Arsenal had set “a very important example for the other English academies.” Concluding that the future of English football is in good hands.
The same Arsenal hands that fielded a 16-man squad without an English player in 2005. The hands belonging to the long time enemy of English footballers Arsene Wenger, who has received criticism for not giving British players a chance from numerous sources, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Trevor Brooking and memorably from Alan Pardew accusing Arsenal of “losing the soul of British football.”
Yet the evidence coming from the Arsenal academy seems contrary to Pardew’s statement. Kieran Gibbs holding the Gaël Clichy’s left back position at the end of last season, even being trusted in hugely important Champions League quarter and semi-finals. Henri Lansbury, at loan on Watford, who has captained the England under 19 outfit. And Jack Wilshere who burst onto the scene at the tender age of 16 during Arsenal’s six-goal massacre of Sheffield United in the League cup last season. Wilshere has been widely tipped for a surprise call up to Fabio Capello’s World Cup squad.
While these three are the headlines, there is also Gavin Hoyte, Jay Simpson and Mark Randall looking extremely promising. The Arsenal 2009 F.A Youth Cup winning squad contained 12 out of 16 English players. Suddenly Arsenal could have a golden generation of English talent.
Liam Brady, Head of Youth Development at Arsenal, knows that this is not due to chance. “I would say this is probably the healthiest state the Academy has been in since I’ve been here.” This is the same Liam Brady who in 2000 launched a scathing attack on the standard of young English footballers, saying “You can’t blame Arsene or any other manager for bringing foreign players in.” So what has changed?
“I think that’s because we are starting to see the first generation of players who have come all the way through the age groups at Hale End. Boys like Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Henri Lansbury, Jack Wilshere, Emmanuel Frimpong and Sanchez Watt have all attained England schoolboy recognition and they have been with us since they were nine and ten.”
Maybe through hard work, organisation and good coaching Arsenal have removed the “If in doubt, kick it out” mentality from English footballers. By following a more continental approach to teaching young footballers England may finally have a conveyor belt of footballers both technically perfect, equally able to control a game by passing a team out of it and to play the ‘English’ high tempo, athletic game. Now wouldn’t that be an exciting thought?
So can Arsene Wenger be the saviour of English football? He seems to think so, “I know how much the English national team means here to people. To contribute to that would be a big pride as well.”