Croatians Not Good Enough for England?

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The South Africa 2010 Preliminary Draw has paired England with their recent conquerers Croatia in the qualifying round. Responding to the draw, The Sun quoted:

Michael Owen has kick-started preparations for 2010 World Cup qualification in earnest by insisting none of the Croatian team would get into the England side.

Hold on a second. Has little Mickey unearthed the problem at the core of the England national side? That players deserving and capable of taking their team to the European Championships, wouldn’t even get into the team? A team over-flowing with overpaid, over-hyped, over-rated prima-donnas who for the most part are picked on reputation alone. Then it is no wonder that Owen and Co. will be enjoying a spot of Floridian sunshine next summer when Slavan Bilic takes his excellent Croatia side to the European Championship finals. You are judged on results in this game Michael – the results (and ability on display at Wembley last week) suggest that Croatia are far better than you.

The England selection process seems to revolve around picking the twenty or so best players in the country (because Englishmen don’t play abroad!) and not in picking a set of players who can perform together as a team. The selection of Lampard and Gerrard is a prime and universally understood example. We know they can’t play together, they know it, and surely the England management know it, but rather than making a sensible decision and dropping one of them, the manager instead waited for injury to bail him out of making the sort of call he was employed to make.

The Croatian team were the worthy winners at Wembley – they had a cohesion and spirit sadly lacking from any recent England team (You probably have to go as far back as 2001 for such an English display). We got what we deserved from a string of lacklustre performances which belied the quality we are told by the media that England’s ‘Golden Generation’ possesses.

And lets just go back to that point about Englishmen playing abroad. The only recent example making it into the side was Owen Hargreaves, but he had now joined Manchester United, meaning that every member of the most recent squad plays in the Premier League (except the semi-retired David ‘Hollywood’ Beckham). Madness.

Football is a worldwide trade, and whilst it offers an attractive return for players in England, from a national perspective we miss out on learning about the game from the worlds masters. The Italians and the Spanish have opposing philosophies to the English one, and our under-representation in those leagues gives us an under-educated and ill-prepared squad when we (used to) arrive at major competitions. Those nations, on the other hand know all about the English game. Stephen Gerrard trains daily with Spaniards and Dutchmen. John Terry lines up for Chelsea games with players from all over the footballing world. This one-sided exchange of a footballing blueprint is undermining the English game, and is also limiting the opportunities for young players to develop to the required standard for top flight domestic, and international football.

It is time for the FA to appoint a MANAGER. Not a coach who is probably under pressure to pick the most commercially viable eleven at his disposal. We need a man who is able to read names on a team-sheet, and not salaries. A man who can cut through the smog of egos within English football and dare to pick players based on merit. What does Rob Green need to do to get an England game? How well do the boys in the England U21 side have to play in order to progress to the senior team? It is a sad time when the English national team are ranked just two laces above Scotland in FIFA’s (admittedly flawed) world rankings, and when fans across the nation a will look at the world cup group containing Ukraine and Croatia in fear.

Mclaren should not be the last person clearing out his Soho Square office right now, but is there any chance of the salary men of our blessed football association leaving the FA, for it to modernise and compete? The answer is alas, no.

This post was originally published at Thirty Six Degrees

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