Liz Heade of Thinking Woman’s Football returns to The False Nine to give 10 reasons why England’s genetic makeup means they will never win another World Cup…
The last time England won the World Cup, they believed they were the best team in the world. They also thought they were the best in the world in 1970, but they had another think coming when they came up against a Brazil team with a justifiable claim to be called the best ever, and football was never the same again. So, apart from needing to believe you are the best in order to win at any sport, want to know nine more reasons why England won’t win another World Cup?
Food: Well-nourished English children don’t play football, at least not seriously. They play rugby or cricket, or they might take up athletics. Young bones formed by poor quality supermarket food, takeaways or frozen stuff cooked in microwaves don’t generally build world-beating athletes. Maybe England don’t need to go back to the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, sausage and mash, bovril and beer diet that made Bobby Moore and his men the all-conquering specimens of the 60s, maybe they just need to get some well-nourished 21st century kids into academies, the kind with the bone density and stamina to survive the full four weeks of tournament football.
Weather: Look at the list of the seven other World Cup winners and ask yourself why there are no names there boasting a cold, wet, windy climate that discourages both summer great outdoors-ing and winter sporting equally. Fit, healthy, resilient kids need to be outside every day, playing in sunshine and snow, getting knocked about by bigger kids and learning how not to be knocked about tomorrow. Instead they grow pale and wan glued to Playstations in their bedrooms or stuck in cars on the way to an hour’s training on a plastic pitch – which is also ruining their skeletal development.
Hubris: Never believe your own publicity. Too many young boys in this country grow up with so little praise or encouragement they don’t have the nous to know that they are not actually the new Messi or the next great England hope; they are just narrative for a quiet sports news day. So they acquire the attitude and the trappings, they listen to the agents and hangers-on, and they stop learning, stop working, get dropped, and in a few seasons find themselves playing a couple of divisions down, still believing they could have been every bit as good as Messi.
Risk: English football breeds decision-making out of young players from the age of eight. Youngsters are taught to do as they’re told, to read dossiers, to follow game-management plans, to banish any risk-taking, creativity or instinct from their game. That suits club coaches who like to micro-manage games and bow down to the god of stats; it doesn’t work in tournament football where no battle plan survives contact with the brilliance of the opposition and where you need intelligent, creative players, trustful of their own instincts and their teammates’ decision-making at the sharp end of world football.
Nationhood: English players don’t love their country. Watch the weeping Brazilians, Marseillaise-belting French, arms-about-the-shoulders Germans, and even heart-holding Americans at the World Cup and wonder how they can appear so moved by a flag or anthem, while English players can barely lip-sync something vaguely related to God saving the Queen. It’s not a race thing: Caribbean-born French and Polish-and Turkish-born Germans don’t have any problem rallying behind a collective identity; England just doesn’t seem to have one. And when you don’t have a collective to fight for, the fight is very quickly knocked out of you.
Fantasy: The pool of available talent is shrinking because fifty years ago every small boy and most small girls played football on the street. There they learned that life was unfair and, apart from one kid who had a trial for Peterborough, they were never going to be the great players they’d all dreamed. Such reality is too much to bear for 21st century boy, so instead of risking disappointment on the street, he spends six hours a day playing make-believe games with digitised players on a plasma screen without ever having to break sweat. And Peterborough sign a kid from the Eredivisie instead.
Disconnection: Expensive footballers are not allowed to mix with fans because the clubs’ insurers think it might result in injury, and sponsors don’t trust young players’ ungoverned words impacting their brands. So they are deliberately shielded from real people and become disconnected from reality. Fabio Capello thought to reinforce this in South Africa by isolating the England team in a remote camp in Rustenburg, and when he told the players to relax by going to their rooms to read, they frankly lost the will to carry on. The Germans, aware of the debilitating effect of such disconnection, built their Brazilian camp beside a tiny fishing village and had breakfast with the locals. And like Lewis Carroll’s Walrus, they would go on to weep for their new friends while battering their countrymen in the semi-final.
Secrets: For a country which excelled in international espionage and secret war-time code-breaking, it’s remarkable that no-one born in England since 1985 is capable of the slightest discretion. Secrets used to be things to be kept and cherished because someone had taken you into a confidence, then they became a currency to be traded to the highest bidder, now the rush to tell everyone everything you know, regardless of the consequences, means that no England team will ever again get as far as, let alone right through, a tournament without every training bust-up, words spoken in anger, bedroom indiscretion and dressing room tactical plan published for the world to see, with a cheeky hashtag.
Chaos: England is a remarkably well-run country considering how many individuals in its large corporations are running things their own way without the least regard for the old plan, the new plan or the interim plan; believe me, I’ve worked for a few of them. This approach seems to work up to a point, but eventually the organisation falls over and has to be rescued. And so it is with the England team: no-one seems to follow the same plan when they get to a major tournament finals. Club allegiances, philosophical and tactical differences, petty personal jealousies, and a complete inability to follow one plan, all lead inevitably to that maddening moment in every tournament when the players just can’t be bothered anymore and start lumping the ball up to the big man, only to realise that the big man is the one they left behind with the broken metatarsal.