Little old England, a small but populous country with a history on the world stage spanning back hundreds of years. One of the longest lasting legacies of England’s colonial past is the proliferation of soccer worldwide. Soccer, football, fútbol, calcio, the game goes by many names in many places and has produced stars worldwide. Producing world class soccer stars has become a de facto currency in measuring the footballing quality of various countries. Countless articles ask who, when and from where the next world soccer star will emerge. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have reigned supreme for awhile now, with Neymar and Luis Suárez also challenging for best in the world of late. Players from Portugal, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, but what about soccer’s ancestral homeland, little old England?
England today is home to the Barclay’s Premier League, the world’s most popular soccer league with an estimated viewership of 4 billion people worldwide and annual television rights said to bring in a combined $7 billion dollars. With a country so absolutely mad about the sport, they must be overflowing with world class soccer players, right? Well sure, you’ve got… Wayne Rooney, and… well Wayne Rooney used to be good anyway. That David Beckham guy was pretty world class back in the day. There’s been a noticeable dearth of world talent who call jolly old England home. With all of that money flowing into their club system and all of the attention paid to their home league, how is it that England makes such little impact in developing legitimate soccer stars?
When it comes to the history of soccer stars of English descent, the conversation should begin and end with and Bobby Charlton, the best player of the 1966 World Cup champions. No one before or since has dominated the game in such a way while also having an English accent. With 49 goals for the Three Lions, the Manchester United star was, until recently, the country’s all-time leading scorer (eventually broken by Wayne Rooney). Charlton’s performance at the 1966 World Cup for the eventual champions, though, stands apart. For his role for the cup winners, he was given the 1966 Ballon d’Or as the best European footballer of the year.
Other notable stars on the world stage include Gary Lineker, whose 6 goals at the 1986 World Cup led the competition. Lineker’s 48 goals for England remain 3rd all time to this day. Bobby Moore, a defender and captain of the ‘66 champs also deserves a shout in this space.
There’s certainly enough history and resources in this island nation to produce ever more impressive talent, but what seems to be holding them back? The place to start would be the aforementioned Barclay’s Premier League. The league website does list player development as one of its stated goals, saying the following:
Central to the continued progress of the Premier League, and the wider English game, is the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), which was produced by the Premier League after consulting representatives of the Football League and the FA. It is a long-term plan that promotes the development of a world-leading Academy system, with the aim of producing more – and better – Home Grown Players. The Premier League and its Clubs are committed to generating domestic talent, with more than 95% of young players in training being British.
The league itself seems to be committed to developing young players, and there are some examples of it producing genuine world class talent, like Gareth Bale. Bale made his professional debut for Southampton before eventually starring at Tottenham, then going on to fetch millions and millions from Real Madrid. Bale, of course, is Welsh.
The league is capable of producing young talent when it wants to, but their pursuit of commercial success in total as a league holds it back. Thanks to its aforementioned lucrative TV, the best soccer teams in England have turned to importing foreign talent rather than developing their own. Even the great Manchester United relies on the transfer market to fix their problems, despite spending decades building an academy that produced the likes of David Beckham and Ryan Giggs, among others.
On opening weekend in 2015, just 33.2% of the starting players in Premier league lineups were English, a number that’s significantly lower than the other major European leagues. For comparison, the Bundesliga featured almost 50% German players, Spain 58%, France 56% and Italy 43%. The Premier League also featured the widest variety of nationalities on their rosters of any league in Europe. The evidence shows the league’s clubs certainly have very extensive scouting networks, but questions about developing English players still remain. Have Premier league teams given up on English talent, or are they simply incapable of developing world class English stars?
When questioning the talent production of any soccer nation, the first look should be given to who is doing the coaching. According to a 2011 study, reigning World Cup champion Germany had a shocking 34,970 coaches who held a UEFA B, A or Pro coaching badges, the top qualifications for soccer coaching on the continent. Think about that for a second. Germany employs a veritable small city of coaches to develop talent for the Bundesliga and the German national team.
And how does little old England stack up here? They had a paltry 2,769 coaches with these UEFA badges. That is shockingly bad. While Germany sends a city full of coaches out to make great soccer, England trots out a tiny hamlet or village. The question is, why is this the case?
It just might be a case of arrogance. Historically the English have treated the game as their own, the pinnacle of English culture, something that other countries merely borrow and will never perfect. An English friend of mine once said that other countries can never beat England at soccer because any country that plays the game differently than England does is not really playing soccer. Okay, if you say so…you know your team drew nil-nil with Costa Rica at the last World Cup, right?
It’s likely there are many coaches in England who do have the talent and knowledge to earn these advanced UEFA coaching licenses, but their cultural arrogance holds them back. If the culture in England is that the English always know the game best, then what use would they have for any fancy continental coaching courses, right? This attitude is harmful and self-perpetuating to the quality of the English game. While German, Spanish, French and Italian coaches are continuously developing new coaching techniques and sharing them with each other through the UEFA certification process, the English are left behind by their own actions and decision-making. The FA has stated that their next goal is to win the 2022 World Cup; however, the percentage of English starters in Premier League rosters continues to fall every year as the league seeks glory through the transfer system.
I hate to break it to the England fans out there, but it’s probably too late to develop the necessary talent to win the World Cup in Qatar in six years. Those players would be between age eighteen and twenty-two already and would already have to be showing world class talent and ability. Harry Kane may get there someday, but are there enough others around him to support a World Champion side? That’s doubtful.
The next World Cup or Euro Championship will roll around and the British press will once again trumpet the great potential of the England national team to win the tournament, only to be later crushed when English soccer talent is found wanting yet again. The press will find scapegoats in players who didn’t perform up to expectations and will no doubt blame the manager. I bet we’ll even see hard hitting analysis on how much blame the WAGs should shoulder for whatever ignoble end the English will once again meet. It’s as predictable as it is useless. England’s lack of youth development will again be the real cause of disappointment. We may see one or two post mortems in The Daily Mail or The Guardian that mention this fact, but it will be glossed over with whatever new manager or player the press will latch onto to build the hype. It’s a sad cycle, wash, rinse, repeat.
The brutal, honest truth that is never, ever reported in the press is that England has already lost.