Reality Check: English Footballers Are Too Stupid To Succeed


Well, yet again England are out of a major international tournament at the “just getting interesting” stage. The footballing equivalent of having someone thrust their hand down your pants in a nightclub just as all the lights come up.

Naturally, the post-mortem has begun. Is it our fault? Did someone not pull their weight? Was it those dirty cheating foreigners you hear so much about? An officiating injustice? A terrible twist of fortune? The players? The manager? The manager before the manager? The fans? The snarky sports journalists on betting websites?

This time, it seems the finger of blame rests at the way we organise our game at grassroots level. We're not “technically good enough” to compete at major tournaments it seems, and until we start producing English equivalents of Xavi and Iniesta (or Chavvy and Ian Hester as they'd presumably be called) we're doomed to be undone by the production lines of The People's Republic of Tika-Taka. 

But the thing is, being “good on the ball” and “brilliant to watch” doesn't actually count for a whole lot. Using Greece in 2004 as an example of this is now more tired and worn out than the polo neck Madonna's using to mask her jowls, but it at least shows that however competent you are (or aren't, rather) in possession, having a structured system, with players smart enough to play it, counts for considerably more. 

England don't need to become the most skilled footballers on the planet, they just need to stop being the most tactically dimwitted.

Under normal circumstances this would be a difficult point to prove, but thankfully Rio Ferdinand popped up on the interwebs yesterday with a sideways flatpeak cap emblazoned with “Exhibit A”. 

Before we start, let's keep in mind that this is a player who captained Manchester United and England, broke a British transfer record, has lifted every top domestic trophy and has a Champions League medal on his nightstand. He's more than qualified to have an opinion. 

We'll also assume that he's not in any way just bitter.

In a nutshell Ferdinand made the points that a) the team needs to be built around Wayne Rooney, b) we don't retain the ball well, so we need Phil Jones to run 40 yards with it, and c) Danny Welbeck was brilliant at holding up the play against Italy. The last two, upsettlingly baffling as they are, are flatly and demonstrably wrong. (I'll not bore you with stats but Welbeck's pass completion and duels won were pretty poor, and the old decapitated poultry trick doesn't famously lead to you ever keeping the ball).

But it's the Rooney point that's the worst. Even if it were possible to “build a team around someone”, why on earth would you build a team around a player who regularly missed out due to either unfortunate injury, or his own juvenile stupidity? England's constant superhero mantra of needing an inspirational Roy of the Rovers type player in the squad is the main reason they've achieved so little at this level. 

Wayne Rooney is arguably the most talented player at England's disposal, but when asked to sit tight to Andrea Pirlo on Sunday night, he just jogged around in a daze. Completely undoing his side's only real game-plan. Likewise, when made the focal point of an attack, as he was at the last World Cup, teams snuffed out his supply and left him frustrated and redundant.

Yet players like Rooney are still prized way above the professionals who do the unspectacular stuff.

A war cry, a 30 yard screamer, a crunching tackle in the rain, a dramatic last minute back post header to win the game – in England, you can dine out on one of these for your whole career. Meanwhile, players with an IQ higher than their squad number are labelled “boring”, if they even get picked up by an academy in the first place.

Say what you like about technique, but it's England's lack of on-pitch intelligence that is most crippling.

Aspiring footballers on the continent are encouraged to play in every position in every possible system, then taken to the first-team games and set tactics homework. Meanwhile, we're more about playground football over here, our tactical nous comes straight out the back of a Panini sticker album and the winner should always be the team with the most shineys.

Hodgson's game plan for the Euros was spot on. He gave a team of tactical novices the most basic formation known to man, with a set of instructions even they could follow. Two banks of four, get behind the ball, and we'll try and nab something on the break. But no sooner have plans begun for the next tournament, than the likes of Ferdinand are convinced they're “too good for that”, and should be “causing the opposition problems” instead.

Reality check: England have never dumped a major footballing nation out of a knock-out game on foreign soil, despite Ferdinand's ingenious piece of sideways thinking. Consider this: do we have a midfield player with the awareness and adaptability to drop into sweeper as adeptly as Danielle De Rossi has for Italy? No siree. 

If you've ever wondered why there's so few Englishmen in the very top echelons of football management, look no further than the understanding our players have of the game...