If you write down five of things you think is wrong with English football, the chances are you’d be right on every count, and anyone inclined to defend those criticisms would be like arming yourself with chopstick at a gun fight. The only point to it would be on the end of the chopsticks.
I don’t buy the line that our players aren’t up to beating Iceland simply because they are too pampered at an early age, as if players in Germany, France, Spain and Italy are made to sit in sweatshops sewing footballs and shoes for eight ours a day before football practice.
I mean, they ARE pampered, but that’s not why we don’t succeed.
There’s a cultural aspect to this that comes down to more than just the nice surroundings and privileges afforded to kids at their Premier League academies. The finger of blame points in every direction; to the players, coaches, administrators of the game and parents too. Especially the parents.
As parents, we are the ones who do too much for our kids. The first and most important coach in a player’s career are the people who have raised them, not an academy coach.
Our failings are in the way we are taught as kids.
We have been let down by our schooling and our football education because we simply have not been raised to think for ourselves or question what we are doing.
People ask why there wasn’t any leadership on the pitch and it’s because those players don’t have the confidence in their football intelligence to instruct those around them.
Leadership isn’t screaming and shouting, it’s coaching team-mates during the game.
Our game intelligence is much poorer than that of our continental friends and that’s why we are failing.
I’ve quoted foreign ex-team-mates before that their perception of us is that we are “football stupid” and they’re right.
After what I have experienced in Denmark and in Holland and Germany when attending training sessions at their clubs, when I look back to my footballing education before I turned professional, I feel like as if I’ve been short-changed.
Hypothetically, let’s just say it is true, that we do give young players too much, too soon these.
Why is it then we still suffer from the same inadequacies that saw us “fail” at the 1980 European Championships, in 1988, in 1992 and in 2000 and to even qualify for those held in 1976 and 1984, when our squads were still made up of what can be regarded as old school players?
They weren’t seen as pampered, yet they fell short every time but for 1996.
The problem with English football lies much deeper than the aesthetic surface of our expensive shiny facilities.
We’re turning into the Lawn Tennis Association of old, ploughing millions into the search for excellence, only to produce mediocrity unable to make that last step on to the winners’ podium.
It’s taken someone of immense mental strength in Andy Murray, who was schooled in Spain, to rescue their system from of the swirling drain of money it had become.
We focus far too intently on the destination rather than the roads needed to take to get there, tactically and technically, and it is this fundamental negligence that keeps leading us up the same footballing cul-de-sac.
Desire goes a long way in football - just look at the willingness shown in Italy’s win over Spain on Monday for evidence of that, but it would only have taken them so far if they didn’t have the footballing intelligence and ability to marry those with the level of commitment they showed.
Graziano Pelle chasing down his own flick-on in the second half exemplified their attitude but they also had the tactical answer to the problems Spain have posed teams in the past.
England, on the the other hand, were bereft of ideas, let down by their lack of knowledge and the lack of influential players to take decisions on the pitch and in my eyes, this has nothing to do with leadership.
This wasn’t because there wasn’t anyone on the pitch to to take charge or not bold enough to direct others around them, it’s simply because they didn’t know what to change.
The dry rot that is at the heart of this deficiency in tactical know-how is rooted in our education failings which has led to a lack of enthusiasm from both players and coaches later down the line. When it comes to engaging our brains without the ball at our feet, we don’t want to know and pass it off as not being “game related”. I hear it all the time.
As soon as a coach says ‘I just want to walk through a few things today’, the shoulders of the players drop and the coaches know they will switch off. It’s a disease that runs through the veins of our game.
Players don’t want to do it and the coaches know they don’t, and our lack of focus and attention to it is continually killing the hope each fresh batch of young players give us.
Our understanding of the game is so poor that when we’re asked tactical questions we don’t know the answers and when we need to ask questions of the opposition we aren’t armed with the right ones to pose.
Wanting to win isn’t enough, you have to know how to win and we just can’t do that. Physical ability just isn’t enough.
And why are we so surprised at every ‘failure’?
We ‘fail’ far more than we ever succeed. I put those words in inverted commas because we have to wake up to the fact that perhaps we are actually fulfilling our potential.
As I stated at the beginning, we aren’t winners so why the surprise when we don’t win?
We have never had a side that had the craft of the Dutch teams of Cruyff and Gullit. We’ve never had a side packed with the finesse of the French teams of ’84, ’98 or 2000.
We’ve never had a side that had the ruthlessness and downright discipline of that Italy and Germany have had down the decades.
The surprise should only come when we do win a tournament or even reach a final.
Financially and population-wise, we might be heavy-hitters but in truth we’re somewhere approaching super-middleweight, in football terms. Our players might earn fortunes but the most valuable works of art aren’t necessarily the most beautiful.
We can follow blueprint after blueprint of the champions du jour but if the willingness to learn and take on board what you’re being taught isn’t there, what’s the point?
We aren’t losers, we’re just bad students of the game - repeating mistakes of old, time after time after time.