It’s a question people are sick and tired of pondering. I’d go as far to say that apathy towards our national football team has never been greater.
The whole Sam Allardyce thing was a totally unnecessary farce – what was the bloke doing?! – but it doesn’t change the fact that watching England has become a chore.
I’m a football fan, I don’t support a club side, but at the moment, I can’t be bothered to watch the national side either. I didn’t even watch ten minutes combined of the two qualifiers this week.
It’s an odd one, qualifying campaigns. We tend to breeze through them, but when we do that, even that isn’t good enough. We won every game in the campaign for Euro 2016, yet people still moaned that we weren’t getting the results we should. I guess they were ultimately proven right in France that England just aren’t good enough.
But when have we been? I can just about remember Euro 88, but for me Italia 90 was the start of my interest in international tournaments. Then, as chronicled in the brilliant One Night in Turin, expectation was low – both on and off the pitch. But thanks to a spirited performance the likes of which we’ve barely seen since, England got to the semi-finals. As an eight-year-old, it was a brilliant spectacle.
Since then though, the euphoric Euro 96 aside, it’s been a let down. Time after time after time. There’s themes through it as well – shonky results in group games costing us later in the tournament by getting us a tougher draw, or being unable to beat one fella from 12 poxy yards.
It’s all just generally uninspiring. England’s three games so far this season have brought three goals for and none against. How bloody riveting. It’s naïve to expect England to steamroller every team they come up against, but the pride, the passion, that’s what we want to see.
For about a minute in Euro 2016, that pride and passion appeared. A manic final attack against Wales and Daniel Sturridge slammed home, sparking wild celebrations. Surely this was the start of something? Nope. A pathetic showing against Slovakia in the final group game meant second place in the group, and, well, the less said about Iceland the better.
But what’s wrong? Well, I think the national team is the biggest loser in all the money that’s now pumped into the game. Both before and after the Sam Allardyce reign – all 90 minutes of it – we’ve seen discussion about who should be the next manager, and let’s face it, the list of English candidates is not a long one. But that’s because with all the money the top clubs have, they go out and get the best managers. And that means someone who has won top-level trophies. The days of a manager – like Allardyce – winning the fourth tier and going on to be a top-flight regular are probably behind us. Chris Wilder isn’t going to end up in the top flight, I’m pretty sure.
The likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have their eyes on the Champions League, and therefore as admirable as the job Eddie Howe has done at Bournemouth is, he’s not going to be on their radar.
That logic extends to the players as well – and the money every club is getting from the TV rights is only going to make things worse. No club in the Premier League needs to bring young players through any more. They can compete with almost any club in the world for the best talents in terms of both wages and transfer fees.
There’s no need for a Burnley, a Watford or even a Bournemouth to bring through their own players, so they don’t bother. It’s a results game, immediacy is key. What’s the point of blooding the youngsters and losing when that defeat could cost you your Premier League status?
Funnily enough, I’ve finally got around to watching Class of 92 this morning. I can’t see that happening again in the future, all the time the money is there. Yes, Marcus Rashford is breaking through at United and there are a handful of others, but the criticism of Jose Mourinho’s cull of the rest isn’t really that merited as none of the former crop seem to be in the same league as the likes of Beckham and Scholes.
So the knock on of all of this is that the English players aren’t getting the chance to breakthrough at the big clubs unless they are an exceptional talent – and those who don’t make it then end up down the system, and then, as we’ve seen time and time again, get big price tags on them, halting their ambition to get back up the leagues.
So the player pool is ever dwindling – and all the time the players are earning the extortionate wages they get for their clubs, pulling on an England shirt is sadly never going to mean as much.
So, nearly 850 words later, how do you solve a problem like England? Well, I think I’ve solved it.
Stop caring. England will be what they will be, and there doesn’t seem to be anything us fans can do about it.