So England are out of the FIFA World Cup and the post-mortem is already encompassing all the usual areas. Well, opinions and problem solving are not the exclusive province of a Henry Winter or a Charlie Sale, but as I’m the one who’s always right, here’s mine..
If we really want to crack it at world level, it’s about time English football started listening. I bet there are a string of PR and marketing people reading this who will have been (politely) rebuffed by the industry in some way in the past. That may sound like a strange place to start when others are talking about systems, players and grassroots coaching (oh, those barefoot kids in Brazil are so talented.. How DO they do it?) but English football is such an insular industry I truly fear it will never learn.
English football has a ‘we know best’ attitude and it needs to check itself out. There’s no doubt the game in England is full of talented, intelligent administrators, coaches and (yes honestly) English footballers but these days our nation’s football pedigree is driven by a product so beautifully produced, the rest of the world benefits more than we do. It’s called the Premier League and international superstars clamour to play in it, tempted by the riches of the world’s best and most competitive domestic league competition. We swoon over the talent of Luis Suarez and then consider him disrespectful when he bites the hand that feeds him. During a long domestic season, we sit back and admire; we never sit on the edge of our seat and learn.
Somewhere in the system there’s a blockage and it’s one even FIFA and Sepp Blater doesn’t like. We’re too…. English. We’re a nation that lives on past glory and expects the world to empathise.
As fans we believe that 1966 still gives us a divine right. As aficionados we believe that because the world’s oldest football rule book belonged to Sheffield FC, and the world’s oldest league club plays in Nottingham (Notts County) we ‘own’ the game. And as patriots we believe that bellowing out the national anthem and waving a St. George’s flag on the international stage every couple of years, is a signal for the rest of the world to love us. They don’t.
Sepp Blatter made constant, stinging references to England being; “the home of football” during our World Cup Bid and he made it very clear that each and every time he said it, the words were anything but a compliment. Football in England is an inward looking industry and those in charge of the game itself must open up the closed shop. It’s an industry where those on the inside reckon they know all the answers and those on the outside know nothing.
At some point, football will have told those PR and marketing people I mentioned at the start: ‘We can handle it from here, but thanks for the thought.’ I’ll wager that in most cases the people politely told to go away can point to a project that only got half done – or didn’t get done at all.
Football thinks it can look after itself, but it takes on too much responsibility and it won’t let others in to help. Of course the marketers aren’t going to turn Wayne Rooney chances into Wayne Rooney goals, but you get my drift. The malaise is endemic. ‘We know best and if we’re going to fail, we’re going to fail OUR way.”
At this point, I should remind those who don’t know, that I was once a part of football’s insular brigade – and equally guilty. So this is not a pious overview from a perfect mind, it’s just that on the outside looking in, it’s much, much easier to see.
These days, I’m just a fan, but as fans, we’re guilty too. In a couple of months time, the World Cup will be a distant, uncomfortable memory. We’ll return to our domestic caves, focus on our own teams, won’t care a jot about the national game and be irritated by the next international break because it spoils the club calendar. (Don’t you just hate it when your team doesn’t play for a fortnight?)
Every two years, when the Euros or World Cup comes around, we’ll unfurl our flags of St. George, beat our chests again with a fervour that attempts to make up for two year’s worth of domestic hibernation, expect the world to love us and demand that the team rules the world. Most of the countries we lose to will include players we’ve welcomed into our club system as heroes and the world will chuckle inwardly at our self pity when it all goes t*ts up.
Then again, they’re all fools. We’re England. We know best.