Wednesday, April 2, 2008


IT'S 42 YEARS since England won the World Cup. Even then, victory – 4-2 over West Germany after extra time – was achieved on home soil.

Since that sole success, masterminded by Sir Alf Ramsey, England have endured “40 years of hurt” under a succession of big-name coaches. Eleven, to be exact.

Joe Mercer, Don Revie, Ron Greenwood, Bobby Robson, Graham Taylor, Terry Venables, Glen Hoddle and Kevin Keegan. They all failed to deliver a major trophy and were eventually hounded out of the job by Britain’s savage tabloid press.

So desperate to find a winning formula, the Football Association even committed treason in 2001 by going outside England for the first time, appointing the Swede, Sven-Göran Eriksson, to the post.

Eriksson, it seemed, “scored” more often than his strikers. Very much a ladies’ man, he achieved notoriety for his affairs with a weather girl-turned TV presenter, and an attractive secretary at the FA.

He stepped down after England’s exit from the 2006 World Cup. Not for the first time, they lost a penalty shootout, against Portugal in the quarter-finals.

Steve McClaren, the next man handed the “poisoned chalice”, couldn’t even manage to qualify for the European Championship finals, which will take place without England, in Austria and Switzerland this June.

McClaren was swiftly replaced by the Italian, Fabio Capello, who has won one and lost one of his two matches in charge.


England’s next fixture is against the USA at Wembley on May 28. No doubt the knives will be out for Capello should Bob Bradley’s team cause an upset.

So why does the England team struggle so much on the international stage when the Barclays Premier League is currently the best league in Europe, if not the world?

Perversely, that in itself is the biggest reason. Just take a look at the “Big Four”: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

These four clubs are well ahead of the rest in England – and probably Europe too. They have all reached the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Europe’s premier club competition.

United have Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand; Chelsea Joe Cole, Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard; Arsenal Theo Walcott; Liverpool Steven Gerrard. But these England players are the exception to the rule.

Man U’s success this season has been built on 36 goals from Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portugal winger who must surely win most votes for European Player of the Year.

Spanish striker Fernando Torres has kept Liverpool afloat with his 28 goals. Didier Drogba of the Ivory Coast has netted 13 times for Chelsea while Arsenal’s top scorer with 23 is Emmanuel Adebayor of Nigeria.

Just take a look at Arsenal’s 32-man, first-team squad. It contains only two Englishmen: Walcott and Justin Hoyte.


Not only are the best English youth team players not getting the chance to play at the highest level but, it would seem, the English coaches are not regarded as skilled enough either.

Manchester United have been managed since 1986 by the redoubtable Scot, Sir Alex Ferguson. Israeli Avram Grant followed the self-proclaimed “Special One”, José Mourinho of Portugal, at Chelsea.

Frenchman Arsène Wenger has built a dynasty at Arsenal and although the Spaniard, Rafael Benítez, has not managed to lead Liverpool back to the top of the Premier League, he did make them champions of Europe in 2005.

All that domestic and European success … yet hardly an Englishman in sight.

The fans can’t get enough of it. More than 13 million paid to watch the 380 games played in the 2006-2007 season, producing an average attendance was 34,459.

Like baseball, the TV ratings have gone through the roof and players’ wage demands have risen proportionally.

Yet the fans’ joy at watching the best players in the world wear their club's colors is in stark contrast to their frustration with Team England’s continual failure.

The truth of the matter is that you can’t have the best of both worlds.

Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, the world governing body for soccer, wants to see clubs limited to five foreign players in their starting XI to enable home-grown talent to flourish.

The top clubs, of course, are hardly likely to follow his advice. And in England, club comes before country.

Which is why supporters of the national team can expect at least another 40 years of hurt.

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