David Pleat believes players caring more about their clubs than their country is a problem for England.
Fabio Capello's team have failed to beat the United States and Algeria and now face a match against Slovenia which will define their future in the World Cup.
And former Tottenham, Luton, Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday manager Pleat said: "I think the players in this country have been well protected by the clubs, making the (England) shirt less important to them.
"Their desire to play for their country is not what it was years ago. It doesn't mean as much and that's a shame. Their clubs are the most important things in their lives."
Former captain John Terry yesterday laid bare the divisions that have ripped England apart in South Africa and Pleat acknowledged there is a clash of cultures with their Italian manager.
He continued on BBC Radio Five Live: "We have some very single-minded self-confident players within the group who know they've played rather poorly.
"Bobby Robson knew how to work the English players and Capello comes from a different culture...but there will always be pressure and arguments when a team isn't doing well."
Pleat, whose professional management career lasted nearly 20 years, believes England can emulate their efforts of 1986 and 1990 and make sure of qualification from the group stages despite a poor start.
He said: "I think we'll come through this but it's interesting that it's the European teams who have had problems while the South Americans have taken to the tournament with real joy.
"We have got very good players but I think we over-hype them - and the influx of foreign players has stunted the progress of youngsters.
"Not enough players are challenging to come through. They are not getting the chance early in their careers and that's because we are still obsessed with foreign players."