They've been starting up again in the past few days: those obligatory questions put to England footballers, which elicit the obligatory: "Yes. We do believe. We can do it. We can go to Brazil and stake a serious claim to the World Cup."
They can't, of course. The spirit might be willing but Roy Hodgson can no more take a side deep into Brazil's World Cup next summer than pull off a convincing win against Scotland, or a win of any description against the Republic of Ireland, Montenegro, Sweden, Poland, Ukraine… to name every serious nation his side have played and failed to overcome these 12 months past. All of which made you thank God for Greg Dyke – breezing up to a microphone in his first speech as FA chairman and politely advising us to pack away all thoughts of lifting a World Cup before 2022, or a semi-final of any description before 2020. I'd say 2026, to be honest. Dan Ashworth, Dyke's excellent director of elite development, has suggested even longer. But give Dyke his due. How desperately we needed that dose of realism.
The problem England needs a solution to before the St George Cross wing pennants can be flown with intent is how to reclaim the Premier League as one for "football played by Englishmen," as Dyke put it, and, heaven knows, this back page has communicated that fact. Football's brightest minds, Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher, have agonised here.
But Dyke's supreme wisdom came in his acknowledgement that the FA has also failed England. Consider one random detail of the Spanish FA's work to inculcate consistent principles throughout the international age groups. The coaches of every age group must live within a 40-mile radius of the national Ciudad de Futbol at Las Rojas, breakfasting together Monday to Thursday each week, exchanging information, before heading off among the clubs to disseminate those ideas. It is why Spanish sides welcome their players' call-ups. English clubs, bluntly, have no faith in the FA, an organisation which had no national performance director for 20 years before Ashworth's arrival.
"We have not done as well as we should," said Dyke, displaying the force of personality so needed to make the Premier League, the beast he helped spawn, see beyond its dismal, narrow, commercial self-interest. We may be waiting a decade but there is at least hope that some distant day England may dare say: "We do believe."
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