James Lawton: Foreign domination of league keeps England team unfit for purpose

England's drift from the front rank demands a wholesale review of the national game's priorities

One of the great vices of English football used to be an absolute refusal to live in the real world. Every four years most of our leading pundits would announce that we had an excellent chance of winning the World Cup and then everyone rushed off to festoon the family car with flags of St George.

Now that resignation has set in so deeply, the escape from reality takes a somewhat different form.

Now we blame mostly the national coach – and in direct proportion to the money that he is paid. Fabio Capello, consequently, is heading for another weekend of extreme derision when the Spanish world champions come to town.

Some of us, let's face it, may have contributed to this by putting excessive faith in his background as a player and a coach who had spent a professional lifetime operating with great and uncompromising success at the highest level of the game.

For a little while it did not seem such a bizarre theory, as England swept to World Cup qualification and one after another leading player stepped forward to say how much they welcomed Il Capo's brand of hard-nosed, old-pro discipline.

Now we have to recognise that, along with the fact he too has been ambushed by the job as badly as most of his predecessors, England's drift away from the front rank of world-class contenders is so relentless, and runs so deeply, it demands nothing less than a wholesale review of the foundations and the priorities of the national game.

The possibility of embarrassing defeat at Wembley when the likes of Xavi and Iniesta and Villa go to work on Saturday has already been widely discussed. Not so well aired, though, is the fact that if this indeed happens – and who would want to invest more than a little loose change on the possibility that it won't? – it will represent another stage of a desperate pattern.

It will be, if you include Barcelona's almost effortless subjection of Manchester United in last spring's Champions League final, the fourth time in 18 months that English football has been exposed as completely unfit for purpose.

First, the young German team of Thomas Müller and Mesut Ozil banished England from the South African World Cup with football which might have come from another planet. It was quicker, infinitely more imaginative, and flowed with a deadly simplicity.

Then, a few months later we had at Wembley the meeting of the sick men of European football, humiliated England and mutinous France. The trouble was that the new French team of Laurent Blanc had come down from the barricades and was playing some of the football that had given its predecessors of 1998 and 2000 the World Cup and European title.

So here we had evidence of enduring standards – and the classic capacity of a leading football nation to reinvent itself after a period of decline. If we doubted this, it became the most unavoidable reality when the movement of Karim Benzema and Florent Malouda turned Rio Ferdinand and Phil Jagielka inside and out for an opening goal that announced another night of English servitude.

Now, a year on, we face the same kind of disrobing at the hands of the world's best team. And what will be the reaction? Talk of which Englishman should get the job if, for one reason or another, it cannot be given to Harry Redknapp. There will also, of course, be speculation about which young lions can, in the nick of time, constitute New England for the European Championship finals.

What we might just not get round to is some discussion of the fact that the Premier League, which we like to describe as our great gift to the football world, is now touching quite ridiculous levels of foreign domination. If we complain about the fact that teams like France and Spain can come to Wembley so confident in their ability to dominate every phase of the play, what else can we seriously anticipate?

Who is playing remotely as well in English football as Manchester City's David Silva, who cannot crack the Spanish line-up? And if Silva should have a rare off day, whom would City's Italian manager Roberto Mancini most confidently expect to step into the vacuum? Let's guess, in random order: Sergio Aguero, an Argentine, Yaya Touré of the Ivory Coast, Edin Dzeko, a Bosnian, and Mario Balotelli, from a district of Jupiter.

Maybe James Milner or Adam Johnson might intrude into the action but the likelihood lies elsewhere, as it does at Arsenal, where Robin van Persie, like Cesc Fabregas before him, has taken over the leadership of the club, as the excellent Spaniard Juan Mata shows such a possibility at Chelsea and Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart create beautiful football at Spurs and Luis Suarez is a player apart at Liverpool.

The killing point is that English football heads for the Spanish game with scarcely a breath of such inspiration, not with its most talented player, Wayne Rooney, stood down so we can see which mediocrity might make the best stab at replacing him for the European Championship final group games.

No, we don't stick flags on our cars any more. If we care for football, sometimes the greatest temptation is not to adorn the old jalopy but drive it straight off the edge of the cliff.

Ashton lacks clue to what went wrong

In an interview designed to improve the sales of Splashdown: The Story of My World Cup Year by Chris Ashton – but which may not have done so quite as dramatically as he hoped – the England wing was asked how bruised he was in the wake of his team's catastrophic performances on and off the field in New Zealand.

This is what he said: "You lose faith in people. I'd like to think I was quite an open person but now you have to be careful about what people are asking and what they want of you."

Perhaps all those still appalled by one of the ghastliest expressions of misplaced arrogance in the history of English sport can be of a little help here.

What people are asking for, what they want from their international sports representatives, is a little indication of serious purpose and mature understanding of the nature of their challenge. Put another way, they don't want them to behave like a bunch of Saturday night alco-pop warriors.

Heavyweight legacy strictly for the greats

A few days after some more-or-less straight-faced suggestions that former Olympic boxing champion Audley Harrison had revived his professional appeal by surviving a few rounds of Strictly Come Dancing, we hear that one of the great heavyweights, Smokin' Joe Frazier, is fighting for his life in a Philadelphia hospice.

These facts could scarcely be further separated in terms of significance to the history of the heavyweight division and you may argue that it is a lapse in taste placing them not only on the same page but also the same paragraph.

However, some of those entrusted with the legacy of the great days of men like Frazier and his three-time opponent in quite epic fights, Muhammad Ali, might just reflect for a moment the next time they insult their memory by projecting fights and fighters stripped of all meaning and honour.

Qatar remains a blot for Blatter

The great master of the Swiss spoof, Fifa president Sepp Blatter, now tells us of a whole raft of proposals which will finally give his organisation some genuine transparency.

He agrees that there is much work to do if the governance of the world's most popular game is to emerge from the shadows. However, he still seems to be missing the most vital point.

All reform of Fifa will remain utterly self-defeating as long as Qatar remains the host of the 2022 World Cup.

News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
News
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own