Sam Wallace: Let's think twice before laying blame for England's failure on Premier League
To hope for the Premier League's destruction so that English football can return to some sort of year zero is not the reaction of a sophisticated nation
Monday 12 July 2010
For the last four weeks, the South African broadcaster SABC has been pushing its World Cup coverage with the wonderfully weird tagline "Feel it. It is here". Not this morning it isn't. The World Cup is over and in the last few days the networks here have started running the commercials for their English Premier League coverage.
In South Africa, as it is all over the world, the Premier League is a big draw. From this season, the new deal for overseas television rights kicks in, an enormous £1.4bn three-year package that is more than twice the previous deal. Never has English football generated more money from its top-flight league than it does now.
But as we break from the World Cup fixation and turn back to the domestic game, it is hard to remember a time when English football has been consumed with quite so much depression. The anger at the way Fabio Capello's team went out so limply will hang around for a while. It was there after the failure to qualify for Euro 2008 when players like Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard would turn up to away grounds to chants of "You let your country down".
The players have already copped the blame. Next on the list will be the Premier League: too many foreigners, too much paid in wages and too little emphasis on developing young players. We live in cycles with the England football team. First comes hope, then failure, then blame. The latter closely followed by its cousin, recrimination.
There are lots of things wrong with the Premier League. The leveraged buyouts of clubs like Manchester United and Liverpool have left them with terrifying debts. There is no longer the variety of winners that there was, for instance, in the First Division in the 1970s. There is a concern that our brighter young English players do not get the opportunity of first-team football, their path blocked by foreign players.
There are lots of reasons why those supporters renewing their season ticket this summer might feel weary now that the World Cup extravaganza on their television is over. Yes, the Premier League is flawed. Yes, it can be crass. And even £1.4bn does not make up for the disappointment of that defeat to Germany. But let's not spend the next six months blaming everything on the Premier League.
It is a peculiarly English instinct that makes our reaction so extreme. After two and a half years here, Capello has got the same problem; the day after his team lost to Germany he was blaming the burden of club football for exhausting his players. "Somebody has to change something," he said. "But this is impossible."
By way of comparison, Gerrard played seven more league games than Wesley Sneijder last season. Is that really the difference between success and failure at a World Cup? If anything, the burden on English players is in European competition. Sneijder played 11 games in the Champions League, which Internazionale won. Gerrard played 13 games in Europe – five in the Champions League and then, when Liverpool were eliminated in the group stages, a further eight in the Europa League.
There are 20 teams in the top leagues in Italy, Spain and France. There are 18 teams in Holland's Eredivisie but only three of the Dutch starting XI in the final yesterday play in their nation's league. That Dirk Kuyt played 53 games for Liverpool last season, four more than Gerrard, really ends all debate.
Capello frequently complains that he has the smallest pool of players to select from. Only 40 per cent of the Premier League is English compared to a 77 per cent Spanish contingent in La Liga. The disappearing English footballer is a problem – a feature of the financial success of the Premier League, and the clout that it has wielded in the transfer market.
So how does English football respond? By tearing down the whole edifice in an act of self-loathing against a league which is followed so avidly? Or by praying for a financial meltdown, like the Kirch television collapse that struck the Bundesliga in 2002, thus forcing German clubs to promote their own academy players?
To hope for the Premier League's destruction so that English football can be returned to some sort of year zero is not the reaction of a sophisticated football nation. The English game does not have to destroy its most successful sporting institution in order to rebuild the beleaguered national team. The home-grown player quotas that begin in the Premier League this season are a start, and it is hoped that they will grow incrementally with time.
The current academy system is clearly not perfect but it has produced an Under-17s England team who are the European champions. The way English clubs develop players and the way those players conduct themselves can be refined but that does not mean the original has to be destroyed.
The failure of the England team is not the green light to vandalise the Premier League. The key principle that holds the league together is as crucial now as it was when the breakaway from the Football League took place in 1992: that in the selling of television rights the league negotiates en bloc, so the likes of Blackpool take a fair share from the money that is generated by Manchester United and Liverpool.
In Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona go it alone, leaving clubs like Almeria and Racing Santander to fend for themselves, thus widening the gap between the rich and the poor to an unbridgeable extent. When the big clubs in the Premier League go that way, it will be the time to rip up the Premier League and start again. One more England disappointment is not the reason to light the bonfires.
The World Cup in numbers
559 In holding out for the first 75 minutes against Chile, Switzerland set a new finals record of 559 minutes without conceding a goal.
71 Age of Greece coach Otto Rehhagel, who became the oldest manager at a World Cup.
55 Fouls committed during the Paraguay v Japan match - no other match witnessed more than 50.
49 Shots attempted during the Uruguay v Ghana quarter-final. Only three other matches witnessed more than 40 shots.
39 Age of David James (plus 321 days) when becoming the oldest World Cup debutant for England against Algeria.
33 Shots attempted by Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan, one more than Uruguay's Diego Forlan.
24 Mexico's 1-0 defeat to Uruguay was their 24th World Cup finals loss, a record.
16 Years between first and last finals appearances by Cameroon's Rigobert Song – equalling a record held by German midfielder Lothar Matthaus among others.
16 Goals scored by Germany, more than any other country.
14 Finals goals scored by Germany's Miroslav Klose, who is now one behind Brazilian forward Ronaldo's record of 15.
14 Uruguay's 3-2 defeat to Holland was their 14th finals match against European opposition without victory.
12 Years between first and last finals goals by Mexico's Cuauhtemoc Blanco – equalling a record held by Pele and Diego Maradona among others.
12 Appearances in World Cup semi-finals by Germany/West Germany, two ahead of Brazil.
8 In officiating in the third-place play-off, Mexican Benito Archundia equalled the record for most finals games refereed.
6 Number of finals at which Carlos Alberto Parreira has managed.
3 Number of first-time winners in the last 50 years (before last night) – England (1966), Argentina (1978) and France (1998).
2 Consecutive finals in which Ghana's Asamoah Gyan has missed a penalty.
1 South Africa became the first host nation to be eliminated from the finals in the first round.
1 Goal scored by England strikers - Jermain Defoe against Slovenia.
0 Wins at the 2010 finals by 2006 finalists France and Italy, who both departed the tournament at the group stages - a first in finals history.
0 Number of times, before last night, that a European side had won the World Cup outside of their continent.
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