Is It Still Fair to Call England an International Football Power?

Willie GannonSenior Writer IMarch 21, 2013

Photo from:
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England are one of the biggest teams in international football, but is it right to consider them a world power?

Over the course of their phenomenal history they have only won the World Cup once in 1966 and finished fourth once in 1990. They have also finished third twice in the European Championships in 1968 and 1996, respectively.

In short, the Three Lions have won just one of 33 major trophies since 1930. This is hardly the record of giants. 

Drilling down further and looking at the competitions separately, one realizes that there have only been eight countries to win the World Cup. Brazil have won the tournament five times, Italy four, Germany three, Argentina and Uruguay twice with England, France and Spain all claiming the prize once.

Looking at their trophy haul in that context and you realize that England are doing about as well as one would expect.

They are a force to be reckoned with, but they are not a world power.

The Three Lions are basically the international equivalent of Tottenham Hotspur or Arsenal. They are taken seriously by other teams but are only looked upon as a team to beat on the way to a trophy rather than a fellow contender.

Given England's history with the game, as they were one of two founding football associations in 1870, the players they have developed and how the Premier League is viewed around the word, this is less than where they should be.

But there is a reason.

In Germany, Brazil, Spain, Italy and France their entire football philosophy is built toward the international team.

The French FA set up Clairfontaine in 1988 to develop elite players for the national team. Within 10 years France had won the World Cup. The Italian FA set up Coverciano over 30 years ago and it was here that their 1982 and 2006 World Cup triumphs were devised and conceived.

The renowned Centre has one of the best coaching reputations in the world, and UEFA regularly run elite coaching courses in the facility.

Germany went a slightly different route to France and Italy and always had a phenomenal coaching regime at club level. However, in 2001, the recently retired Michael Owen scored a hat trick as England beat the Germans 5-1 in Munich.

This result immediately sent shockwaves through German football. England's victory was no fluke, and when combined with their dismal showing at Euro 2000, everything pointed to German football in decline.

The DFB, German football association, then set about changing how the game was coached at youth level. In a radical overhaul they decided to move away from their physically based game to a technique-based game.

Roll on 10 years later ,and it was an effervescent German side full of youth, panache, guile and tenacity that eviscerated a dismal England 4-1 at the World Cup in South Africa.

To do it, the DFB worked hard with the Bundesliga academies and then set up 21 district and five regional training centres for elite players to be trained at the highest level. This setup virtually guaranteed that no player of a high standing would fall through the cracks and not be coached to a high level.

Importantly, these coaching centres in France, Italy and Germany are also used to train the coaches of tomorrow, never mind the players of tomorrow. 

This combined approach to coaching, between the national football associations and the elite leagues in these areas, can only benefit football in the long run. Up until recently that has not been the case in England.

In the build-up to the World Cup in 1966, Alf Ramsey was given all the help he could get. Players were released when he needed them for coaching. It is here that England's only World Cup can be seen in all its simplicity.

Since then, and especially in the Premier League era, there has been no joined-up thinking between the FA, who govern the game, and the Premier League, who run the elite domestic league.

In the examples given, the national team is regarded as the focal point of their footballing world, and every team strives to help the national side.

In England, plain and simple, it is not.

How else can you explain players opting for operations during an international break? Or just pulling out completely? As far as the clubs are concerned, the players are their property, and they will arrange these operations and pre-determined training sessions to have as little impact on the club as possible.

Unfortunately, the national side then loses one of its most important players.

As far as international friendlies are concerned, the clubs and their managers see them as a massive inconvenience to them, often refusing to let players travel or seeing the player developing an injury right before the fixture and pulling out of the squad.

During a 16-year international career, Ryan Giggs only played 64 times for Wales, and he failed to attend an international friendly for nine years. Thankfully, this seems to be an exception, but with many club managers ranging from Rafael Benitez, to Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson questioning friendlies and removing players from the squad at important points of the club calendar, you can see why any England manager feels undermined.

In Britain, physical fitness, power and stamina are usually viewed as being more important than technique and tactical astuteness. Players are brought up from an early age to chase every ball, to win every tackle, to never stop running and to make every challenge count.

All aspects of the English game we love.

In Europe, however, the emphasis in the early stages of football development is on passing, first touch and off-the-ball awareness—both defensively and offensively. The physical part of the game is only imposed when the players have developed sufficiently.

This is down to the coaching culture in England, where the physical aspects of the game are coached before the technical aspects. It is not uncommon for British Isles-based footballers to work incredibly hard in the physical sections of training sessions and then use the technical sections as recuperation periods where less than 100 percent attention is given.

In Europe, that outlook is completely the opposite. Youth players work harder in technical sessions and use the physical sections to rest up before getting back on the ball.

The physical load given to players is all more measured in that physical training gets more difficult with age.

Up until recently, you could go to any park in the British Isles on a midweek evening and find eight-year-olds doing laps and push-ups.

The Football Associations of all the home countries are trying to change this physical fitness culture to one based on technique. But, like everything else, that takes time. This video of a BBC interview with Stuart Pearce captures the frustration felt by many managers, coaches and players with the FA's approach to elite training.

The English FA have moved one step closer to succeeding Alf Ramsey's famous team in 1966 by opening their own national training centre in October 2012. The £105 million St. George's Park project in Burton will eventually become the centre of excellence for all players and coaches across England.

The centre of excellence will give England its best hope of winning another World Cup, but it could take up to two decades to come to fruition.

If and when it does, they will be a world power again.


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