Another rotten day for David Moyes, whose desperation for a win was epitomised by the selection of an unfit Robin van Persie in attack. It's looking pretty worrying indeed...
It's all very well getting giggly and excited about the World Cup, but what of the social cost to Brazil? Do FIFA have a responsibility to ensure accord and sustainability..?
I was just about coping with the level of debate about foreign players squeezing out English ones in the Premier League until Rio Ferdinand's intervention. If you accept the logic that homegrown youth are being squeezed out, then an England-qualified player who has decided to retire from the international game is taking up a place every bit as much as Manchester United's Mexican, Serb or Belgian.
Personally I would rather Ferdinand were available for selection than he retire (because we'd probably hear even more from him) but, while we wait for him to unveil his list of specific team-mates David Moyes should replace with Carrington trainees, there is another argument to be made in the wake of Greg Dyke's big FA speech.
John Nicholson is of course right that a high number of English players in the top flight is no guarantee of success, and that we flopped for decades when there was such a preponderance. It should be noted, though, that however barren the 1970s were for the English national team, however sustained the pain of a decade between tournaments, that those failures had some mitigating circumstances that did not apply more recently. First, that far fewer teams qualified: only four in the 1972 and 1976 European Championships. Second, that the luck of the draw delivered consistently high-calibre opposition.
West Germany outclassed England in the 72 quarter-finals but went on to win the tournament. Poland needed considerable fortune at Wembley in November 1973 but finished third in the next summer's World Cup and with a bit more luck could have reached the final. Czechoslovakia lost 3-0 in a Wembley qualifier to start their Euro 76 campaign but ended it by winning the final on penalties against West Germany. And Italy, who advanced to Argentina 78 on goal difference past the side Don Revie abandoned, finished fourth.
All those opponents were a substantial cut above the Norway side who got the better of Graham Taylor's USA 94 wannabes and arguably the Holland side too, or the Croatia and Russia who did for Steve McClaren despite the latter's run to the Euro 2008 semi-finals.
It seems reasonable to contend that there are a variety of reasons for qualifying failures; for instance, however legion Taylor's faults he suffered misfortune with injuries and was dealing with a crop of players relatively unschooled in European club football because of the Heysel ban. What is also certain is that suddenly mandating an increase in the number of English players in the Premier League - even if it were in the FA's power, as Ferdinand and Glenn Hoddle demand - is not going to guarantee anything. Unlike those Olympic sports that definitely benefited from targeted recruitment of physically likely specimens, football has long had a wide scouting network; even if you are picked up by a Championship club rather than one in the top flight it is a lucrative career and you are likely to wind up in the Premier League sooner or later.
If the number of English players in the top flight carries on dropping then at some point, inevitably, there will be an effect. But perhaps it is other national teams that have, in fact, suffered most by the Premier League's worldwide talent sweep.
England's tournament exile ended at the eight-team 1980 European Championship and two years later, after the narrowest of squeaks, Ron Greenwood's team reached the 24-team World Cup in Spain. But they were not alone.
Hard though it may be to believe, both Scotland and Northern Ireland reached Spain from the same qualifying group, at the expense of Sweden, Portugal and Israel. The Scotland side that crucially beat the Swedes contained Frank Gray, Alan Hansen, John Wark, Asa Hartford, John Robertson, Kenny Dalglish and Andy Gray, all winners of major trophies south of the border. The Northern Ireland side that beat the hosts to reach the second round of the finals contained Pat Jennings, Jimmy Nicholl, Mal Donaghy, David McCreery, Chris Nicholl, Martin O'Neill, Gerry Armstrong, Sammy McIlroy, Billy Hamilton, Norman Whiteside; not all regulars in the old First Division but beneficiaries of the English system.
Wales missed out and so too did the Republic of Ireland. Both did so only on goal difference, though.
It was a similar story four years later. Again, England, Northern Ireland and Scotland reached the World Cup in Mexico, the first two from the same group. Wales were squeezed out of a play-off on goal difference by the Scots, thanks to a fateful night at Ninian Park when Jock Stein died as his team reached the finals. The home side contained Neville Southall, Joey Jones, Pat Van Den Hauwe, Kevin Ratcliffe, Kenny Jackett, Peter Nicholas, Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, with fellow Match of the Day regulars Clayton Blackmore and Micky Thomas coming on.
The Republic of Ireland finished fourth in their group, but two years later were beating England at Euro 88 with Dublin's Kevin Moran, Ronnie Whelan, Frank Stapleton and Niall Quinn, alongside players from the Irish diaspora.
On Friday night, while England were seeing off Moldova 4-0 to go top of their group, all four of the Celtic sides were losing. All four are in severe qualifying difficulties at best. None can rely any longer on picking so many players honed or prospering in the English top flight. If they play there then it is likely to be for the lesser lights. And this is not a coincidence. The once traditional scouting grounds for leading English clubs are not ignored entirely but for those seeking that blend of homegrown intensity and comfort on the ball it is natural that you will look for the latter away from these islands.
The clock cannot be turned back by Greg Dyke or anyone, but if it did happen then I doubt England would be the prime beneficiaries.
@quarky - I'd argue that there is little difference between choosing 23 from 70 and choosing 23 from 700. The 70 in the first scenario will have been selected from the original 700, and it's highly likely that each of the 23 you would choose from the 700 would also be in the 70. Essentially, to sum it up, cream rises to the top. Embiggening the population you can choose from just changes how far down you can see, but the same players will still be chosen.- ray_bandana