Let's Not Give Up On Improving England

There is little prospect of any FA report restricting clubs in the way the DFB did, but Philip Cornwall believes we shouldn't give up on improving the English national team...

Last Updated: 28/02/14 at 11:43 Post Comment

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Greg Dyke's commission into the state of English football has delayed its findings until after the World Cup, much to the relief of Roy Hodgson - the manager does not want England's campaign in Brazil overshadowed by a divisive debate. But will his successors be relieved by the delay?

It is impossible to reach any kind of consensus on the state of English football, and you need to examine closely the evidence cited by those who do. The Times, which claimed an exclusive on FA chairman Dyke's delay, is running its own analysis of the state of the game across five days, and the first instalment contrasts English inaction now with the German Football Federation's response to their Euro 2000 debacle, which did report in time for the 2002 World Cup. There were few signs of disruption as the team beaten 5-1 in Munich the previous September reached the final in the South Korea/Japan tournament.

The DFB's prescription was the extended talent promotion programme, a massive injection of time and money into youth training. Oliver Kay asks: 'Has it worked? Don't just look at the national team. Look at Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.'

Germany have reached the final of Euro 2008, and the semis at the past two World Cups and Euro 2012, a level of consistent achievement that we in England can only envy, even if they have had the misfortune to be playing at a time when Spain finally got their act together. Bayern are European champions, having beaten Dortmund in last May's final, and both sides are looking well placed to reach the last eight this season.

On the other hand, look beyond those two clubs: while England's Champions League representatives have had a poor couple of weeks, their performances do not look so bad in comparison with Bayer Leverkusen's 4-0 home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, or with Schalke's 6-1 humbling by Real Madrid. And Bayern Munich were also European champions in 2001. How deep is the German revival?

Still, the Times can assemble some impressive statistics when it comes to English representation on the pitch. They go beyond the usual analysis of starting line-ups in the Premier League, which is down to 32% English from 69% in 1992-93. For a start, the figure is only 50% in the Championship, a blow to those who argue the top flight figure 'just means that the best of the rest filter down to the Football League'. At these levels, there can be no reasonable doubt that talented players are not slipping through the cracks. Then again, as is relentlessly pointed out, 1992-93 was when Graham Taylor's England reign was sliding from disastrous towards apocalyptic.

Perhaps the Times will come up with some firm conclusions in the next few days, or the FA commission - when it reports in September - will do likewise. There are strong reasons for scepticism.

My Guardian colleague David Conn reported this week that three Championship clubs - believed to be Leicester, QPR and Blackburn - are considering legal action over financial fair play, in concert with a League One side - said to be Wolves. While in part the objections are over some of the precise details of the Football League's scheme, including the ways in which it differs from the Premier League's, there is surely an element here of owners' belief that clubs should be allowed to benefit from financial doping.

Meanwhile, Vincent Tan is busy telling the BBC what a great job he has done at Cardiff, stressing that without his intervention they would have gone bust. And he has a point - and it is ludicrous that Cardiff could get themselves into a state where an owner so self-indulgent can make the argument that he has been good for the club.

If we cannot agree that it is madness for the English game to have clubs racked by financial crisis and overpowering debts at a time when football is awash with eyewatering sums, then there is little prospect of reaching agreement about anything that diminishes the clubs' freedom of action in any way or requires them to pull in the same direction, as the DFB did.

Still, we must keep trying. It may be futile to do so, it may be self-delusion to think so, but as long as football has the power to provoke a player such as Luke Shaw to tears, maybe we shouldn't give up on the English game and on English youngsters.

Philip Cornwall

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