England Don't Need To Get Their Freak On

England should be focusing on building the best team rather than a super-freak to take the world by storm. Plus, thoughts on Liverpool and the massive egos of footballers...

Last Updated: 21/11/13 at 14:29

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England Don't Need To Get Their Freak On
Henry M asks where England's freak is. When we had one of the best players in the world. Well, one way of looking at it is if you take the Ballon d'Or award. Not perfect, but by no means a terrible measure. We have several winners of the award: Stanley Matthews, Bobby Charlton, Kevin Keegan (x2) and Michael Owen. Worth noting that Charlton held off Eusebio and Beckenbauer to win as well, and Owen held off Raul and Oliver Kahn. In addition, Bobby Moore, Alan Shearer, Frank Lampard, David Beckham and Steven Gerrard have all finished in the top three.

Ibrahimovic has finished in the top three a grand total of zero times. His best finish is 7th in 2007 and 2009. He's a wonderful talent of course, but perhaps what this tells us is that we are guilty of under-rating our own players, which shouldn't be news. Let me also ask you this. When have Italy had one of the best players in the world? Who is Italy's best ever player? You would of course point to Baresi, Maldini, Baggio perhaps, but maybe, just maybe, Italy are looking over at us and thinking 'When did we last produce a player like Owen, Gerrard or Lampard?'

To finish with, it's possibly worth asking when was the last time that a team won a tournament that contained a standout individual? I'd have to go with Argentina in 86. Since then, World Cups (and Euros) have been won building around a team ethic, with no outstanding individual. You could point to France in 98, but that team was full of outstanding players (and Zidane was banned for two games). The successful Brazil, Germany, Italy and Spain teams of the last 25 years have been all about the team, whilst Messi's Argentina and Ronaldo's Portugal have ultimately come up short.

We don't need a freak. We need a manager who understands how to build a team that has a balance between attack and defence. England can't currently do both at the same time.
Andy, London

Freak Nominations
The obvious answer to Harry M's question this morning is one Paul Gascoigne. Possibly/probably England's most naturally gifted player, he could/should have been amongst the World's very best, but squandered it through his recklessness ('91 FA Cup final, when he ruptured his cruciate ligament) and unprofessionalism (kebab eating exploits etc.). Besides which, you only have to look at Ronaldo & Ibrahimovic's toned bodies (not in a funny way) to see the hard work they put in to maximise their outrageous God-given talents - not something that ol' Gazza could also claim.
Nick Hamblin (at least we'll always have that goal against Scotland), Bristol

...Long-time reader, first time poster in response to Henry (just one player is all I'm asking for!!) M.

I'm a 25 year old Scot and even I know that Kevin Keegan was a bit special in his day. The guy won two consecutive Ballon D'Ors, which is the same number, for the time being, as both Ronaldo and Zlatan combined.

Keegan is also acknowledged, in some circles, as being the first English superstar player.

Just because you don't produce them every decade doesn't mean you never have. Try having Don Hutchinson as the best player in your national team for a couple of years running!
Gav (or "the Jock" as I'm commonly referred to in my office) Lpool

...I don't think England are bad at producing the ridiculously good, "freak" players at all. In fact I think there are kids all over the place who probably have the natural capacity to be incredibly gifted, complete players. Their biggest problem is that they're English. Gifted defenders are allowed to play at their best, whilst the gifted attackers seem to have their gifts either coached out of them, or are mis-handled to such an extent injury robs them of their gift. Or both.

Joe Cole, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Jack Wilshere, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes. I can think of a clutch of players in the past 20 years who are football "freaks" in terms of their sheer ability. Cole, Owen, Wilshere, Gazza - all afflicted by injuries. Cole, possibly Rooney, Scholes (for England) - all either played out of position or asked not to be as exuberant when in possession.

Just forget these players are English for a while. Give them foreign names and imagine Michelangelo Owenio came through the Napoli youth team to play for Italy. Imagine Paolo Gasconio just clinched his mega transfer from Corinthians to Real Madrid last summer. Imagine a 17 year Jacques Wilsheurre breaking in to the PSG side. Imagine Per Schultz pulling the strings in the Dortmund midfield. Can you imagine coaches and teams abroad wanting to reign in all that talent? I can't. Would we think of those players as freak talents? Probably.

Marco Reus doesn't make every pass he tries, you know? Cristiano Ronaldo's flickery and trickery incurred the impatient moanings of the Old Trafford faithful in the early days. With the gifted attackers, it's just my opinion of course, but you've got to realise that with attempting the boggly-eyed, look-the-other-way, reverse through ball some are going to get intercepted. You've got to realise that the 10 stepovers are sometimes going to result with losing the ball and ending up on his backside.

The key is being allowed to learn from it. Allow these kids to learn from their mistakes, rather than to ask them not to try to freaky stuff, as that's just the coward's way out.
Dale May, Swindon Gooner

...In response to Henry M's point about England not ever having the worlds best player - probably true I think - though I do feel that before he was 19 yrs old, Wayne Rooney may well have been one of the worlds best, if not THE best. Seems a long time ago doesn't it. But like many others before him he gradually 'matured' into a more 'rounded' and 'functional' player that could 'function' competently in the Man Utd and England teams week after week. He's had a great career - but for about ten minutes he was possibly the most talented player in the world. Shame it didn't last.
Steven Hunt - LFC

They All Have Massive Egos
Just a note on Andrew Worby's mail RE: Zlatan and his ego. While I won't attempt to change Andrew's mind about Zlatan himself or defend how his ego manifests itself. I would though like to point out that pretty much all footballers at that level have an ego in some shape or form. My point is if you're going to take umbrage with Ibra you have to take umbrage with them all. The two players he mentions alongside Ibra, Messi & Ronaldo, both have massive egos.

The football public already has a well formed idea of Ronaldo's ego. He wears hair gel, has an eye for fashion, beats his chest and publically berates his international colleagues on the field of play(the latest example being in that game against Sweden when in the first half he was being stood up by the full back at the right hand side of the box, his teammates were too slow on getting into it, so Ronaldo has a wild swing at goal and balloons it wide. Cue him giving out and gesticulating to his teammates). Coupled with his precious reaction to Sepp's recent antics and nigh on obsession with the Ballon D'Or, it's paints a picture of a man fairly on par with the Zlat in the ego stakes. But we knew that.

Which brings us to Messi. To quote Dr. Samuel Beckett of Quantum Leap fame 'oh boy'. I suppose what makes Messi's ego more surprising(to me anyway) is the fact that it's taken this long to surface. People like to paint him like an anti-Ronaldo, ying to his yang, the good side of the force. It suits a narrative of people disillusioned with high paid footballers and their antics that there's a guy out there who takes all the stresses and strains, does it out on the pitch and likes to feed the Ducks with his gran. But those who do a little digging will find that Messi is allegedly a little bit of an ego maniac himself. Those who read Guillem Balague's Pep Guardiola biography will be familiar with a story involving Messi humiliating Pep, in front of teammates, for allegedly being told he couldn't have a can of coke. Also, if interested, there's a book entitled The Mystery of Messi which documents the player's more self-serving side. Finally, my favourite, is his alleged dig at Alexis Sanchez, "Considering how bad you are, I've no idea how you cost so much,". Brilliant!

So in summary, those who succeed at the top of the game have an inflated opinion of themselves. I suppose it's a chicken or egg scenario. Don't single out Zlatan because he's more quotable.
Damien(he has a coke when he wants)Quill

Is Liverpool's Success This Year Tainted?
Having just seen Brendan Rodgers claim that Luis Suarez's many indiscretions have made him a better manager, I was hit with the thought that said indiscretions may actually prove to be some of the most important events in Liverpool's history...Allow me to explain.

Over the summer Suarez made it perfectly clear that he wanted to leave, however the only bid we received was the infamous 'Smoking Bid' from Arsenal. With all due respect to Arsenal, I think Luis would have preferred a bid from Real, Barca, Juve or maybe PSG. With no bid from a 'mega club' coming in, Suarez was in a far better position to be convinced to stay at Pool.

Fast forward to the present and we have a revitalised (and less horrible?) Suarez banging in 8 goals in 6 games with Liverpool sitting 2nd in the League. If Suarez and Liverpool maintain their current form, qualify for the Champions League and subsequently go on to become League Champions; I firmly believe the major reason for it will be able to be traced back to Luis Suarez doing a racism, biting a Serb, and diving a hell of a lot.
Conor (expecting replies of how Arsenal are bigger than Juventus) LFC

I'm sure someone else will spot the glaring mistakes in Rob Carey's mail about Ronaldo having scored only twice in the qualifiers. I've not even bothered to look up the stats myself but I know this to be false having witnessed the man himself do little else but score a hat trick at Windsor Park as Portugal came from 2-1 down to beat Northern Ireland (4-2). Boo'd throughout, heckled by just a sh*t Gareth Bale chants yet applauded off the field. He barely had a kick but left with the match ball, obviously disappointed to have lost it was a pleasure to have seen one my generations greatest players in the flesh.
Bri Belfast Gooner(Ah sure isn't it boring giving it to Messi every year anyhow)

In response to Henry regarding the lack of freaks in our league, I would say look at the coaching infrastructure and their priorities. If you look to the archetypal English footballer, trying to overlook the clich├ęs, you do have players who are: fit, strong, powerful runners, work hard for the team, put their body on the line types. We fete players like Terry (maybe not so much now, but when younger), we are excited by pace and speed like Townsend and Walcott and believe that will win out in the end. So if you are not some lion hearted battler or a speed merchant, you will be overlooked.

We all have stories about playing at school. At mine, there was a guy in my year, a skinny Greek boy, who was phenomenal. He had total ball control, was a great dribbler and could pass and shoot. He didn't even get a snifter at the school team because he was slight. Our school team was comprised solely of the biggest lads, and the fastest lads in our year. I would say, at best, 4 of them could actually play, the rest were there so we weren't humiliated by the other schools big and fast lads.

This is the mentality of most football at a grass root, this obsession to win at all cost supersedes the need to develop any discernible talent. As they grow up, if they try a back heel or a step over, they are lambasted, told to stop cocking about, and so they revert to route one. It probably doesn't help that our lads, if they show an ounce of footballing ability, they are at once put on a pedestal, but you know the press and fans are waiting for them to fail. Jack Wilshere is a good example of this. He showed great promise, and then was injured. In his absence we built him up to be better than he probably was, and absence makes the heart grow fonder. Now, with him working his way back from injury, people are kicking him. You need an ego the size of Zlatan or Nicklas Bendtner to be able to ignore that, and so he isn't able to play into form and show his natural talent.

The point I am tortuously trying to make is that we coach the freaks out of our game. We leave the flair and skill to our foreign imports, and leave the graft to our boys.
John Matrix AFC

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