Rio Ferdinand fears England will remain an international also-ran until they rediscover their identity.
Part of squads that reached the World Cup quarter-finals in 2002 and 2006, Ferdinand called time on his England career this summer in order to concentrate on Manchester United after signing a one-year contract extension.
With a high-profile testimonial against Spanish outfit Sevilla at Old Trafford on August 9 to arrange as well, Ferdinand has plenty to keep him occupied at present.
But he kept a close eye on England's depressing performances at the recent European Under-21 Championship and is acutely aware of which countries are shining below that level.
And the 34-year-old is concerned.
"If you watch Italy, Holland, Spain or Germany playing at youth level, you would know who they are without looking at their shirts," said Ferdinand.
"There is an identity with those teams. They have a DNA of the way to play.
"We don't have that. When we won the World Cup in 1966, we didn't copy anyone else. We played the way England play.
"It was our style and our identity. Have we kept it? I don't think so.
"It is all right saying you have some of the best players in the world but you have to put them together and play within a system that works."
The Football Association is pinning its hopes on the magnificent new facility at St George's Park to revolutionise coaching.
Ferdinand has heard the positive noises from Burton-upon-Trent but he wonders if the correct lessons are being implemented.
"It does seem there is a plan in place but it will take a few years to come through," he said.
"The question I would ask is 'are these coaches telling young kids to pass it to someone who already has a man marking them?'. Are they saying 'he has to learn how to deal with it'?. I don't know if we are.
"You give it to a young Spanish, Dutch, Italian, German kid, he will keep that ball until there is someone to pass it to. He won't just kick it away and say 'you shouldn't have passed it to me'. That is the way they are brought up."
Yet it is hard to escape the view English football is not helping itself.
FA chairman David Bernstein confirmed the priority this summer was a single senior friendly in Brazil when many wondered whether some of Roy Hodgson's younger players might have better spent their time at the Under-21 Championship in Israel.
Coach Stuart Pearce has paid the price for that failure by not having his contract renewed, with Gareth Southgate tipped for the job.
Ferdinand has already championed Glenn Hoddle for the role.
However, he accepts it is an impossible task for anyone in the present situation.
"I don't care who you are, to be asked to put down a marker in a tournament without your best players is like asking someone to wave a magic wand," said Ferdinand.
"If you look at the Spain team who won the under-21 title, they had Isco, who, according to the reports, is being courted by every top team, (David) de Gea, the best goalkeeper in the Premier League last season, the winger from Athletic Bilbao, the captain from Barcelona, who banged in a hat-trick in the final.
"Our so-called best players weren't even there. You can't expect the under-21 manager at the time to achieve anything."
Ferdinand remains a passionate supporter of the national side though, just as he is keen to point out a well-deserved testimonial, after 11 years, 432 appearances, six Premier League titles, a Champions League and two League Cups is not the trigger for him to start looking back.
"I won't do that," he said.
"I will enjoy the day but it is not something that will make me sit around and start thinking about what I have achieved.
"I am always thinking about my next game and the next trophy.
"The time to dwell on things and bask in all the stuff I have done will be when I am sitting in my rocking chair.
"Whilst I am still playing it is not in my nature to do it at all, regardless of it being my testimonial year."
Rio Ferdinand was speaking courtesy of New Era Global Sports Management. Tickets for Ferdinand's testimonial are available from www.manutd.com - the match kicks off at Old Trafford on August 9 at 7.30pm.