By John Cartwright
I hope all of those who regularly watch the game here and think the standard is good, happened to watch the Barcelona v Real Madrid match on Monday evening. Perhaps, after seeing the standard of play served up by the Barcelona team, you might begin to realize just how ordinary the standard of play at the top level is here. The so-called ‘greats and legends’ we put on pedestals in our own game in fact come nowhere near the standards set by those who wore the red and blue colours of Barcelona on Monday night.
For over forty years I have denounced what has been regularly called by many in the game and in the media as good or great — just weren’t! I have been ignored as a ‘rebel’ for criticising the development and playing standards here, but Barcelona has proved me correct—–their high, professional standards bear no resemblance to the amateur, mediocrity lauded and accepted here.
Our rubbish displays in the last World Cup were just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ in terms of paucity of performance we have tolerated over many years. Hype and ignorance have camouflaged the full extent of our football feebleness. Barcelona showed the true standards of this beautiful game instead of the hyped simplicity we are confronted with each week.
High individual skill is visible from every player in every position in the Barcelona team. This individual ability was nurtured into a combined team effort when attacking or defending. The players have been encouraged to be individualistic but have also been taught how to combine with others on the practice areas at the club throughout the whole of their development years. Each player, from GK to front strikers, is a master of the game, thus they were capable of providing a ‘master class’ for all of us to see. Whilst we continue to deceive ourselves about the standard of play here in order to protect TV sponsorship, we will fall further and further behind at international levels and rely more and more on foreign ‘imported skills’ to support our domestic leagues.
There must be radical changes to the way we develop our players and get them to play the game. Of utmost importance must be the recognition of who and what we are as a nation. We are British, not Spanish, Brazilian, French or Dutch etc. Each nation has its own national characteristics and each must combine their national strengths to the game whilst recognizing and improving on any weaknesses. Barcelona, displayed a combination of Spanish skill with British physicality in the game against Real Madrid. Skill is learned ability and trainable, but being physically resolute is more often a national trait and is neither easy to acquire or display. We are renowned for our dogged, never-say-die spirit; it’s part of our national make-up; the trainable and easier part of the game, the skills etc. that we lack, should be acquirable with the correct thought and direction applied to the teaching of them. We should be at the very forefront of world football with players and teams capable of playing attractive and effective football —— like Barcelona, like Spain. But, we don’t and we won’t because we continue with a coach and player development model that has historically failed despite numerous attempts to breathe life into it.
Barcelona, I love your football qualities and I admire the guts you have shown to play the way you do. Come on England, wake up. The same spirit and skills that once made this nation a leader in World affairs needs to be rekindled to produce a football culture that can rule and dominate at World level.
If a country like Spain and a club like Barcelona can do it, …. so can we!