Can It Continue?

By John Cartwright

We have just seen our English junior international teams win two World Cups and enjoy success in several other European competitions.  This fantastic achievement must not be given a short-term herald and then forgotten, it must be recognised for what it was and the reasons for the success must be carefully analysed in order that this situation is not just a one-off but a more regular occurrence.


In my opinion, there are 3 specific reasons for this spectacular rise in our international success; 1. A large number of our professional clubs, at all levels, have employed foreign Managers, Coaches and players over the past decade. This has changed the playing mentality of the game here considerably in almost all aspects of the game. 2. The influx of foreign players has produced both a negative effect on our game as well as a positive outcome. The negative effect has been the lack of senior playing time for our young talent – the positive effect has been that clubs are more prepared to release their best young talent for international duties during the season which did not happen in the past. 3 Our development process throughout all age levels has been more aligned to physical competitiveness and league structures than the teaching of game skills and understanding. This is the reverse of development in most football nations abroad where game skills and tactical awareness have primary consideration whilst physical aspects are allowed to develop as maturity occurs. This conjoining of game qualities and physical aspects at a later stage provides foreign nations with players at the senior level with a more complete playing ability than the players here who remain somewhat weaker in skills and game understanding.

Our long-term problem in the past, that may continue if we are not careful, is the preference of winning over learning throughout football’s foundation years — a correct teaching and learning formula must provide the appropriate work at the appropriate time.  Our junior international teams have always been relatively successful over the years, but it has been at the senior end of the game that the malaise in our playing quality has been so obvious time after time — we’re fit, fast and furious, but we’re not skilled and studied for success at the top.

It will be interesting to follow how this present group of young players will fair over the coming years. Will they hit the top or will success be a fleeting dream as it has been for so many others in the past.


14 thoughts on “Can It Continue?

  1. I think that the loan system needs looking at with regard to young players’ development. A number of years ago West Ham used this system well when they had highly promising young players, such as Ferdinand, Lampard and Defoe, having progressed through the academy system in the club’s various age group teams, but were just short at first team level in terms of physicality and intensity that first team football demands. So West Ham sent them to clubs such as Bournemouth, at that time in the lower divisions, where they got regular playing time in first team football and at that club the coaching during the week was also constructive and purposeful. When they came back to West Ham after several months of first team football at Bournemouth, they quickly established themselves in West Ham’s first team and went on to have good careers in both club and international football.
    But I have noticed that in recent years the loan system has often seen promising young players from many clubs get stuck in the lower leagues for several years and many stay down at that level for the rest of their careers. Many of the England youth players who have achieved success this year in the various under age international tournaments, are now now out on loan. It is important, I feel, that their loan period at the lower level is not excessive and, of course, the quality of coaching they receive at their temporary club is also very important at this vital time in their careers.
    This all comes back to making openings for promising young players in the clubs’ first teams and so the problem is not going to be easily solved when the importance of results, due to the financial implications which consume everything, are so critical.

  2. I couldn’t agree more with the principle of young players being told to win as opposed to being taught to play. I remember a documentary where Mourinho was interviewed (this was back when he was Madrid’s manager), and a question came up about the secret to Spain’s international success. He said, ‘it starts when players are young. In Spain, they are taught to play, in England they are taught to win.’

    Teach a team to play and victory has a higher chance of occurring – too much emphasis on victory could add to unnecessary, unneeded pressure. Great post.

  3. Hi all. It was interesting watching the recent games against Germany and Brazil. In the game against Germany, there was a general lack of individualism in both teams. In the Brazil match there was an obvious difference in playing quality with the Brazilians.
    I am not sure as to whether both of the opposition teams were without senior players for these games, as in fact we were. However, although we defended solidly we still lacked sufficient individualism in both games from players who can produce ‘game-changing’ ability.
    Our penetrative opportunities were not exploited and negative ball possession tended to prevail too often leaving our front players as ‘front defenders’ in the main.
    Our young players introduced into these games looked ok but none, even Cheek, seemed to possess that extra panache that thrills crowds and wins games. We looked organised and physically strong as usual, but producing players with that extra playing quality to ‘be different’ still seems a step too far.

  4. Hi John…I agree that even with the influx of talented youngsters who showed promise, the recent England international matches against Germany and Brazil did not produce many performances that suggest we are any nearer in developing a player who can really be described as a game-changer. I watched Loftus-Cheek closely against Germany and it was clear how his awareness and vision have been worked on by the way in which his eyes were constantly checking around his shoulders towards all sides of the pitch, in and out of possession. He looked the one with the most outstanding talent but it is vital that his potential is fully developed at his club, whether that be either Chelsea or Crystal Palace. He could become a top player, I feel, but it all depends on his future development. I was impressed by Pickford in the Germany match, when, after catching the ball, he sized up the situation very quickly and volleyed an excellent kick into space intended for Abraham behind the German defence but the young striker did not quite have the pace to get clear. Will his new club, Everton, work on him as a true keeper-sweeper? That’s the big question but he looks to have the potential, confidence and know-how. So, with promise also shown by Gomez and Maguire, together with young players, Rashford, Stones and Lingard already in the squad, then there could be a brighter future in store for England but, of course, we have thought that before.
    However, it was rather depressing to hear an item on the news today that there are now more youngsters playing football games on computer screens than the real thing out on the grass.

  5. Chris Waddle has been lamenting the shortage of clever dribblers in British football. Even foreign players who have come to play in our League have suffered. In a piece under his name in the Daily Mail, the former England forward stated: “So why is there no room for a luxury player? We don’t tolerate them here. Adnan Januzaj looked as if it was coached out of him. Eden Hazard seemed to down tools when he was asked to play like a full back. Anthony Martial doesn’t get to play unless he works his socks off.”
    To be fair in the criticism of British coaching, each of those players mentioned has ‘suffered’ at the hands of a foreign coach working in the Premier League, so perhaps this is a wider problem than just a British one. But the development of junior and youth players is very much something that we can and must control. We have seen, in the success of the various England age group teams during this year, that we do have talented young players coming through the system and the ones who got their chance in the recent internationals at Wembley acquitted themselves well. But is there the real stamp of individualism on them? The Brazilians have that extra class which shows itself in the skill, imagination and invention which they displayed against England. As ever, it is our fighting spirit and doggedness which keeps us in the game when we play them.
    Waddle went on to say: “I never worked with a coach who told me to play with two touches. Arthur Cox, no. Jack Charlton would say do what you want, in certain areas. Trevor Francis said go and play. At Marseille they said: ‘Don’t run back’, the best three words anyone’s ever said to me.”
    Waddle was undoubtedly a talented player and it is easy for him now to criticise from the side lines. But he always makes good points and it is the duty of every coach of young players to do everything possible to develop their individualism and dribbling ability. Many youngsters, from day one, are ordered to pass the ball whenever they receive it and so they are denied the opportunity to experiment and try out their own ideas of beating an opponent. This, as Waddle states, cannot be right and these young players are being denied the real enjoyment and pleasure that can be gained from the game.

  6. From being a player frequently derided on away grounds, Man City’s Raheem Sterling is now seen as an integral member of the England team and potentially a key player if England are to have a better World Cup in Russia than they have had for at least the last twenty years.
    Most of the media are crediting Pep Guardiola’s coaching being mainly responsible for Sterling’s improvement. The experts have pointed out how Sterling now prepares himself with the correct body shape when about to receive a pass and creates space for himself by taking his marker away from where he is and then checking back to receive a pass to feet in the yard of space that he has created. Either that or running towards the team mater in possession, sucking his marker towards the ball and then sprinting away to receive the ball in space behind the opposition.
    This improvement, and these added technical skills, are clearly visible in Sterling’s play. But did it need a coach of Guardiola’s undoubted brilliance, but considerable cost, to develop them? I can recall seeing English coaches at English clubs working on their attacking players in this way almost fifty years ago. There was football in this country before the introduction of the Premier League in 1992. The coaching that Guardiola is apparently now giving Sterling was being done by at least a number of clubs up and down the country.
    For some reason, we seemed to stop doing it and so we introduced what we pretended was a new League at a cost of billions, when we could have saved the money and proceeded along our own development path. Manchester City play some great football but this could have been possible with all English players under an English coach.

  7. Steve your first point is correct obviously re half-turn position and subsequent movement being something that Guardiola’s coached…surely Sterling was coached this before at QPR and Liverpool…is it something that’s taken him years to understand???? !!! God forbid if it has????

    Regarding the last sentence… not quite sure I buy this..can you explain your thinking please.

  8. Hi Brazil94….I distinctly remember watching a coaching session at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in 1971, put on by George Petchey who had just become Manager/Coach of Leyton Orient and he was working with a group of their first team players. He was working along exactly the same lines as I have described with the Raheem Sterling example – creating space by either moving away or towards the team mate in possession, i.e. seeking a pass opposite to the initial run (“go long if you want it short, come short if you want it long”).
    I am not sure whether Orient were in the second or third division at the time, but they were certainly not in the top tier. But it was an era of new ideas and experimentation in the English game and it was not considered necessary to import either foreign players or foreign coaches to aid the development.

  9. Steve

    I am sure you have seen many others: Greenwood, Lyall, Venables, Cartwright and so on… I agree…too much stupidity by people who should know better about Guardiola coaching Sterling…sycophants…

  10. There have been a number of instances recently of players diving and simulating fouls in order to win penalties and free kicks, resulting in opponents receiving yellow and red cards.
    This is an unsatisfactory situation and I agree that it needs stamping out. However, I feel that many critics and commentators miss the real point when they draw attention to this practice. Of course, it is cheating and therefore abhorrent, but in this country we have not always been clear when coaching players, about balls which can be won with a tackle and those which cannot. Basically, if players always stayed on their feet when making a tackle then it would drastically reduce the number of instances of players lunging into tackles when the chances of connecting with the opponent as well as the ball are so much greater. Also, if players understood that if you can’t see the ball then you can’t make a tackle, then they would concentrate on jockeying and staying touch-tight to their opponent, whilst working themselves into a position where they can see the ball and therefore make a tackle without committing a foul.
    I think that of even greater importance to the future of the English game and, in particular, the chances of success n the World Cup next year, is the over-indulgent refereeing we see on an almost weekly basis. In the Man City-Tottenham match last Saturday, there should have been at last three red cards. Alli and Kane of Tottenham were guilty of extremely bad challenges. In Kame’s case it was out of character, but no less serious because of that. Alli is gaining a reputation for going in over the top of the ball and late and, as a very promising player, despite what is said in some quarters about the need for a ‘nasty streak’, I don’t think it adds anything positive to his game. Otamendi, admittedly an Argentinian, was the third player who should have seen red for a foot raised dangerously high to an opponent.
    In each of these three cases, only a yellow card was shown, We can be sure that in Russia next summer the card will be red for such challenges. The task ahead of England will be hard enough if they keep eleven players on the field. A numerical disadvantage will almost certainly make that task impossible.

  11. Newcastle United have come in for quite a bit of criticism in the media for their approach to the match against Man City last night. Despite being the home team, Newcastle played a heavily defensive line up and at the slightest hint of danger they pulled all eleven players back behind the ball. It was not until the closing minutes that they seriously attempted to score an equalising goal and ironically they came close on a couple of occasions.
    I believe that Newcastle will adopt similar tactics, both home and away, on future occasions. Everyone knows the money that is to be made just from membership of the Premier League and relegation means losing this wealth, even if it is for just one season. I think that we have reached a similar position to that of Italian clubs in the late fifties/early sixties. The top clubs in Italy at this time possessed the financial strength to tempt some of the best players in the world on to their playing staffs. Most of the lesser clubs could not compete either on financial terms or in comparative playing ability. But the smaller clubs found that if they adopted stifling defensive tactics, then they could get results even against the likes of the top clubs from cities such as Milan and Turin.
    Italian football suffered from this defensive malaise for many years, even though some of the world’s best players turned out each week in their League. Many teams played with these strangling tactics both at home and away, just as Newcastle did at St. James’s Park last night.
    Having turned our Premier League into a vast money making machine, we should not be surprised that struggling members of that League, like Newcastle, will go to any lengths to preserve their status, alongside the giants from Manchester, Liverpool and London. The money men have been allowed to take over and dictate how this League should run and I can foresee more matches of attrition we saw last night, being played.

  12. Steve, interestingly as you’ll know, even a team like ‘La Grande Inter’ during the 60s era under the auspices of Helenio Herrera ( substitute Jose Mourinho in the modern era; and now at Man Utd) regularly – in the big games – pulled almost everyone back behind the ball and played on the counter at 1 nil up. Of course, if you can defend well, and attack on the break – if you know how – it can and does pay. Ironically, think of the excellent Vardy goal against Man Utd recently, in which he set up the 3rd Man movement and arrived in the box for the fed pass. I am sure that Mourinho would have appreciated the quality of the goal and its verticality.

    Perhaps and only a perhaps, Mourinho’s plan in the recent Manchester derby – of sitting off – required the presence of Pogba – due to his pronounced ability counter-attacking and his enforced absence ruined the Portuguese’s best laid plans.

    One can legitimise the attritional nature of the Premier League and the policy of keeping everyone back; in modern parlance ‘parking the bus’. We should expect the tactically alert who are influenced by this league to do something similar themselves. The secret – assuming there is one – is to be able to counter the possession game of opponents and do that well.

    Pep Guardiola is quoted as saying he won’t criticise the opposition’s tactics…he only considers the solution to the problem and we all presumably are captivated about how Man City operate against such tactics…A case of football for the brave!

  13. Hi Brazil94….The Premier League is a money-making machine, and everyone wants their share. It is affecting young player development because there is no such thing as a meaningless match any more, in terms of the result. In years gone by, clubs who had no chance of the League Title, promotion or relegation, gave first team opportunities to promising young players in the latter weeks of the season, because defeats at this stage were of little consequence. But because of the prize money now on offer, slipping just just one final League place can mean a difference of several million pounds when the prize money is handed out. This is affecting the chances of young players getting some much needed Premier League experience.
    Besides the negative tactics employed by Newcastle against Man City, we have also seen some struggling teams fielding a weak team against one of the top sides, believing that they have no chance of pulling off any sort of result. They want to save their best players for the next match, when it is against a team around their end of the table, against whom they believe they have a chance.
    Perhaps, ironically, we shall see promising young players eventually being given their chance when the opposition is considered too strong. But whatever comes to pass, the direction in which the Premier League is heading is not good.

  14. Pep Guardiola was full of praise for Bristol City after his Manchester City team had just scraped a 2-1 first leg win against them in the semi final of the League Cup on Tuesday. As Guardiola said, the Championship side had given Man City a harder game than most of the Premier League teams who have visited the Etihad Stadium this season.
    Bristol City played with courage, organisation and no little skill. Their pressing was superb and they took the game to their illustrious opponents whenever possible. Credit must go to their young manager, Lee Johnson. He has instilled great belief into his players. It is just as important that we develop good young coaches as well as good young players and if he can achieve promotion for his team this season, then it will be interesting to see how he faces the challenges of Premier League football next season.
    I think that Man City were surprised at the way in which Bristol City attempted to dictate terms from the opening minutes. The Premier League leaders are used to teams dropping back in numbers to defend their area at the slightest sign of trouble, but Bristol City hunted the ball down with high pressing. It was high risk when their players left their immediate opponent to support the first pressing player, but because they had clearly put in many hours of hard work on the training pitch, then the hard work almost reaped its reward in terms of a positive result. I think that Johnson had decided that if his team went to defend in numbers and behind the ball at all times, then they would be shot down like sitting ducks, as most teams are in the Premier League. So he took the brave option and full marks to him for that.
    As it is, being 1-2 behind with the home leg to come, is not an insurmountable deficit for Bristol City to recover from, particularly if they play as well as they did at the Etihad.

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