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.