Echoes from the 1950s as England play the degeneration game
HereÃ¢ÂÂs a kind of quiz. See if you can identify which England games these six observations relate to.
1. Ã¢ÂÂThe modern youngster must not only be thoroughly groomed in the skills of the game but have instilled into him the arts of positioning, covering and team-work.Ã¢ÂÂ
2. Ã¢ÂÂThere is something wrong when a leading football nation struggles to produce players with the technical or tactical sophistication to emulate the skills of their counterparts in France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Spain and beyondÃ¢ÂÂ.
3. Ã¢ÂÂForwards quickly moved onto position. A few passes lured EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs defenders upfield. Once that had been done, a well-placed through-pass [created] a clear path to goal.Ã¢ÂÂ
4. Ã¢ÂÂWhen it comes to football, England players are not very bright.Ã¢ÂÂ
5. Ã¢ÂÂI condemn them for spending ridiculous sums on transfers instead of spending it on the talent that exists on their own doorsteps.Ã¢ÂÂ
6. Ã¢ÂÂThe English players too often made wild passes.Ã¢ÂÂ
The first, third, fifth and sixth quotes were all published in Charles BuchanÃ¢ÂÂs Football Monthly after EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs double humiliation by Hungary in 1953 and 1954: the 6-3 defeat at Wembley and the 7-1 walloping in Budapest. The second is Oliver KayÃ¢ÂÂs depressed, frustrated pondering on FranceÃ¢ÂÂs routine 2-1 victory over England. And the fourth is Martin SamuelÃ¢ÂÂs frank assessment of the disaster in Bloemfontein Ã¢ÂÂ although, in 1954, Buchan makes the same point: Ã¢ÂÂWe have not enough brainy players in the game today.Ã¢ÂÂ
Watching a rerun of England v France, especially the latter stages where the Three Lions lumped it up to the big man, it was hard not to be reminded, too, of another piece the great, much distrusted maverick genius Len Shackleton wrote in Charlie BuchanÃ¢ÂÂs magazine: Ã¢ÂÂTo quote the greatest coach of them all, Jimmy Hogan, our soccer is becoming the wrong type of Ã¢ÂÂBÃ¢ÂÂsÃ¢ÂÂ. Jimmy says football is, above all, both BÃ¢ÂÂs Ã¢ÂÂ Brains and Ball Control, and not Bash and Boot.Ã¢ÂÂ On the evidence of the most recent 90 minutes, EnglandÃ¢ÂÂs technical ability is roughly on a par with WagnerÃ¢ÂÂs mastery of the vocal arts on The X Factor.
Apparently Wednesday evening's edition of The Apprentice attracted 6.9 million viewers, 200,000 more than watched the second half of the England game. When two long running reality TV shows go head to head itÃ¢ÂÂs a tough choice. Here are two increasingly predictable melodramas, with gruff authoritarian figures at their centre, surrounded by an increasingly shambolic cast. Presumably more viewers plumped for The Apprentice because Alan SugarÃ¢ÂÂs English is slightly better than Fabio CapelloÃ¢ÂÂs and, more importantly, at least on BBC1 you had the satisfaction of knowing one of the incompetent amateurs on display would get fired.
You can only imagine what Sugar would say to Gareth Barry...
Does anyone actually enjoy watching England play at the moment? About once a month, my wife buys a CD which she describes as Ã¢ÂÂmusic to read byÃ¢ÂÂ. Under Capello, England are increasingly playing football to read by
If France, as Henry Winter suggested, are playing the regeneration game, England seem to be in the degeneration game. Maybe itÃ¢ÂÂs time, as Bruce Forsyth used to say, to play the generation game Ã¢ÂÂ forget Euro 20102 and build a team around Wilshere, Rodwell, and McEachran for 2014 and beyond.
The mention of Forsyth makes we wonder if the issues here go far beyond football. There was much consternation in England when the legendary all-round entertainer that is Brucie failed to conquer America in the 1980s. But the great Jackie Mason wasnÃ¢ÂÂt surprised. The Americans had heard, Mason acknowledged, that Bruce could sing, dance and tell jokes Ã¢ÂÂ what people had forgotten to mention was that he couldnÃ¢ÂÂt do any of them very well. Maybe that has replaced hooliganism as the English diseaseÃ¢ÂÂ¦