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Echoes from the 1950s as England play the degeneration game

HereâÂÂs a kind of quiz. See if you can identify which England games these six observations relate to.

1. âÂÂThe 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.âÂÂ

2. âÂÂThere 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 beyondâÂÂ.

3. âÂÂForwards quickly moved onto position. A few passes lured EnglandâÂÂs defenders upfield. Once that had been done, a well-placed through-pass [created] a clear path to goal.âÂÂ

4. âÂÂWhen it comes to football, England players are not very bright.âÂÂ

5. âÂÂI condemn them for spending ridiculous sums on transfers instead of spending it on the talent that exists on their own doorsteps.âÂÂ

6. âÂÂThe English players too often made wild passes.âÂÂ

The first, third, fifth and sixth quotes were all published in Charles BuchanâÂÂs Football Monthly after EnglandâÂÂs 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 KayâÂÂs depressed, frustrated pondering on FranceâÂÂs routine 2-1 victory over England. And the fourth is Martin SamuelâÂÂs frank assessment of the disaster in Bloemfontein â although, in 1954, Buchan makes the same point: âÂÂWe have not enough brainy players in the game today.âÂÂ

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 BuchanâÂÂs magazine: âÂÂTo quote the greatest coach of them all, Jimmy Hogan, our soccer is becoming the wrong type of âÂÂBâÂÂsâÂÂ. Jimmy says football is, above all, both BâÂÂs â Brains and Ball Control, and not Bash and Boot.â On the evidence of the most recent 90 minutes, EnglandâÂÂs technical ability is roughly on a par with WagnerâÂÂs 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 itâÂÂs 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 SugarâÂÂs English is slightly better than Fabio CapelloâÂÂs 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 âÂÂmusic to read byâÂÂ. 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 itâÂÂs time, as Bruce Forsyth used to say, to play the generation game â 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 wasnâÂÂt surprised. The Americans had heard, Mason acknowledged, that Bruce could sing, dance and tell jokes â what people had forgotten to mention was that he couldnâÂÂt do any of them very well. Maybe that has replaced hooliganism as the English diseaseâ¦