I’m about as unbiased as it comes when talking about the home nations’ football teams. Being born in England of a Welsh dad and a Scots mother, I still have sympathy with the Northern Irish purely because I don’t want them to feel left out.
So what’s happened to the state of the nations? Why are England the only one qualifying (sorry, Ireland – but by your own admission you need a miracle now)?
There are three factors that I can spot a mile off. I’ll deal with the first as it’s not purely an England thing:
1) Foreign manager
Yes, I know the Scots had Bertie Volks who’s German hence why I said this isn’t a purely English situation. We just happened to get someone who’s turned out to be really good. Eriksson wasn’t bad, either. However, should we be allowed to have a foreign coach? After all, we’re not allowed foreign players in the national squad.
If we can’t find a decent enough English coach, then surely that should be our problem and we should have to settle for the best we can find. The same as if we struggle for strikers, or goalkeepers, or left-footed wingers.
My opinion on this is that if you appear above a certain level in the FIFA rankings as a national team (or by some other dividing line) your coach must satisfy the same nationality requirements as any other member of the squad. This would allow for fledgling nations to have someone with experience elsewhere brought in (like the mackem bastard Reid in Thailand) to give the team structure and knowledge. With luck, the team progresses at which point when that manager leaves he must be replaced with a national of that country.
Obviously, this means England should have an English manager. I don’t care what some of the die-hard bunch say – if we won a world cup under an Italian manager it would take some of the gloss off it for me.
2) Population size
There are more people in London alone than in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland combined. England simply has a bigger pot to pick players from than any other home nation.
Look at the teams way down the rankings. Compare them to the population of their country. There’s a ridiculously obvious link between placement and population. It’s not hard and fast, I’m sure, but the pattern is there.
Think about it. If a person has a 0.05% chance of developing into a football player of any calibre at all, then the larger the pool of potentials you have to pick from, the larger the number of finished articles you’ll have.
Short of a rule change – such as going as far back as grandparents’ countries of birth to decide nationality – there’s nothing Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Faroe Islands, Andorra or anywhere else can do about this.
3) Foreign players in the game
This seems to be being addressed by FIFA although the European Court of Interfering Bastards seem to be doing their utmost to stop it. The upcoming regulations will, over seasons, force teams to field (or at least have on their books – I need to check) gradually more and more home-grown players up to a certain ratio.
Right now, you name me an English Premier League club that regularly fields more than three English players. By that I mean, they start and play pretty much ninety minutes of each game on the trot.
Now, do the same with Scotland. Rangers and Celtic are (and no offence to whoever finishes third each season) the only teams to play at any reasonable level. And they’re both chock full of foreigners. The other teams in the SPL and lower leagues all have far more Scots players than the equivalent EPL teams have English ones. But they’re not up to the standards of the Big Two due, in part, to point 2 above.
Wales don’t have a hope in hell as the only teams in the country that are remotely good are playing in the English leagues. Cardiff is probably the largest “force” in Welsh football and they’re currently in the English second tier. I know – we play them on Sunday afternoon.
Without looking things up, I can’t comment on the Irish league. However, I would suspect that – as with any decent Scot or Taff – they get drawn to the English (or other overseas) leagues for the cash.
Why nurture your own talent when you can buy it from a small village in Argentina? Why take a risk that the 8 year-old from Kilmarnock with excellent ball skills won’t peak when he’s 11? Just buy a pre-developed striker from AC Milan instead.
Remember the last time England were any good? I’ve made this point on other blog posts, but at one time the core of the England squad all played for Newcastle. Four years later, they were all Manchester United players. They played as a squad week in, week out. Now we’re picking two from one team, one from elsewhere, another from another and so on. We have a collection of talented players, but a weak team. Of course, on recent outings this has finally come together. It’s taken a lot of years and several managers, though.
These are the problems that I think face British football. England have been lucky in recent years that we have had some decent talent come through. But we don’t have that much depth as regards a good squad. It’s purely our (England’s) population that’s keeping us top of the British “League”.
So please don’t blame Craig Burley. On the strength of their performance last night I think Scotland achieved all they could with the resources they have. Just unlucky finishing – and the lack of a top-class striker who can compete with the Rooneys, Henrys and so forth of this world – stopped them hammering the Dutch.
The worst thing Scotland could do is to sack Burley. The best thing they could do would be to embrace the FIFA regulations and force Rangers and Celtic to field a minimum three Scots-bred players.