The state of English football is a dire one in its current situation. We as a footballing nation have become arrogant and complacent at the fact that although our national team has their shortcomings we have the best league in Europe.
Do we really?
Let’s break it down. I’d say competitively, yes, the Premier League is an entertaining, fast-paced league in which the result every week isn’t a guaranteed for for any team, unlike some of Europe’s other leagues.
But break it down further, what does that really mean?
Our best teams aren’t that much better than the worst. There was a time in the Premier League when the ‘Top Four’ was a league of its own, while the rest were playing for fifth and below.
From 2005 to 2012 the “Big 4” of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal dominated in the Champions League, winning 3 titles and reaching a final in 7 out of the 8 years.
In 2008, we even had an all-English final between Manchester United and Chelsea. Since then we have only seen one team – Manchester City – reach a semi-final, yet we still harp on about how our league is so great.
It is not the case.
For me, the mark of a great league is one where the top teams do well in Europe while producing some of the best players in the process. When teams of this ilk in the other leagues see that they aren’t performing well, they look in-house and try to rebuild from the ground up, creating home grown stars whilst only spending in key areas for World Class talent.
My case in point is Barcelona: Under Frank Rijkaard they won the 2006 Champions League but in the years that followed, both domestically and in Europe, they were somewhat underachieving. The popular discourse is that ‘Pep Guardiola came in and “inherited” arguably the greatest team of all time’ and is now held by that standard.
But no, let’s really look at what happened: Pep came in and saw that members of the ageing and underperforming squad didn’t fit the club’s culture and identity. In order to make this happen, he had to offload them. Players like Ronaldinho and Deco were seen as surplus to requirements and made Messi the main man.
He brought back a young Gerard Pique and added Sergio Busquets and Pedro to the nucleus of the team. Yes they were big talents but they also had been at the club from a young age so they knew what Pep was trying to achieve a philosophy which becomes ingrained in the club right from the infant age groups at La Masia.
From then they went on to dominate, and even provided a blueprint for the Spanish National Team to dominate as well.
It was the same with Jupp Heynckes at Bayern, Jurgen Klopp at Dortmund and Antonio Conte (and now Massimiliano Allegri) with Juventus and Italy respectively. They all took the time out to rebuild and nurture the seeds they planted and have reaped the rewards.
The Premier League’s and FA’s issue is that once the “Golden Generation” (Terry, Ferdinand, Lampard, Scholes, Gerrard and Rooney) had passed their prime and the English clubs started to underperform in Europe, nothing was done to replace them. The culture died with them. These clubs didn’t have a set mentality in terms of bringing up the young players to play a certain style to mirror the first team, so there was no like-for-like replacement to fill their shoes when they eventually moved on.
Instead, they go out and do what they thought had got them success, which was “buy more foreign players to replace a foreign player who just left”.
This is not the solution.
Those in the hierarchies at the big clubs should be thinking of how to create more homegrown stars to dominate the Premier League and Champions League rather than FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League (Yes Chelsea I’m talking to you).
The talent is there, as seen in the England younger age groups successes with the Under 21’s winning the Euro’s and the recent successes of the U20s and U17s in their own respective tournaments. They have proven that they can beat any team Europe – and the world – throws at them, but for that to translate to the higher levels opportunity must be given. Southampton do this consistently and should be the model for the bigger clubs in England. Their constant production of youth has got them from League 1 to a League Cup Final in seven number of years.
Tottenham under Mauricio Pochettino are also impressing when it comes to the promotion of young players, too.
They scrapped the idea of replacing Bale with lots of big signings and focused on young English players who understand the system, so now they look just as comfortable if Wanyama and Dembele are playing or if Dier and Winks are, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the coming years.
My advice and plea to the League is that although Top Four and being in Europe is a big thing, take time rebuilding to create a team that can compete in a few years rather than try the same formula over and over and then struggle to get past the last 16. We are in urgent need of a footballing culture in this country. Make it soon, please.
Check out Karel’s blog, KlifevsKarel here: https://klifevskarel.wordpress.com