Thursday, June 30, 2016

Will jumpers for goalposts revive England's fortunes?

Woeful. A dreadful lack of leadership. No idea of how to face the future.

No, I am not talking about the Tory Party, the Labour Party or Britain after Brexit: I am talking about the England football team.

Traditionally, after the shortcomings of our team are laid bare in yet another tournament, the cry goes up for more attention to youth. Find the best prospects at a tender age and give them the best of facilities and the best of coaching.

But this time there is a dissident voice. Jamie Carragher wrote in the Daily Mail:
Too soft. The more I think about England's humiliation against Iceland, the more those two words come into my mind. 
This is what England's players have become. The Academy Generation — for that is what they are — are soft physically and soft mentally. We saw the end result in all its gruesome detail in Nice on Monday when another major tournament ended in calamity and blame. ...
I call them the Academy Generation because they have come through in an era when footballers have never had more time being coached. At this point I want to make it clear I am not pointing the finger at academy coaches, as others will do. 
But they get ferried to football schools, they work on immaculate pitches, play in pristine training gear every day and everything is done to ensure all they have to do is focus on football. We think we are making them men but actually we are creating babies. 
Life has been too easy. They have been pampered from a young age, had money thrown at them and, when things have gone wrong, they have been told it is never their fault. Some 12- and 13-year-olds have agents now. Why?
I have a sneaking suspicion he is right. In fact I argued something similar in my essay in Graham Watson's 2006 collection Liberalism - Something to Shout About.

There I quoted an article by Hara Estroff Marano:
Kids are having a hard time even playing neighbourhood pick-up games because they’ve never done it, observes Barbara Carlson, president and cofounder of Putting Families First. “They’ve been told by their coaches where on the field to stand, told by their parents what colour socks to wear, told by the referees who’s won and what’s fair. Kids are losing leadership skills.”
And to show there was political impetus behind this trend, I quoted Tessa Jowell:
Here’s the truth – children don’t want to play sport on badly-drained 1950s scraps of land. They want showers, fences and floodlights. They want quality facilities.
You will say this is just jumpers-for-goalposts nostalgia. And you may well be right.

But it is interesting that the two outstanding players England have produced in the last 30 years - Paul Gascoigne and Wayne Rooney - did have an urchin quality about them. You could imagine them playing football in the street.

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