Foreign Bodies

Lennart Johannsen has today explained where English football has failed, blaming the presence of too many foreigners in The Premiership for the failure of the England team at this World Cup. In particular he has singled out Arsenal as a case in point for the failure to include any Englishmen in the starting XI for the Second Round and Quarter Finals.

This ignores the fact that the English Head Coach was unable to prepare his squad sufficiently for the physical and mental tests of a knockout competition. It ignores the fact that Eriksson picked an wholly inappropriate squad, opting to take Jenas and Walcott instead of Defoe and Bent for the forward line. It ignores the fact that Eriksson was tactically naive for the last three games of the tournament. And more importantly, it ignores the incredible stupidity of Wayne Rooney.

Before the 2005/06 season started, Eriksson bleated that the players would be tired if they did not get a four week break between the end of the domestic season and the start of the World Cup. Not only did the FA take note but also FIFA decreed that this would be the case. So why were the players so woefully underprepared physically. A telling pointer to this being the coaches fault is the difference between the Germans and English. Man for man, England were as good if not better than the hosts. Physically and mentally, the hosts were Premiership quality whilst England were Third Division. Could some of the difference have been the backroom setups? The Germans were packed with fitness trainers, psychologists and the like, the English were not. Could it also be true that by preparing his team in the Sicilian Sun with endurance training to fore helped Klinsmann’s team maintain their fitness whilst England who trained early in the morning and rested when the sun was at it’s peak? Many people were not in favour of Sam Allardyce as England manager but one thing that he should be given much credit for is that his charges are some of the best prepared players physically and mentally, outside of the top four clubs.

Tactically, Eriksson has two formations, 4-4-2 or 4-5-1. And whichever option he chose, the players stuck to rigidly. There was little fluency to their play which all of the top domestic sides have and the very good international teams also possess. Eriksson also struggles with tactical substitutions, lacking the motivational abilities to inspire change.  Famously compared to Iain Duncan-Smith by Gareth Southgate, he does not appear to be a leader who inspires troops to their heights, rather he allows their own personal motivations to do the job for him. And sometimes this is not enough.

Johannsen does have a point in some respects but in picking on England, he has somewhat limited himself in his arguments. Noticeably, the Italians are the only top league where imports are not in the majority. African and Eastern European players dominate the German and French Leagues, South Americans the Spanish. Yet this was not always the case, certainly during the 1980’s and 1990’s when Italy was the destination of choice for top stars. It did not impede The Azurri however – two World Cup Finals in 1982 and 1994 are not a bad return. Even so, most of Sunday’s France line-up have or already do play abroad. More will follow.

England’s fundamental problem is two – fold. Firstly, technical ability is not as good due to the style of play domestically. Speed is of the essence. Killing the ball and dribbling are not high priorities but the technical skills are catching up, the influence of foreign players and coaches is a positive in this respect. The second is the cost of buying an English player is prohibitive in a lot of cases – £20m for Michael Carrick is being bandied about and he is not considered a World Class midfielder. It is little wonder that the major clubs look abroad when recruiting.

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