If you ask me before the start of Euro 2012 whether I’d be content with a quarter-final-penalty-shootout-exit at the hands of Italy, my answer would probably be: Yes.
So why I’m still bitterly disappointed with yesterday’s result? I mean, a quarter-final exit for an injury-ridden squad with a new manager appointed just a month before Euro 2012 is not exactly disastrous. Or is it?
What irritates me is not about the loss itself, but the manner in which England made Italy as superior as Spain in possession and the ridiculous number of shots & chances that were created against them were just simply brutal.
Even with modest expectations, England still managed to disappoint. You can’t really blame Roy Hodgson, for which he has done his best in such a short time to re-organize the squad. Can’t really blame the players either, as they’ve performed to the best of their ability. So, who’s the unfortunate scapegoat this time?
It’s the Premier League. Yes, you read it right. It’s the so-called the best league in the world that failed England. See, the #1 problem in this England team (and the recent past) is the lack of technically-gifted players in the squad. Note that I use the word ‘technically-gifted’ instead of ‘quality’. England have plenty of genuine quality players. Ashley Cole is probably one of the best left-backs in Europe. Steven Gerrard’s has plenty of admirers for his all-round ability. Wayne Rooney is borderline world-class. However, you need technically gifted & creative players in order to control games and create enough chances to win a football match. These players are necessities regardless of tactics and playing style of a certain team.
The reason why England were considerably more successful in the 80’s and early 90’s was the fact that they have enough of these players back then. Paul Gascoigne, John Barnes, Chris Waddle, Peter Beardsley, just to name a few. Paul Scholes was probably the last breed of an England player who possessed enough composure, technique, and vision.
When you look at the top 6 teams in the Premier League, you can easily see why their success (domestically & in Europe) are largely based on the fact that they have supremely talented playmakers on their team. Guess what, none of them are English. Man City possess the mercurial David Silva & Samir Nasri; Chelsea have Juan Mata; Arsenal rely on the combination of Arteta, Rosicky, and van Persie; Tottenham Hotspurs own van Der Vaart & Modric. Only Man Utd are deemed exception to the trend, but even they had to persuade Paul Scholes out of retirement for that extra composure in midfield and attack. The main reason why Liverpool have declined so much in recent seasons was the loss of Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid.
You don’t need a lot of these players in a team (unless you are Spain), but at least one or two are needed to make a team tick. All of Euro 2012 semifinalists possess at least one: Schweinsteiger & Oezil (Germany), Moutinho (Portugal), Montolivo & Pirlo (Italy), and all of Spain’s midfielders. It’s no coincidence that these teams have been able to showcase their superiority against most of their opponents in this tournament.
It’s up to the FA to rectify this problem. Focusing on youth development is important, but something needs to be done to limit the number of foreigners in the Premier League. England is not a country blessed with a plethora of naturally gifted footballers, that’s why they need to maximize what they have by giving these players as much playing time as possible.
Jack Wilshere might be England’s best hope for present and future, but England desperately need more than a Jack Wilshere. Chelsea’s Josh McEachran showed a lot of promise the season before last, but has seen his progress stalled with a change of manager and the arrival of Mata. There are probably a few more out there that are waiting for a chance. Unless the FA make some sort of adjustments to the Premier League to better accommodate home-grown talents, England will always be at their current level: mediocre at best.