Competition

Nature and nurture: Is English football losing touch with the national team?

Rosie Tudball

After a series of scandals and poor performances, the English Football team are facing a crisis of faith from their supporters.

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Russia will host the 2018 World Cup ©Kremlin.ru

The 2018 World Cup is nearly upon us, and after multiple disappointments at major international competitions, the question must be pondered, when will the English national team be successful again?

The past heroes of English football have hung up their boots on the international stage, which leaves heavy legacies to carry for the current England internationals. It’s one of the highest honours in football, and sport in general to represent your country, however, this feeling of national pride in English football has perhaps vanished over the years.

What is to blame?

There are many points of question with regard to the national team, a lack of consistent management being one of a number of issues, another being a severe lack of professional cohesion in the public eye outside of the comforts of the pitch.

With English football comes English football culture. Football in England was regarded as a sport for the working class, at times when hooliganism was rife and alerting, the modern game was still in development. With deep sociological roots to the game, comes a sense of national tradition, a behaviour associated with the sport specifically in England. The country has possessed a huge array of footballing talent over the years; it has also carried countless numbers of unprofessional scandals at the hands of its national representatives.

While revising past success comes revising past mistakes, some mistakes occurring off the pitch where the actions of prolific English players have faced repercussions in the public eye. Such actions aren’t just damaging their legacy but their ability to conform to the title of a role model on the international stage. It could be thought that when such behaviours are portrayed, are national players taking their positions in the national team for granted?  Such questions are elements of the decline of national football – reflecting poorly on results and national support and expectation at major competition.

The story of the lack of professionalism around the English national team camp is best signified when comparing the structure to that of other national teams. The German national team is rigid from the get-go, when a young player is acknowledged by his national team at youth level, he is taught to play the German national team way, with the expectation that he will one day be a senior international. The youth players aren’t regarded as wholly successful until they have reached the peak and played a part in the senior team, however in England, young players are seemingly given far more freedom. Whether this be positive or negative is unknown, however when revising the numbers and quality of young English talent budding through the international ranks in comparison to Germany for example, it’s questionable.

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England u21s vs Germany u21s ©Sven Mandel

The nature of the Premier League is also something to raise, considering its conflicting attitude towards English players and their relationship with the press. Players are either adored to the point of overhype or scrutinised to the point that they become a villain to all but their club’s fans. English football is very club over country orientated, and so, the sense of togetherness between fans when it comes to backing the team is less of a unity, and one player of a club is always to blame – there’s always opposition within the fan base.

It links back in the modern game to importance and ego, when young players break-through in England, it can be a disaster. Clubs and the media seem to react in an animalistic way, as if they’ve never seen young talent of a certain magnitude. It becomes a toxic cycle of the media hijacking the success, welded with clubs offering ludicrous amounts of money to young players, giving them a feel of high worth – as they should – and sometimes a polished ego. Giving young talent so much financial power so young can be damaging, and in the viewpoint of young English nationals, the pressure can be too much.

Professionals in the public eye

As stated, young English players often face an uphill battle with the media, especially at the point where their careers begin to flourish. Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish is an example of how the media’s manipulation can make or break a career. Grealish, born and raised in England, decided to invest his national loyalty with Ireland, as he chose to represent the Republic of Ireland at international level over England.

There could be a number of reasons as to why the-then 19-year-old decided to represent the country of his Grandparents; however, one glaring reason is the role of English press in breaking down his development. Take it back to the summer of 2015, Grealish was emerging as an exciting talent in English football, his contributions to his boyhood club, Villa, had earned them a place in the upcoming FA Cup final against Arsenal after showcasing a man of the match performance in the semi-final against Liverpool.

 

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©Ben Sutherland

As Grealish’s career began to hit the headlines, it all came crashing down as The Sun released images of the young star in a drunken state lying on the street, along with information of him inhaling Nitrous Oxide at a party. The images, despite being unprofessional and controversial, were taken 6 months before the date they were published, in what was portrayed as The Sun’s attempt to trip Grealish up on his road to stardom on the English football scene.

Grealish was suspended and was discredited greatly for a period of time by the press, stripping his confidence bare and causing a rebuild of his career. Grealish is finally on the path to restoring his form of 2015, playing in the Championship with Villa.

The theme, and issue, of the press having an invasive relationship with English players is that it has become a regular occurrence that an international finds himself on the wrong side of the road with the media, giving English players and of course the national team, a negative name.

From Jack Wilshere, to Dele Alli, to Raheem Sterling, young English stars have faced the bright spotlights of the media in a way less desired than how they had hoped. The three have things in common, they’re all playing in the country’s top division, they’re all playing for top clubs, they all represent the national team, and they’ve all been caught doing things they shouldn’t be.

Former England captain John Terry has been at the centre of media attention multiple times in his career, as has fellow former captain Wayne Rooney. While the two have had formidable careers on the field, their actions away from the game have arguably smudged their golden legacies as English internationals and Premier League legends.

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John Terry has previously been scrutinised in the media ©Paulblank

Two weeks ago, it came to the attention of the press that West Bromwich Albion players had been causing trouble whilst on a training trip to Barcelona. Four players stole a taxi in the early hours of a morning, which was news collected by journalists with salivating mouths.

The most alarming thing about the situation wasn’t just the fact that the four in question were professionals fighting a relegation scrap back in England, but also that the Premier League’s longest serving player, Gareth Barry was one of the four.

Gareth Barry poses as one of the poster boy professionals in English football, with a clear record of personal scandal behind him, alongside a solid Premier League record and an admirable leader in the game. The national uproar when a young player in particular is in the wrong is colossal, but when looking back into the pasts of former England internationals, whom are these players learning to act better from?

Young players and people of the English sporting body would look up to the careers of Barry and the former captains as model professionals, a visage splashed by moments of totally unnecessary madness.

It’s these seemingly annual moments of madness that are dampening the spirits of the English national team, and their reputation as some serious and honourable professionals. It is communicated sometimes that the pride to play for your country is not there, as is the discipline to be, and act as a player representing your country at all times.

An upgrade of maturity and desire is essential

Spirits are dampened by a disunited crowd, a team disunited by individual media portrayal, and a nation crying out for a consistent high-quality manager to serve discipline and cohesion on the pitch to lift the footballing spirits of the nation, away from the comfort of the Premier League.

The Three Lions need to show their hunger and desire where it matters most, Russia is their stage, can they perform?

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