The year 1966 was the last time England won the World Cup – their one and only international trophy. To put things into perspective, England have not won an international tournament in 55 long years. Not that England have struggled to produce quality players, the early and mid-2000s saw a plethora of big names – Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, Jamie Carragher – grabbing the limelight in the Premier League. English media touted them as the “Golden Generation”.
But why did the “Golden Generation” fail miserably at major tournaments? The reasons are manifold. To begin with the Premier League failed to efficiently support the national team. There was no set system or style of play followed by the clubs like Spain, Germany or Italy does. Besides, the domestic superstars failed to raise their game while donning the English jersey. England always looked stronger on paper, but rarely looked menacing when they are put together on the pitch.
Lack of Premier League support
Spain’s strength was in possession football. They successfully embedded the ‘tiki-taka’ style of Barcelona to dominate the world. Germany played direct, high-pressing football, while Italians prioritised defence and built their team from the back. Top clubs from their domestic leagues often followed the same pattern.
Players are bred in those tactics, making it easier to settle into the national set-up for a major tournament. Familiarity with the tactics makes it easier for players to blend in with their national teammates. The likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Xabi Alonso, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos slotted seamlessly in their roles while donning the Spanish jersey.
England, however, did not have a set system for the players to follow. Infact, each Premier League club had their own style. As per the manager’s wishes, they play a certain brand of football, making it difficult for the players to adjust to the rigours of a major international tournament.
The demand for quick success from the chairman forces a manager to prioritise the club over the national team. It is difficult for managers to put an untried but gifted English youngster into the first team when their own job is on the line. Buying readymade foreign players for the same position seems a safer alternative.
Young English talents are too often loaned to mid or bottom table clubs to gain first team experience, and they struggle for game time when they return back to their parents clubs. It forces many players to move back to the mid-table clubs permanently, depriving them of opportunities to play frequently in European competitions against the heavyweights of the continent.
Another reason is the emphasis England put on players who can run faster and tackle harder. In other European leagues, technical ability is preferred over physical strength. But in the Premier League, a player needs to possess physical attributes to succeed.
This approach hampers the growth of skillfully gifted players. They struggle to express themselves even more while playing for bottom-half teams, which park the bus at the back and play long-ball football in the hope of scoring a goal. No wonder these players struggle against technical-gifted foreign players during international duty.
Another baffling fact is that no English manager has ever won the Premier League. Current English managers like Roy Hodgson, Sam Allardyce and Sean Dyche look after the mid-table or bottom-half clubs, whose main priority is to stay in the league rather than win it. This will only bring aboard the mindset of not losing than that of winning.
Finally, England have started to embed a long-term strategy following the appointment of Gareth Southgate as their manager in 2016. The results of the national team and their playing style have improved considerably, while the youth teams have been extremely successful in major tournaments. If England continue in the same path along with a bit more help from the Premier League, success might follow them soon.