“Oh, this could be enjoyable,” suggested the over-excitable and frankly tiresome Clive Tilsley four minutes into England’s first World Cup match against USA. For the record, it wasn’t.
England huffed and puffed to a tedious draw against the nation of baseball and basketball, before looking far worse against Algeria. Another similar performance against Solvenia on Wednesday will see the country that invented the sport returning home.
Having invented the sport is part of the problem. Our “proud history” creates some sort of rose-tinted effect, where everyone – the media and the populace at-large – believes we have a right to win the World Cup (or at least to get pretty close). For the record, we don’t.
We might have invented football in England but we have always been pretty naff. The rest of the world quickly surpassed us – Scotland, for example, showed us the short passing game at the end of the 1800s. Hungary, on the other hand, showed us how to play quickly and intelligently in the post-War era.
The last 50-or-so years, 1966 excepted, have shown us to be a second rate footballing nation that relies on kick and rush. Our record in major tournaments is woeful. Added to 1966′s World Cup win is a fourth place in 1990; Sweden, hardly a football giant, has finished second once, third twice and fourth once.
We might go and beat Slovenia. We might then go and win the World Cup. I doubt it but it would be bloody great. If we don’t succeed, everyone will start bleating about the need to change the way we play football. Yet 130 years of kick and rush suggests this will not be easy.
England has a woefully poor coach to player ratio, unlike other major nations such as Spain, Germany and Italy. Fifa sees this ratio as the “golden thread”; the key to success in major football.
Nothing will change unless you stop people shouting “just get the ball forward”. And this is never, ever going to happen. It’s the soundtrack to watching football in England, from school pitches to Wembley. Enjoy the World Cup.