- When I was a kid, the excitement associated to the anticipation of pre-season was almost unbearable. Every season, you’d look at your squad and think, “this could be our year”. As a Villa fan, that misguided belief would now be laughable. It must be a shame for all these Brummies growing up and never, ever thinking: “This could be our year”.
- Go to football. There’s a severe lack of kids. Why? Well, the lack of competition – producing a lack of anticipation – could be one thing. Expense is another; who can afford to travel round the country with their kids? Computers are also significant. Most kids would probably rather play Fifa then watch the Premier League. And if they do, they won’t pay for a ticket, or pay for a Sky subscription. They’ll watch if free on the interweb.
- In fact, there’s a severe lack of anyone. Newcastle got just over 40,000 for their match against the Villa last week. That was the Toon’s first match at home in the Premier League since they’d been promoted. Villa, for their part, have been associated to an (unproven) 40% drop in season ticket sales. Their lovely local rivals Small Heath attracted just 6,000 for their mid-week League Cup match against Rochdale. Meanwhile, attendance figures for games have been modified to include tickets sold rather than people actually in the ground. I wonder why…?
- The reason people don’t go to matches is because football is bloody expensive, and you’re basically paying for flash gits to drive round in stupid cars with naff paint schemes. These flash gits finally got their comeuppance at the World Cup, when the so-called Golden Generation exposed itself as an over-rated generation that, well, couldn’t give a toss.
- You know how everyone loved football after Italia ’90? Well, South Africa 2010 will be like 1990 – except in reverse. Everyone has finally woken up to the fact that the Premier League is uncompetitive, the ‘Chumpions League’ is a closed shop for rich swines and the players are nowt like us ordinary peasants. Bring back trips to Brum with my Dad as a kid, stopping at the sweet shop in Aston to buy a bag of chocolate éclairs and then watching the Villa lose 2-0 at home to Charlton in the pouring rain. At least I used to be able to think next year could be our year (expect it never was, of course).
Common consensus has it that a player peaks at about 27 or 28. Clubs traditionally look to buy players in their mid-to-late 20s, knowing they’ll have four years at the top of their game. That pattern is slowly changing.
Arsene Wenger has made a career of selling players in their late 20s at the Arsenal. When he sold Thierry Henry to Barcelona in 2007, it was a controversial move – Henry was at the top of his game. Now, three years later, the sale of the then-29-year-old seems like a master stroke. Henry has never recaptured his best form for Arsenal.
Now look at the England team. The average age of the England squad at the 2010 World Cup was over 28; they were well-beaten by a team (and that word in the case of England’s defeat is also an explanation) that was on average four years younger. Even England’s younger players – such as Rooney and Milner – are experienced; both started their first team careers at 16.
The peak in football is no longer 28. It’s more like 26, possibly younger. England need to freshen their team up but the problem is that there are few talented youngsters coming through. Just James Milner was a member of England’s 2009 U21 European Championship team, a side that lost 4-0 to Germany in the final. Four of Germany’s side yesterday came from that triumphant team.
England need a younger team. But while Lampard et al might look spent at international level, there are no young replacements coming through. Once again, it comes back to the way we produce football players – and the bad news for England is that the talent simply isn’t there. Welcome to the international wilderness. We might have to get used to it.
“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.