A familiar tale | England‘s penalty defeat cannot be allowed to mask the deficiencies in player development and technical ability. (Image | Yahoo)

Listening to BBC Radio 5 Live last night was rather masochistic on my part, as unlike the somewhat jingoistic commentators on television, callers in to the show seemed to accept England’s latent failings far more readily. The host, Alan Green, was typically honest about the nation’s footballing shortcomings, and once again called for root and branch reform. While many find the Ulsterman to be a deeply off-putting, often infuriating presence on the radio, he is right. We cannot carry on like this.

It has been said time and time again, but the FA operates not on a long-term basis, but the worst type of short-termism. Please the fans, reach the quarter finals, suffer a heroic exit on penalties and we can forget the dearth of young talent in the English game, the fact that we were entirely outplayed by a far from vintage Italy for 120 minutes, and our inability to keep the ball and dominate matches at the pinnacle of European football.

When Germany were humiliated at the European Championships in 2000, a plan was unleashed by the German FA which bore fruit in 2006, and has continued to do so ever since. The plethora of stars that have been brought through the country’s youth system is staggering: Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Philipp Lahm, Lukas Podolski, Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Mario Gomez, Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels, Holger Badstuber, Jerome Boateng and Marco Reus. More names could be added to this list, which is by no means exhaustive, despite its length. How many players of true technical ability have England produced since 2004? Very few.

Capitulation | After Germany exited Euro 2000 bottom of the group stages, the nation wasn’t allowed to rest on its laurels. (Image | Sports Illustrated)

Like the Germans, we suffered an exit at the group stages in Belgium 12 years ago. Over the past decade or so, the England national team has remained fairly constant, relying on the natural talent of Wayne Rooney for goals, and the perennially over-hyped midfield pairing of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard for much of this period. Every time a major tournament comes around, England become a “world class” team. We have players capable of taking on and beating the best. This is such a fallacy it is untrue.

At this tournament, the Three Lions were probably expected to exit the group, a long way behind the French, before falling to defeat at the hands of any competent European nation. Yes, we topped the group, and yes, we went unbeaten, but like our heroic penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands of the Italians, pointing to these positives is merely papering over the cracks.

Roy Hodgson is a defensive manager, he fundamentally prepares teams that are stubborn and hard to beat. These qualities, along with persistence and commitment, characterised England throughout this tournament, and are to the credit of the manager, and his players. Having “questioned” the inclusion of Liverpool’s Glen Johnson in the squad, it is fair to say that the full back had a fantastic tournament, and was easily England’s best player last night. But heroism, throwing bodies in the way of shots, and conceding possession readily to the opposition are not the sort of qualities that ought to be associated with an international team, particularly one ranked sixth in the world by FIFA. They are the attributes commonly ascribed to FA Cup minnows who spring surprises on complacent Premier League clubs.

A history of failure | One can only hope the “penalty problem” doesn’t override the debate into the more systemic and long-term problems with the English national side. (Image | MEN Media)

Last night, England had no surprise to spring. We were well and truly found out by a far superior ball playing side, and one that cannot even be described as a “great” team. The Italians will be taken apart by Germany, and the final will be the one we all predicted from the start. Spain and Joachim Low’s Germany, the two best technical sides in European football, one of whom has a true golden generation, the other a seemingly never ending conveyor belt of exceptional talent. The construction of St. George’s Park, the youth development centre financed by the FA, is due to be completed this year. It cannot come soon enough.

Supporters must now accept that to have a successful national team, we must sacrifice the riches of the Premier League. However, no clubs are prepared to do this, nor are the men who run the game. Only a fool would reject his slice of the pie, and Richard Scudamore is no fool. Nor is Roman Abramovich. Manchester City’s bankrollers, Tony Fernandes, Dave Whelan, none of them will put England above their immediate interests. It might be wrong for us to expect them to. So what is the solution? We could try exporting players abroad. It worked in the past, and it’s something commonplace for Spanish, Brazilian, Italian, Argentinian and Portuguese footballers.

However, the players must be of a certain standard to become targets for foreign clubs. At the moment, they simply aren’t. There was a reason Andrea Pirlo scoffed at the suggestion that playing England would be anything but a walk in the park. The midfielder dominated the game so absolutely in Kiev that it posed the following question. Why can’t England produce a footballer with the technical ability of the Juventus playmaker. I think I’ll let James Horncastle answer that one.

Well said.

Tweet the author | @chriskking

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