The Death of the English Play Maker

11 Oct

This is the first in a series of reports that I will be writing over the coming weeks looking at the development of talented English players and managers and also how England really compare with its European neighbours.

This first article looks at picks up on The Football Rambles great blog by Chris Mann (editor of the equally excellent Equaliser Blog) on the deep rooted issues of the England squad  and the key issue the technical ability of players in current crop. When you think of English football and in particular the English Premier League the key messages that are always hammered into you are its pace, intensity, stamina and strength and how any team on their day can beat anyone the last thing seems to be the skill and technique of players.  This is where the problems begin and spread through each level of the game.  Without wanting to sound clichéd there’s a real ‘state of the mind’ in English football that fans want to see hard working honest players, even harder tackles and the ball played upfront as quickly as possible.  For some reason in England if a move takes more than 8 passes it is viewed as being over elaborate, if the ball is played backward to keep possession then this is often met with wild hysteria and criticism, if a player tries something different that doesn’t work first time they are heckled, yet we all slaver over Barcelona and Spain but don’t have the patience to allow it to happen here.  This touchline attitude is displayed right the way from the top at England internationals to the bottom at a kids football match.  It’s no wonder that with one or two exceptions such as Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney that the creative flair player seems to be a dying breed in England.

What we seem to be very good at is producing what I would call ‘Premier League Players’.  You might wonder what I’m on about here but think about it, if your league is about stamina, speed and strength then naturally the players that are going to make it are those that have these same traits.  Probably the best creative midfielder to be developed in any era of English football is Paul Scholes. There is little doubt that Scholes was an exceptional talent and could easily walk into Spain’s current starting 11 yet for England he was ineffective and viewed towards the end of his career as an inconvenience being moved out to the left to make way for Gerrard and Lampard who while both being exceptional players were more of a nod to this ‘Premier League Player’ than a European style player.  In terms of the decline of creative English players this is further supported by the gradual decrease in players who are in the top 5 for creating goals in the Premier League with the number decreasing from 3 to 1 between 2007/08 to 2010/11.

One statement that stuck with me from the new Booted football show on 5 Live was from James Horncastle who said “the bench mark for a national team is are the players in you national team the best players in your domestic league”.  Can we honestly say that this is the situation in the Premier League? A couple of years ago definitely with Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney but with the new influx of foreign players you would have to argue that the best attacking and creative players are currently not.  If we use Four Four Two’s Stats Zone app we get a good picture of who the best players are in the league with the likes of David Silva, Aguero, Anderson, Juan Mata, Luka Modric, Nani, Yaya Toure and Cabaye all leading the way in the way on chances created, passes completed, goals scored etc.  Now I’m not
saying its wrong that we have foreign players as it is good for the game that we have the best players in world however when you look at this in the national context we have fewer players regularly playing in creative positions.  There are currently only 8 English compared to 20 foreign players starting each week in creative positions (centre midfield, wing, inside forward, No 10) in the top 6 teams from 11 players namely Rooney, Young, Welbeck (Manchester United) Sturridge, Lampard (Chelsea) Milner, Barry, Johnson (Manchester City),  Downing, Henderson (Liverpool)and Parker (Tottenham).  Out of these only Rooney and Ashley Young feature in EA Sports index, obviously there are other good players in the league such as the resurgent Agbonlahor but there are no great players or play makers.

So what of the future? Will things get any better and who is coming through?  At the time of writing this the England Under 21’s are currently 3 games into their Euro 2013 qualifying campaign winning all 3 matches including 2 away matches which for me is the true indication of young players ability to progress, but we’ve seen this before with teams of doing well in qualification but falling short in the

Moving forward there are two key tournaments at youth club level which will provide a good indication of what is or isn’t coming through.  The first of these is the Manchester United Nike Premier Cup which to all intensive purposes is a world club cup for the best under 15 teams across the globe.  This is a truly fantastic event with 9,500 under-15 teams from more than 40 countries competing each year. The competition which has ran since 1993 has seen pretty much all the world’s best players from across the last 10 years including Iniesta, Messi, Tevez, Ronaldo, Robiniho, and Torres.  I could go on but one thing that stands out like a sore thumb is the lack of English players to have come from this tournament in its 18 year history to grace the world.  However we are now starting to see players such as Jack Wilshire, Daniel Sturridge, Darren Welbeck and Adam Johnson all of whom have taken part in this tournament.  What’s promising is that all these are creative good technical players who are being exposed to Champions League and now full international level.  The question is will they be given the game time needed to blossom into the creative talents we once had.  You’d be hard pushed to top the creative players England had at its disposal during Italia 90 which featured John Barnes, Paul Gascoigne, David Platt, Peter Beardsley and Chris Waddle but this crop could very well have the same technical ability at least to challenge.

The second competition which is sure to help raise the standards of youth football across Europe is the new NextGen Series which is the brain child of mark Warburton is basically a Champions League for Under 19 academy squads and is the first of its kind.  The tournament aims to help bridge the gap from junior to senior football enabling young players the chance to develop against their fellow peers from across Europe.  England has 4 teams in the first tournament with Liverpool, Aston Villa, Tottenham and Manchester City up against some of European footballs best youth systems including Barcelona, Marseille and Ajax.  I must admit it is a shame this
tournament hasn’t had more coverage as the standard is very high and is already highlighting some talented players we can look forward to seeing in the next few years.  While the fortunes of the English clubs has been mixed with Tottenham beating Inter Milan 7-1 and
Manchester City being beaten by Marseille 0-3 but what is important is the style the teams are playing but most importantly the  confidence and fearlessness the players are showing when in possession.  Liverpool can find hope in the talents of Ngoo and Sterling on the wings who have looked really exciting while Aston Villa look to have another promising crop led by Gary Gardiner and the highly skilful Alex Henshaw at Manchester City.

So the future looks bright for England?  Well there is talent that is certain but is there the quality of coach and processes in place to bring them through and will they get enough game time to develop their talents at the appropriate level?

Coming up next – England A New Hope?


6 Responses to “The Death of the English Play Maker”

  1. FatherWoland October 12, 2011 at 12:24 pm #

    The thing with only looking at the very apex of the game is that spikes and troughs will happen all the time – as if England all of a sudden had two more brilliant creative players then the numbers would look very different.

    As a Liverpool supporter I can’t ignore the emergence of Tom Cleverly at Man U, who isn’t mentioned in the article. Also, our Shelvey at Liverpool looks the business already at 19 – currently doing well out on loan. The figures are further knocked in the past year by long term injury to Gerrard. And let’s face it, if Joey Barton wasn’t a lunatic he’d be good enough for any CL side. I guess what I’m saying is I don’t think it’s as bad as you suggest.

    But… I’ve long had the theory that it’s easier for a player from any other nation to do well in the Premier League. This is because a guy from Croatia or France or Holland or wherever will get a chance to develop and will start playing top flight games early on. In the Prem all of the CL managers can’t take that risk on youth and are far more likely to take the 22 year old who has had 4 years in a good side in France or Holland and has played internationals than one who hasn’t been able to break into his own side past Fabregas or Scholes or Lampard or whatever.

    The only answer I’d have for this is that we should collectively start to loan our younger top talents out to good teams in the lower tier of European football. Cleverly did great at Wigan and Shelvey is doing great at Blackpool – but why not send them to Ajax or Lyon? I think it could make all the difference.

    • the counter attack October 12, 2011 at 4:01 pm #

      In terms of looking at the likes of Cleverly that will be in the next article England A New Hope which looks a t the promising players coming through. To be honest I don’t think you can include Cleverly just yet in the top bracket ashe hasn’t played enough games with United but there is no boubt that he has the potential to be a very good player. I’m not sure about Shelvey, I’m a red myself and think he is the closest thing we have had to Alonso since he was sold. My worry is his awareness on the ball and his timing of pass. This will obviously come with more time at ahigher level but I do worry like Charlie Adam he needs too much time nt he ball where as say a Busquets he only needs one touch as he knows where the next pass is going. I think its a great point about young players abroad but they are aloowe dthe chance as the ebst players are bought so they have to repalce them quickly. I think Valencia are a great example of this losing so many great players but constantly replacing them with a mix of youth academy players and good purhcases.

      In term sof loanign them out I’m sure United tried this with Antwerp in Belguim but it didnt really work but your right more players should look to play abroad if possible.

  2. TC October 12, 2011 at 12:45 pm #

    I am delighted that England are finally producing players that can if not rival, certainly play in the same vein as Xavi et al. The problem seems to be that managers at premier league level are far more comfortable and confident in putting a foreign player into the creative roles. They are oftne cheaper and can play the required role effectively. The finished article is more attractive than the unpolished diamond.
    My solution to this problem, is to turn the tables. Very few English players make the trip abroad and play in different leagues. I am pleased Joe Cole, a creative English player, has gone to France where the style of play will suit his skills. Many World Class players from the Italia 90 era made the journey into the French, Italian and Spanish leagues and succeeded. Gascoigne, Platt, Waddle, Hoddle, Walker, Lineker, Hughes (I know he’s Welsh). Surely it’s time that our English players were encouraged to try it. I believe this is one way we can try and change the ethos of the National team.

    • the counter attack October 12, 2011 at 4:10 pm #

      Mr Crampton wise words as always. I think the debate being had today about money in TV is whats preventing this. Players like the ones you mentioned left mainly because it was a better life style, standard of football and pay, however know you can get the same and more for playing in your home country. Since the inception of the Premeir League this has totally changed good or bad I’m not sure. I always think the best talent will emerge but as you say the players like Beardsley and David Platt who had to drop down a level before coming back is becomign less and less likely to happen because of this constant need for success. I think its a shame that the English experiment at Real Madrid didn’t work better as I think this would of opened the floodgates for European teams to buy English players.


      • TC October 13, 2011 at 1:45 pm #

        Just seen this on the BBC website….apparently a quote from the footbal purist Neil Warnock!

        QPR manager Neil Warnock says he could do the England job “no problem” but he would change the side’s style of play. “Taking 25 passes to get to the halfway line is not exciting,” he said.

        Think that says it all really!

        You might be right about Owen and Woodgate, could have been brilliant but the galacticos didn’t fancy it so back they came!

  3. Adrien October 26, 2011 at 12:41 am #

    Nice article. Its realy good. Many information help me.

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