The home of soccer has long been a laughing stock on the international stage. Continual failures at international tournaments have seen the English public lose faith in their national soccer team. I had reservations about England’s prospects at the world cup in Russia however, the summer turned into the best summer of my life.
Last summer, England fans became viral sensations. Social media platforms were full of vides showing thousands of England fans gleefully throwing their pints in the air whenever England scored. All whilst chanting “it’s coming home” and singing Gareth Southgate’s name as the savior of English soccer.
Alas, it was not England’s turn to become world champions once more. However, the world is on notice; the English revolution is gathering pace.
The English Football Association, The F.A., have implemented numerous changes to the national team’s structure and the benefits of this move are starting to show. The “Golden Generation’s” failure at the 2010 South Africa World Cup proved to be the catalyst for change within English soccer. The “Golden Generation” was seen as the best collection of English players ever, as the team had players such as Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerard and Rio Ferdinand, but the team’s failure showed that winning a title needs much more than just talent.
During his punditry for BT Sport, Rio Ferdinand was asked why the “Golden Generation” failed; to which he responded that club rivalry “overshadowed things…it killed that England team, that generation.” Sometimes talent is not everything when it comes to forming a team. England’s top players spent all their professional lives competing against one another for trophies. This prevented the squad from developing a real team spirit as there was no foundation from which a team could grow from.
The national teams that have won trophies have always had real team-spirit and the most recent World Cup proves this to be true. The French national team had a real togetherness that enabled them to overcome adversary and emerge victoriously. The German side who won in Brazil and the Spanish national team that won in South Africa; both showed how important team-spirit is when it comes to winning titles.
The F.A. has restructured the national team in a bid to help create an environment in which team-spirit can organically grow. The manner in which The F.A. is trying to achieve this is by treating the national team as if it were a club side and have coined the phrase “Club England.”
The idea is that by bringing players through the national team’s youth system, as a club academy would, then relationships would form between the players. The hope is that these social relations would then translate onto the pitch. There is now a long list of English first-team players that have played alongside one another in England’s junior ranks. This is “Club England” in full effect. The social relations that have been formed has helped create a team environment which is completely opposite to the one that plagued the “Golden Generation.”
Gareth Southgate’s influence
This continuity is what gave Gareth Southgate the task of managing the English national team. Originally, his appointment was met with widespread hysteria from England fans. His managerial career at the club level was shambolic and many feared that he lacked the soccer IQ needed to revolutionize the English national team.
However, he has proven to be a shrewd appointment by The F.A. Many of the youngsters breaking into the national team were previously managed by Southgate; whilst he was managing the youth teams within the national setup. This has a variety of benefits. Southgate could spot future England players when they were 14/15 years old and The F.A. have closely monitored these players’ progression. It’s why relatively inexperienced players, such as Sancho and Rice, have been given international debuts so early into their careers. This is because they have been known for years within the national youth team set up.
Southgate created a mandate where he wants all representatives of the English national team to play in the same manner, with the same formation. The hope is that this would make transitioning into the first team a whole lot easier as the player in question would already be familiar with the team’s playing style. The F.A. copied the German F.A. who introduced a similar tactic in the years prior to their World Cup triumph in Brazil.
England’s Golden Generation had all the talent they needed to win, but they did not have the cohesion needed to thrive as a team. The benefits of the moves introduced by The F.A. and Southgate is starting to translate into success on the pitch.
The F.A. and Gareth Southgate deserve a lot of credit for drastically changing the structure of English soccer and giving the fan base hope for the future. The definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing repeatedly whilst expecting things to change. The F.A. and Southgate have changed England’s tactics by introducing a model of continuity into English soccer. The benefits are starting to show.
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