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Wheeler's Midweek Musings: Lowering the bar for England

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Gareth Wheeler
11/20/2013 11:15:11 AM
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Remember when England/Germany meant something?  Two rivals, on and off the field, the fixture has always brought a certain cache.  The history.  The footballing pedigree.  Some of the biggest names the game has ever seen.  The match has always been a statement of intent, with bragging rights on the line between nations no stranger to hostility. 

The two nations' domestic leagues are arguably the most entertaining and watchable in the world.  Yet, the quality and play of the national teams are polar opposites.  Even now, an England-Germany fixture sizzles on the surface.  Until the teams hit the field.

A match buried amidst European World Cup qualification playoffs saw a German 'B' team handily beat England's first team 1-0 Tuesday.  The loss was England's second of the International break and marked the first back-to-back home defeats for the Three Lions dating back to 1977. 

A friendly is a friendly.  You take what you see with a grain of salt, but that doesn't mean true class can't shine through. 

The way a team plays trumps the scoreline in such a contest.  Take for example Brazil's 2-1 win over Chile at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Tuesday night. 

It was a purposeful victory from a team with true ambition.  Quality oozed from every move.  Luiz Felipe Scolari and his side treated the game as much more than merely a spectacle, this was preparation to contend in 2014. 

The term "business like" wouldn't do the team justice, no matter who is wearing yellow, each player filled a role and the talent shone through within the context of team-first.  The ball movement superior, the team effort near complete.

England meanwhile was blasé, failing to threaten throughout. 

Sound familiar?

An England team lacking cutting edge and precision, we've seen it all before.  This isn't to compare England and Brazil.  Perhaps it's somewhat relevant considering England is a spot better, ranked 10th in FIFA's World rankings. 

It's perception versus reality; England is simply and thoroughly mediocre. 

Manager Roy Hodgson pointed to England's inferior passing and finishing as the difference in the loss.  He's absolutely right.  The lack of quality in these areas has plagued the team for decades.  And even when the team had a finisher like an Alan Shearer, they were missing consistent build-up play and team identity. 

Nothing has changed in 2013.  Remember, this was wasn't Germany's first team we're talking about and still, England was out-classed.  At home.

As tweeted by Rob Harris (@RobHarris) of the Associated Press:
"I'm going to be an optimist about this" - the tune rings out in Wembley after England's first consecutive home loss in 36 years.

The upbeat lyrics from the track 'Pompeii' by Bastille were preferred to the bands other hit song 'Flaws'.  There is very little to be optimistic for England supporters heading into Brazil.  Unless the December 6th World Cup draw renders a group with Switzerland, Iran and Algeria, England will be in tough to progress. 

Even if they do advance, then what?  It's plain to see this team is as second rate as other England out-fits dating back to 1990. 

The team was booed off the field after the final whistle from the remaining beleaguered voices at Wembley. They know this team isn't good enough and if it wasn't for an inferior qualifying group, England could very well have been taking part in a playoff match Tuesday, or even worse.

It's the same song and dance for the national team.  The domestic league thrives while the supposed best of the best can't get out of first gear internationally.  These are the same players that thrive in the most competitive domestically league in the world. 

The England side boasts one of the joint top goal scorers in the Premier League and two of the joint top assist-men.  These are important players for the biggest clubs in England.  Yet when they come together for country, the result falls short of club form. 

It's nonsensical when pundits suggest the downfall in the development of English players is due to too many foreign players in the Premier League.  This excuse needs to stop.  The jobs of top English players aren't being threatened by a foreign legion.  That's an excuse saved for those not good enough. 

Top English players star, and play alongside top foreign recruits in the BPL. 15 players active in Tuesday's European World Cup playoffs ply their trade in the Premier League. 

Six Brazilians taking centre stage at the Rogers Centre belong to Premier League teams as well.

I've always been of the mindset you become a better player by playing with the best competition possible.  In training and in games, you need to be pushed.  These foreign players bring the best out of their English brethren and it can't be said foreign Premier League players regularly outshine their English teammates in league play.  But internationally, there's no comparison. 

Blame England's system and formation instead. A basic 4-4-2 is constantly mindlessly rolled out, no matter the manager.  It's predictable, boring, and doesn't suit the strengths of the players. 

England's top player Wayne Rooney is misused and significant talent available is wasted.  Without a generational type player like Cristiano Ronaldo, it's about putting players in roles they can thrive. 

This boils down to identity.  A national footballing identity for England is absent. What is trademark of England football?  It used to be the unattractive long-ball, which fit the size and strength of the players of previous generations. 

This current generation is lost, there is no continuity.  Coaching is part of this.  England's shortage of top qualified coaches, 1,161 elite coaches in comparison to Spain's 12,700 or Germany's 5,500 speaks volumes.  They simply don't know how to get the best out of what they have.

I'll give Hodgson some credit: although the style remains as dry as the Sahara and unimaginative as ever, younger players are getting a look. 

Case and point is the bright play of Andros Townsend, but he's still relatively unproven and far from a difference maker.  There was too much reliance in the past on the old guard. 

No longer are John Terry and Frank Lampard among others the key cogs and that's a good thing.  Only Steven Gerrard remains.  Although Gerrard's club form warrants consideration, the Captain doesn't provide the same product for the national team, he never has.

So here we are.  Just over six months out from the World Cup, and the bar has lowered for England.  It perhaps has not been lowered for the English media.  And perhaps expectations remain sky-high for those choosing to ignore the inevitable. 

The realist looks beyond who plays for England, instead acknowledging the what and how is not good enough.  The bar need be lowered.  This international break has done just that.  Now if we can just keep this in mind come June. 

@WheelerTSN
gareth.wheeler@bellmedia.ca

Wayne Rooney Per Mertesacker (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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