Another Ship in the Night


December 18, 2018

by Kevan James



Hardly a surprise to hear midway through the afternoon, that Jose Mourinho is on his way from Manchester United. What is also not a surprise is that whoever comes in will be appointed with a head of football above him reporting to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

Which may be part of the problem, not just in Manchester but around the rest of English football. I have said before that English football sold its soul some time ago and the flood of foreign owners have resulted in the equal flooding of foreign players, many of whom are rather average and bring nothing to the game, unlike the select few who really are good and do excite.

So it is, inevitably, a foreign manager who will arrive at Old Trafford.

Stellar names are being bandied about with only Steve Bruce mentioned to break the new mould. So what about one of the brightest young managers around, one who as proved he can get the best out of a small squad – and he is English.

I refer of course to Bournemouth’s Eddie Howe. If he was from some other country, no doubt Manchester United would be falling over themselves to get him. But he is English. Like players therefore, he is overlooked.

What a missed opportunity for Manchester United.

Kane Carries England. November 19, 2018

England’s 2-1 win over Croatia (Sunday 18 November, 2018) brought a year of remarkable progress to the country’s oft-maligned national football team to a close.

   Jesse Lingard and Harry Kane’s goals sent England to their second tournament semi-final in two years, the last being of course, the World Cup occasion against…Croatia. The win was, in itself, a turn-around, overcoming a mental barrier that in the past, has been England’s downfall. As I wrote in this column at the time, Croatia won the match last summer because most of their players play to a good standard with their club sides, Luka Modric being the most obvious example. Croatia had to ride their luck at times in the first half of the World Cup game, but good teams have a habit of doing that on their way to achieving something and Croatia have a good team. Again as I wrote earlier, Croatia’s players have significant experience of top-level football and it was that know-how that carried them through last summer. It wasn’t enough for them to beat France in the final but the French team also have that same level of knowledge about them. England, still, do not. So how do England’s players get that experience?

   Having reached the Nations League semi-final, amidst the general feeling of satisfaction there must come a warning; the other three semi-finalists are Switzerland, Portugal and The Netherlands or France. The Netherlands have been outside the top drawer of international football for a while now, which is not really a surprise given that their best players are not playing in their own country but are spread around various other European clubs and not necessarily playing at the top level in those countries. There aren’t as many Dutch players of note as there once was so the national team has suffered accordingly. The Netherlands is however, on the road to recovering some of their previous brilliance but on the assumption that it is France who make the Nations League semis, then the European Champions, Portugal, or the World Champions, France, will undoubtedly be tipped as ultimate winners. Do not write off Switzerland however. Even though they may not have an impressive pedigree, they are another country that, in recent times, has produced a number of excellent players. The Swiss however, suffer from the same problem as England; their players do not have that little extra ‘something’ that comes with playing regularly at the highest level. And since this is the European Nations League we are talking about, then the Champions League for clubs is where that extra comes from.

   Where does that leave England?

   I make no apologies for repeating my remarks of the summer; England’s players must be playing regularly for a club either in the Champions League or at the very least, challenging regularly for a place in it every season. England is a country that has produced the current World Champions at Under 17 and 20 level with the Under 19s the European Champions. Yet these are players that are not getting the game time with their club sides, to the point where one of the brightest young stars, Jaydon Sancho, is playing for Borussia Dortmund in Germany because he was not able to do so at Manchester City.

   However it is done, England’s clubs must be made to play enough of these young players often enough for them to gain the experience they need to have an impact not only on the Nations League semi final, but also at the next European Championship and World Cup. Young players with talent, vision and imagination – such as England have – must not be allowed to spend their time sitting watching in club suits from the stands or warming the bench in a club tracksuit while places and playing time are taken by average foreign players, many of whom are not selected by their national teams. Neither must they be farmed out on loan to clubs playing at a lower level than their parent sides. That principle also includes making clubs in England stop spending thousands on teenage boys from other countries as well – spend it on boys born and brought up in England.

   Only then will England stand a chance of being truly competitive at International level.

© Kevan James 2018.

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