England’s Poor Travellers

We live in a country where players from far and wide arrive on our shores, looking to make a name for themselves in England. The Premier League is now an eclectic mix, with players from as far afield as the Democratic Republic of Congo and Oman currently plying their trade in the English top tier. Of course such vast numbers of foreigners arriving to play in England is a compliment to the standard of the Premier League and emphasises the lure of English football. However, why do English players not reciprocate the travelling traits the way their foreign counterparts do? La Liga, the Serie A and the Bundesliga are arguably as good as the Premier League, while others would claim La Liga was better. However, we rarely see an Englishman don the kit of a foreign club side. The only notable mention in recent years has been David Beckham’s exploits abroad, but few follow the ex-England captain’s lead. This lack of adventure and exploration by the current crop of English footballers, could explain the rather lack-lustre performances by the national side in recent notable competitions.

As you go through the team sheet for England’s 1 – 0 victory against Wales at Wembley last week, you will notice that every player named in Capello’s squad plays for an English club. Compare this to Spain’s World Cup winning squad, where four of the side’s best players perform abroad. Pepe Reina, Juan Mata, David Silva and Fernando Torres all play their football in England, thus allowing themselves to understand a different footballing culture and take this to the Spain side when on national duty. Similarly if you look at World Cup runners up, Holland, their side plays in a verity of different countries, six in total. There is a reason why these sides managed to reach the final of the world cup, and although immense quality was a factor, the players who represented Spain and Holland were experienced pros who had plied their trade across Europe. When going into important international fixtures, the difference between two sides can simply at times be how a team copes with the opposition’s style of play, something which clearly Spain and Holland will have been comfortable with doing, due to many of their players having experienced playing abroad. England on the other hand know how to play one way, the English way and due to the narrow mindedness of players refusal to travelling abroad, they struggle when a foreign side follow a different ethos towards football.

With another summer of foreign arrivals in England, you will be sure to see the regular occurrence in the first couple of months, of foreigners adapting to the English style of fast flowing, physical football. It is the biggest challenge for a new player moving to England, who is unused to the physical side of the game in our country. However, after a month or two of transition to the English way, the foreigners begin to find their stride, with many players enjoying great success in the English leagues. You only have to look through recent history to notice the impact many foreigners have on the English game, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Thierry Henry and Ruud Van Nistelrooy all being awarded the PFA Player of the Year in the past ten years. English players never get the opportunity to adapt to a different style of play because of the refusal to move abroad. Foreigners who move to England adapt to the English way, similarly players moving to Spain adapt to the Spanish mentality of football, but this is a privilege few English players seem to want to have. Instead, English players stay in the English mentality, both for their clubs and internationally and it is having an effect on the national side. Managers have been hired and fired for England, and various line ups and formations have been used to bring success to the national side, but still England are trophy less for over 45 years. It is clear that England’s problem is not the manager nor the players, but potentially the narrow mindedness of many in the England camp.

One major lure to stay in England for English players is the money that the Premier League brings. Even if a player has gone off the boil, like Peter Crouch at Tottenham Hostpur, he is safe in knowing he will still earn up to £30,000 a week, which he could not demand from clubs of a similar stature to Stoke abroad. The Premier League clubs are economically stronger than their counterparts on the continent and in knowing this English footballers can stay settled in the UK without having to conquer the challenges that many foreign national side players decide to endure to benefit their careers. For England to move forward as a footballing nation, the players have to show more adventure to explore the possibilities of foreign football and the opportunities a different culture will bring. Special mention has to be given to Joe Cole, for his decision to take a loan deal at French champions Lille, to rejuvenate his career after a dismal spell at Liverpool. Cole is one of very few Englishmen in recent years to take the plunge of a foreign challenge, and after one appearance Cole is already beginning to enjoy his new challenge. One assist in his first appearance against St Etienne and a generally impressive performance, has left him claiming the opportunity to play in a new culture as having the possibility of turning his career around. Others should take note.

Gone are the days where some of England’s and Scotland’s greats would be playing abroad. In the 1980s and early 90s, Keegan, Waddle, Lineker, Platt and Francis all took the challenge of playing abroad and it made each of them a better, more rounded and more experienced player. Today, we have an English national side who only know one way to play, who struggle against more travelled footballers on the international stage and who yet still fail to explore the opportunities of foreign football. There would be a remarkable difference in the England national side, if we had players playing for clubs in Germany, Italy, Spain or France, as the depth of knowledge in our players would be much more rounded. The English players cannot get on an aeroplane quick enough during their summer break, so why not take their careers away from English shores. Lets hope for the future of English football more players take Joe Cole’s lead or “the years of hurt” are unlikely to go away any time soon.

David P Harrison


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