Last Wednesday I headed up to London to watch the football. England were playing Norway at Wembley in a friendly, three weeks into the start of the new Premier League season.
The attendance at the match was only a little over 40,000 people, which in a stadium with a capacity of 90,000 is shocking. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the match by a friend, who had won tickets. I, like thousands of others, would not have even considered buying tickets for the match. I’ve been to Wembley four times now, and on every occasion there has been a poor atmosphere. I believe that this is primarily down to dreadful performances. The matches are simply not entertaining. At England’s 3-0 victory against Peru in May, the loudest cheer of the night was when a paper aeroplane, thrown by a fan from the top tier, made it onto the pitch and hit a Peruvian player in the face.
No club in the country has an atmosphere worse than that of the national side at Wembley. Whilst England had 63% of the possession on Wednesday, they created only 2 attempts on target (one of which was the goal from a penalty). The vast majority of the match was played in the middle third, with the ball being slowly played from side to side. The strikers had to drop deeper and deeper in order to receive possession of the ball. There was no invention, no quick passing, and little forward movement.
After the poor performances of the national side at the World Cup, with England gaining only a single point and being eliminated from the tournament in the group stages, this has been heralded as the foundation for a new era. This era must commence with a revolution.
All the players from the ‘Golden Generation’ have now retired from international football, with Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole departing in recent months. The team that started at Wembley screamed inexperience and youth, with three players making their national debuts (John Stones, Calum Chambers and Fabian Delph).
Raheem Sterling was the stand out performer on the night, and for England to develop into a strong, dynamic side, their best chance is to invest in him. Sterling is the only midfield player that is regularly capable of changing games, to beat a player with the ball and to actually make advances.
In two years time it will be the fiftieth anniversary of England’s only World Cup triumph. I have a feeling that the FA will look back with pride and nostalgia, rather than focus on the present and develop for the future. Everyone is so obsessed with the country’s success in ’66, that they fail to recognise the problems in English football that prevent the national side from performing. Maybe one victory is enough for them. It shouldn’t be. England must transform as Germany did ten years ago, when England tore them to pieces in a 5-1 victory. Then and only then do we have a chance of replicating past achievements.