I’m going to ask you to cast your minds back to a dark and miserable time. Remember when you had to be on your guard not to get your boxers pulled down in the boys changing room at school? When you were convinced your parents were a combination of Atilla the Hun, Robert Mugabe and Dr Kelso from Scrubs? When Pro-evo was better than Fifa? Fortunately these times are gone. I don’t have to worry about getting kegged in the changing rooms by cavorting cretins, my parents are surprisingly human and Fifa has banished Pro-Evo – seemingly taking over every moment of my spare time in the process.
Everything changes. I would like to think at the age of nineteen I have another sixty or so years left on the clock to see the world change. As I become the aging granddad of the family who sits pretending he is deaf and making inappropriate jokes, I fear that English Football may find itself in that same role in the international football family. God forbid that it should die before I do. It is now forty six years since we won a major international trophy and Englishmen are growing used to the idea of international inadequacy. Nonetheless I often hear pundits and pissheads alike saying things to the tune of ‘Oh yeah but we still have the best league in the world, it’s the most exciting. English football is proper football.’
Proper football?! This suggests a sense of entitlement in which Englishmen seem to think that because England is the birthplace of Association Football, our league is the best and always will be. With this attitude and unwavering self-belief English football will be lucky if it doesn’t find itself dumped next to Scottish football on Europe’s scrap heap. The Premiership does not provide the quality it did even five years ago as a generation of brilliant players head towards that age where you enjoy Antiques Roadshow and walking holidays… Where is the world-class youth to propel English clubs to back to Champion’s League form coming from?
Whilst pundits like Garry Neville talk about the typically ‘passionate’ and ‘physical’ English football we all find so entertaining, players like Xabi Alonso are pointing out our obsession with tackling, our fixation with individual players and our worrying disregard for our youth teams. Our enjoyment of English football comes from the success of English teams on the European stage, if that club-level success were to mirror our dismal international side, I am sure that the Premiership would suffer the same fate.
But all is not lost. We certainly have a long way to go until English football is out of the woods, but fortunately our neighbours Spain and Germany have left us a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. Both of their domestic leagues are on the rise, symptomatic of their thriving and youthful international presences. Both countries can play the passionate and physical game, but they are also technically gifted and have footballing intelligence due to a network of well oiled youth systems. English Football is looking tired and dated. Let us hope that we see the sense and follow their trail, rather than limping further into the forest where English football will meet a miserable end.