Without even a modicum of surprise, England exited another international tournament at the quarter final stage on Sunday night. Although expectations among supporters, players and the coaching staff were considerably lower this time around, compared to previous years, there exists an air of disappointment and a desire among fans for the national game to be restructured in order to yield future success.
It is not so simple, however. We must question where the wishes of supporters truly lie. English footballers are asked to compete in up to four competitions during the season: the Premier League, Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup. Quite often, players will travel across Europe for a midweek tie before venturing home for a domestic fixture just three days later.
There is no winter break for a season that runs from August until May, and it is no coincidence that Europe’s most successful national side in World Cup tournaments, Italy, have such a gap in their domestic game. Current world and European champions Spain benefit from time off during the festive period, while German football’s Bundesliga, which is smaller than the Premier League, and lack of a league cup, are of assistance to the national side.
To put things bluntly, English fans can’t expect to have the most exciting and consistent domestic footballing competition in the world and then call upon the national team to deliver in international tournaments after such an exhausting year.
The first problem, which also relates to the quality of the Premier League, is that our current crop of players lack the natural skill which footballers originating from Spain or Germany possess. Secondly, with such a gruelling season in store for most clubs year-on-year, it is entirely possible that an Englishman could play as many as 62 games of football (this number does not include qualification for the Champions League). Counterparts in Germany could take part in 51 matches, following the abolition of the German League Cup. A difference of 11 games may not sound like much on paper, but on a player’s legs and fitness levels, it can have a significant effect.
Therefore, if the FA genuinely are looking to reform the national game in order to tailor it to the requirements of the national side, it is important to consult the age-old mantra of “club before country,” so far the guiding principle with regards to relations within the English game.
What footballing achievement would fans truly prefer to witness? An astonishing FA or League Cup run from a lower league team, and matches played on bitter Tuesday evenings that yield results that are crucial to survival? Or would they prefer the English national team to have the ability to reach the semi final and, heaven forbid, final of the European Championships or World Cup on a regular basis, without overt fortune? Do we prefer to support our club from the rafters of stadiums up and down the country, or sit in front of the television to watch the national team play halfway across the world?
It would be easy for a Manchester United fan to claim that they would prefer the latter, as the Old Trafford trophy cabinet continues to bulge. Even Arsenal supporters, who are suffering terribly from their “trophy drought”, may choose to witness the national team produce moments of greatness every second summer.
However, this writer, although desperate to witness a repeat of the glory of 1966 at some point in his life, is reluctant to relinquish possible cup runs, enthralling local derby League Cup ties, and the week in, week out struggle that Nottingham Forest go through simply to secure their Championship status for another season. Yes, I am eager to experience a 1966 for my generation, but what I desire more is to see a repeat of the glory of 1979 and 1980. If you seek passion, excitement, moments of agony and brief flurries of ecstasy, you have no choice but to choose your club before your country. If you want the national team to change for the better, the time has come to abandon that famous saying.
Twitter | @billysexton