Phil Jones of Manchester United is no Better than Phil Jones of Blackburn Rovers

03/09/2011 00:02 BST | Updated 02/11/2011 09:12 GMT

Any 20 or 30-something viewer of 2010's big film The King's Speech would have spotted none other than 'Mike from Neighbours' plying his trade as King Edward VIII, pursuer of American divorcee Wallis Simpson.

It is quite a career journey; from giving up on Jane Harris to giving up on the British crown. In football parlance, Pearce would have 'stepped up', and critics would point to him now being a better actor since he started working with the likes of Firth, Gambon and Bonham Carter.

Nobody sensible says that though. It is just acknowledged that Pearce's career has naturally progressed - his acting talent is now reaching a wider audience, but it was never in doubt, even whilst he was living with Des and Daphne.

It is rare that football can learn from the luvvies, but the way we treat career progression is one such occasion. The England squad announced on Saturday night made for fairly predictable reading. The headlines the following morning were focused on a new face - Phil Jones' inclusion - elevated from the Under 21s following his £16m summer move to Manchester United. (In fact, Jones was originally called up on the 5th of August for the postponed Holland match, before he had even kicked a competitive ball for United.)

The clue as to the reason for his sudden promotion can be found in the two words that follow his name on the official FA squad release - 'Manchester United.' If we trace the logic through, back in June, Phil Jones of Blackburn Rovers was not England material. Two months later, having played a few friendlies for Manchester United (and looked a bit ropey during the Charity Shield), he is very much England material. A future captain perhaps.

Ashley Young, the other successful United summer signing, has been subject to the same nonsense. His performance against Arsenal was apparently proof that he too has "stepped up" his level and become a better player. The fact that his first goal on Sunday was an exact replica of one he scored for Aston Villa in October 2009 against West Ham (against the England goalkeeper, not a rookie Pole) seems to be irrelevant.

Playing with better players will ostensibly improve the games of both Jones and Young. They will see more of the ball, in better areas, with more potent players playing around them. But surely that would apply at international level too. If Jones has been such a success playing at Manchester United, he surely would have coped well at international level six months earlier, where he would have likewise been surrounded by those same "better players".

Guy Pearce didn't become a great actor because he was in the King's Speech. He was selected for the film because he was already a great actor. Similarly, it is ludicrous to suggest Young and Jones are much improved relative to the end of last season. If they are England class now, they were England class then.

It is time to end the international bias against players who don't play for the Big Six. Explanations for England's decline and constant failure is explained in myriad ways, from the British weather preventing slick pass & move for our youngsters, to the influx of foreigners into our top league. The truth may be somewhat more prosaic - we aren't picking the 11 best players, rather the 11 players who play for the best clubs.

Below is an England team ignoring players from the 'Big Six':

Foster; Neville, Baines, Jagielka, Woodgate; Murphy, Etherington, Jarvis, Barton; Agbonlahor, Bent.

Would they be better than the current crop? It is impossible to predict for sure. I'd back them to have beaten Switzerland at home however.


Weekend football results in Spain and England saw the columnists go into overdrive on Monday morning, declaring that the duopoly of la Liga that saw Real and Barca lose just six league games between them last season, had finally arrived in England.

A more worrying comparison may be to Formula One, a competition also dominated by two or three big guns. Like in the Premier League, income for many F1 teams either comes from oil (Shell sponsor Ferrari whilst Mobil 1 help fund McLaren), or rich benefactors. Teams like Red Bull are effectively just £200m adverts for their parent company, in the same way Manchester City currently are for Abu Dhabi. For Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, read Dietrich Mateschitz.

The implications for football are concerning. Whilst it is true that F1 is still one of television's most sought-after sports, teams like Honda, Toyota and BMW were so fed up of losing cash that they just dropped out.

More worrying could be the implications for supporters. Not a single friend of mine supports an F1 team, and to be honest if they did, I doubt we would be friends for much longer. There can't be many people who travel over land, sea and Monza to watch Sauber. The predictability of it all drains any natural inclination to support a team.

The appeal of F1 is glamour and entertainment; it isn't an emotional one. That way Premier League football lies.

Just before I go...

It is unclear what led Randy Lerner to describe Alec McLeish as, "a very special football man." If it was his work at Birmingham City, Lerner won't be disappointed thus far. McLeish has already emptied Villa Park (as he did at St Andrews), turned the 0-0 into a guaranteed full-time as well as pre-match score (as he did at St Andrews), and is now spending deadline day scrabbling around for slightly strange transfer deals (as he did at St Andrews.) At least he is consistent.