The Blog

The England Football Team: A Theory

It is just possible that England's disappointing performances at World Cups and Euro Championships are in part down to injury and a fear of injury and what that will mean for their future. Just a thought....

It is now a couple of days since England's defeat to Iceland. One might point out that Iceland are actually in the Euros on merit and actually have a decent team. They also have an experienced coach (the one that is not a dentist) who clearly did his homework on England's defensive frailties.

The reaction to the early exit has been entirely predictable and we have seen it many times before. New manager, new framework, complete overhaul of coaching etc etc. Those suggesting this was the worst English performance of all time clearly do not remember Euro 2000 and should so Iceland a bit more respect.

If you look back in history, if you take tournaments that England have hosted out of the equation, the country rarely does well and sometimes does not even qualify. But in 1992 we saw the advent of the new dawn: The Premier League. The new league saw an influx of foreign players to the English game and my recollection was being told that this influx would be good for English players as they could work closely with these overseas superstars and learn from them which would be of great benefit to the young English players. 24 years later, the England team's performance appears no different.

However, England has produced some fabulous players in that time including a so called "Golden generation" of footballers for which there was great hope. The England players of 2016 are very good players. Harry Kane scored 25 goals in the Premier League last season and is still only 22. The qualifying campaign for Euro 2016 had been excellent for England and there seems to be no one outstanding team that looked set to dominate the tournament. It is something of a footnote but Spain were also eliminated on the same day as England.

So what goes wrong? Observations seem to show that tournament football seems to be the issue for England. Roy Hodgson is a very experienced manager who seemed to have got England playing well before the tournament, including beating Germany in Germany. So here is the theory: It is all to do with injuries and/or fear of injuries!

All the outfield players for England are Premier League players who have played pretty much constantly since last August. England also has two domestic cup competitions and no mid-winter break. There is also the Europa League for some teams and, of course, the small matter of the Champions League. Just like the Premier League, the Champions League was a nineties phenomenon that has got bigger and bigger. The vast majority of the England squad had played European club football in some form in the previous year.

The huge money making potential of the Champions League for clubs means that it is now something of a holy grail. For club managers and chairmen, the financial benefits of Champions League football are high and their ability to attract top players is also enhanced. Therefore, the thought of losing their best players to the England side, despite obvious pride, may be regarded as somewhat frustrating. It is worth noting that in the midst of England's stunning victory in Berlin earlier in the year, the goalkeeper broke his leg and was out for the season. And that was just a friendly.

The footballers themselves know that it is a short career and it is their club side who are paying their wages. It is, in my opinion, unfair to suggest that players do not care about playing for England but one might suggest that it is the fear of a significant injury whilst on England duty and the consequence for their career that may be affecting the England players in major tournaments. The club game is now dominant. A glance at cricket shows that the performance of the England side has been improved by central contracts, the notion of England footballers having a central contract with the FA is almost laughable and gives an indication where the power lies.

Within football, it is lower limb injuries that are the most common and particularly leg breaks and ligamentous injuries that footballers will be fearful of. Sadly, ligamentous injuries can be caused by very innocuous incidents and, even in this age of advanced surgery, can be career threatening. Each time someone plays football, such an injury can occur and a player can lose a chunk of their career and a club can lose their star turn just when they really needed them. All because they had the honour of playing for England.

I am of the belief that supporters should put aside club differences and enjoy international football in the right spirit. For players, one wonders how easy that is. It would be wrong to doubt commitment but with tournaments played at the end of long seasons (when injuries are more likely to occur) it is just possible that England's disappointing performances at World Cups and Euro Championships are in part down to injury and a fear of injury and what that will mean for their future.

Just a thought....

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