Thursday, 13 June 2013

England U21 - Why did they fail and how can they improve?

Many excuses have been made in the aftermath of the awful showing by England U21 - "We didn't have 'The Ox'" being amongst them. The absence of players valued at millions of euros (Chamberlain's transfer fee was close to €14m) is no excuse against a team with none of these players (no offence to my home-country Israel, but this is the reality). Just to give you a bit of an idea about how much of a mismatch a game like this should be: Israel's U21 team is valued at €6.5m, whereas England's U21 team is valued at €85m, more than 13 times the value of Israel's team. Norway's national team is valued at more or less half of England's. Only Italy, unsurprisingly, have a team valued higher than England's. []. This being said, this data is not flawless. It is definitely not impossible for Norway's national team, for example, to be world beaters in a few years while England continue to struggle, but I doubt the former.

So, if the players are so good individually, why did they fail so miserably during the Euro U21? Well, for one, many of these players are over-hyped (not to be confused with bad, just sometimes not great as the English media will have you believe). Huge transfer fees for young players doesn't help them, it's unnecessary pressure, some players thrive under the extra attention (Zaha), while some decline (Andy Carroll). Overall, though, it's pretty clear to see that when the media zoom in on a player/team, a decline begins: before the Euro U21, England won 9 consecutive games (including one against Norway), during which they conceded zero goals, scoring 22. But Italy would have been made by many to be favourites, why didn't they quake in their boots? The other group had Spain (9 points), Netherlands (6), Germany (3) and Russia (0). Germany under-performed, but in a very tough group, and while they are in their golden generation, it has just passed its infancy (players like Draxler, Gotze, Schurrle and Ter Stegen having already broken into the national team squad). While their squad does include quality players like Leno, Rode, Holtby and one of my favourite player, Herrmann, they were simply outdone by a very classy looking Dutch team, while Spain breezed past the group stage and, thus far, have lived up to expectations, as have Italy in Group A.

Some have blamed clubs like Man City (who have 2 English players in their best 11) and Liverpool (whose main targets have been young foreign players, with the except of Ilori who is part English), but it's not up to the clubs to care for the national team. If a manager pays more for a worse player just because of his nationality, he's doing his club an injustice. It is up to the FA to ensure youth development - learn from Spain. It is important for the youth players to be ready to grow, playing against experienced players is how it should be done. Barcelona B, Real Madrid Castilla playing against Villareal, Elche and co. helps them be ready when that long awaited call-up to the first team comes a-begging. The FA should integrate reserve teams into the lower divisions, it won't be easy to incorporate them in without damaging Championship but stopping promotion to the first division for them just like in Spain is the way to go. Man City's youth team consists of 31 players, 18 (58%) of which are foreign. I am against teams being forced to play English players at senior level, but not for the youngsters.

Brendan Rodgers does things well - he chooses players based on their ability, not their name/price tag. Sterling being played ahead of Downing for much of the season is a good example of this. If managers watch their youth team and employ this ideology, with the help of the FA, the English national team and the English U21 team will reach it's potential in time. It won't happen overnight, Rome wasn't build in a day. 

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Jack Wilshere

Jack Wilshere, who I've always thought to be over-rated somewhat, has definitely had his fair share of injuries. There are players in the twilight of their careers of have missed less games than Wilshere has, and he's still in his very early twenties! This isn't an anti-Wilshere rant as I do believe he has great talent, just not as much as some people claim.

I'm typing this while watching the Arsenal vs Man City game and Wilshere's ankle was not too far away from the receiving end of an injury that could well have put him out for at least until the end of February (after an un-intentional trod by Javi Garcia), which makes you wonder: "why always him?".

There is that theory many managers have talked about whereby young English players burn themselves out (eg Michael Owen) too soon, partially due to the lack of a winter break. I tend to agree with that. Being a physical league as the Premier League is, a mid-season break could do wonders to:
1. Player health
2. Game quality
3. Money

The latter is a point often overlooked, but the depth required by Premier League clubs (who not only lack a mid-season break, but also have to contend with 2 domestic cups and a longer season than the Bundesliga, for example, which only has 18 teams). I don't want to side-track too much, but I will allow myself a bit of leeway. This extra bit of money could be used for, instead of bringing in foreign talent, could be used to bring in more Wilsheres and Sterlings and Cleverleys and Luke Shaws and Micah Richards etc etc, while those select few who make it through to the senior team will be less likely to have their development stumped by injuries, not to mention the upcoming "problem" of UEFA's Financial Fair Play.

Back to Wilshere: I'm not saying it's a problem to play youngsters, but it is a problem to throw players into the deep end too soon after long injuries. This is especially valid in a physical and/or high paced games such as those we see in Germany, England and on the biggest stage of all: The Champions League.

From the FA's point of view, the solution is simple:
1. Scrap the Capital One Cup - hardly anyone cares about it anyway, while the winner of it is often given a Europa League spot that 7th place deserves more and the financial rewards are minimal.
2. Introduce a Christmas break, give players a well-earned rest instead of this dreaded "busy Christmas period" we keep hearing about.

From Wilshere's point of view, the variety of choices is bigger. For one, he needs to mature and know that when a ball is unreachable, just do not go for it. Simple, he's risking himself, while not regaining possession AND restraining his ability to adjust his position as quickly as he otherwise could. Secondly, if he is carrying a niggle, he should tell Wenger exactly that: it's then Arsene's responsibility to only make him a sub or leave him out of the line-up altogether.
Finally, and more drastically, if neither he can change his mindset nor will the FA adjust their suicidal rules, he might want to seek pastures anew: even though I believe the Emirates is a great place for a youngster to develop, if his injuries are hindering his career Wilshere might have to look for a club outside of England. I'm not hinting for him to triple his wages at a PSG or Anzhi, but perhaps to become Milan's newest star or Pirlo's long term replacement (although he's not at that level quite yet at that level or anywhere near), or even ply his trade along-side Xabi Alonso in the stead of Khedira/Essien, or step into Modric's not-so-big boots, while contending for a place in the team with Kaka and Ozil - competition that could prove to be the solution to his injury woes as it will give him time to find his feet and properly recover from all niggles and otherwise.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

QPR vs Spurs

Just watched the QPR vs Spurs game and as weird as it may sound, I can see QPR scraping through to stay out of the bottom 3. Harry Redknapp is honestly a great coach; M'Bia looks like a small club's Yaya Toure and all of a sudden 242 consecutive minutes without a goal conceded (against Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, much bigger clubs would struggle to get 4 points from those 3).

As for Spurs, you could clearly see how bad the Sandro injury hurt them. He has been one of the rising stars under AVB and Parker coming in looked average at best. Dawson looked great as usual and Walker's form of last season has deserted him completely! He has looked shocking this season and once again today he failed to contribute as much as he should.

Thursday, 10 January 2013


Hello and welcome to my football blog. I'm 17 and live in Melbourne, most of my blog posts will be about international football but I will post the occasional A-League related segment.

My favourite teams around the world are:
Melbourne Victory: first football game I ever watched (and went to) after a scoreless first leg of the semi final. I'm part of the Blue & White Brigade (active support group).
Barcelona: Been a fan ever since I found out my grandpa is, first Barca game I watched was against Tenerife.
Liverpool: Having Israeli heritage, and seeing as my dad supports Liverpool and has since a young age, I've been a Liverpool fan since the times of Benayoun and co.
Dortmund: Although I support Dortmund, the main reason for me doing so is Mitch Langerak's presence in the team: my favourite player, a Melbourne Victory legend (in my opinion).

I don't watch much of the Serie A and not nearly as much Bundesliga as I'd like, but with games starting late at night (often 4am) and not being available on TV, La Liga takes priority for when I am up that late.