I’ve never been one for international football.
Major tournaments aside, the intensity in matches is non-existent, the entertainment factor is minimal and, for England supporters, it usually ends in bitter disappointment. I’m not an England supporter by any stretch; there is no science or reason behind why, but I have simply don’t possess the will for them to win in the same way I do Norwich.
Personally, I consider myself a neutral in international football. If I had to commit to an international side, my allegiance probably lies with Scotland or Northern Ireland. I have been consuming England matches in the hope to see a ray of positivity, and upon watching and theorising, I concluded that there are reasons to be positive.
Previously, England played a paint by numbers style of football devoid of intensity and passion. With Premier League millions reducing the number of English prospects emerging from academies and playing for sides in general decreasing, there is a significantly smaller talent pool to select from.
It’s little coincidence that as the Premier League has globalised itself, the number of English players is diminishing. Gone are the days of English players competing at the top end of the table in numbers.
Evidently you can counter that with Kyle Walker, Jordan Henderson and John Stones, but when compared with the likes of Tony Adams, Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, the standard of English players has dropped significantly.
If you cast your net wider, you stumble upon the youth development programme in Germany. The fact is they have regional development centres in which players are properly educated and playing football isn’t simply the main goal. Toni Kroos of Real Madrid is an excellent example – a player who, without the current system, wouldn’t have been scouted due to his geographical location.
The restructuring of their development programme was completed with the highest amount of German efficiency and intelligence. For many non-Germans, the change seems to have been effortless but money was poured in and the likes of Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos and Jérôme Boateng are the result.
If only it were that simple to emulate.
A huge factor in their success was the increase in investment into players’ footballing education and the significant rise of full-time coaches to aide all phases of a footballer’s development. 52 Centres of Excellence were built to enhance the education of the most talented prospects in the nation, the system Kroos went through.
England seem so far behind in terms of progressing young players and like the Bundesliga and German FA, the Premier League and the FA need to work in harmony, not as opposite entities.
Gareth Southgate, on the surface, was an uninspiring and underwhelming appointment. His punditry on ITV was hardly groundbreaking and he doesn’t contain the charisma or personality to lift you from your seat.
What Southgate is, however, is smart.
For the first time since I can remember, the national team has a distinctive style of play which is being replicated amongst the youth teams. The emphasis on winning has decreased in the youth sides and the desire to play is more prominent.
Southgate has installed a philosophy with has been constructed over time. England look comfortable operating with a three at the back formation and recognising how Pep Guardiola has operated Kyle Walker in a central way was excellent.
He’s depicted as a yes man who flaunts an FA suit and simply obeys instructions, but Southgate possesses a tactical nous and has made his team play with an intensity. England should reach the quarter-finals in Russia; they have a favourable draw and are playing impressively. Will they win it? No, but they may compete this time out.
I think there are similarities in the work Southgate is conducting with England to that which is happening with Daniel Farke at Norwich. In the embryonic stages of both their tenures, their respective sides were playing a prosaic style of football, one which was ineffective and disjointed.
Southgate’s England now probe with intent and have a clear philosophy, while the nucleus of the team is more cohesive. For years, England played as individuals, but now they look more of a team. There is little care for reputations and pedigree, the exclusion of Wayne Rooney, Theo Walcott and Gary Cahill reinforce this.
Compare that to Farke’s Norwich side. They were lateral and ineffective on the ball in early stages of the season, but since Christmas have possessed a greater sense of equilibrium and their intensity has increased. Evidently they aren’t polished, they still need to address a starving goals scored column and the lack of imagination offensively, but they are only seven months into Farke’s era.
Farke’s removal of players with years of reputation in the game – Russell Martin, Steven Naismith and Nelson Oliveira – in favour of younger and hungrier players who are not household names underlines this change. Norwich aren’t the finished article, but they are looking a lot healthier than they did this time last season, both on and off the field.
A clear recruitment plan, an improved academy facility in the wings and a younger first team squad – this may not be the right way, but it is certainly a different way.
For England, and for Norwich, the outlook looks considerably brighter and more sustainable than a year ago, and that can only be positive.