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.
General Melchett says
I can tell you’re no England fan, if you were you would recognise the swelling optimism that accompanies each comfortable qualification campaign. The major tournament arrives, abject failure follows and we RIP it up and start again. If and that’s a massive If, Southgate and England buck that trend, maybe I’ll believe we’re on the right path with the right manager, but much like Farke I think probably right path maybe wrong man to lead us down it. I hope to be wrong but scrapping past Reading will soon be forgotten if three good sides in Fulham, Villa and Cardiff all roll us over.
Progress off the pitch, probably, on it not yet.
Michael D says
I think you are unduly pessimistic GM, but we will see. Connor is only talking about seeds at this point, and I agree with him that watching snatches of England playing over the last week has been surprisingly pleasanter than it has been for years and years.
In the Championship Fulham are now seen as the model we should emulate, playing the possession based football we also aspire to, but at a much faster tempo and with a considerably more effective conversion rate. I also would not underestimate either Southgate or Farke at this point. If both are smart enough to recognise the paths down which they need to go, I certainly would not write off their respective abilities to continue to pick their way down those paths with the resources they have at their disposal.
Regards to City and DF, I don’t think we have anywhere near seen yet what he is capable of achieving as a coach. I certainly hope we will see more next season and that we can be a promotion contender, but I also think it may take longer still to see what he is really capable of achieving.
Connor Southwell says
I think you’re right on some of the points you raise General.
I think the emphasis on youth and lack of care for reputations is something both sides possess and is crucial for anything to work in football. Players should be picked on current ability and not on track record.
If both sides can keep progressing, which I think they are, then England will be in a better place for the Euros in 2020 and Norwich for the Championship next season.
But yes, both need to add the entertainment factor to their respective game.