The Michael Wood Column

Thursday 06 June, 2002

England, oh England. Who cares?

City fans could be excused if this summer they are not 100% focused on the greatness of English football.

Sometime over the summer in a dusty boardroom at the Football League or the PFA or wherever decisions are going to be made about the future of Bradford City. Decisions like doe sit have a further and is that future playing Thackley in local derbies. We are excused from 100% England focus.

Those who are England focused are preparing Peirpoint. Despite the fact that up to two months ago the general feeling about England was "2006 not 2002" a 1-1 draw with Sweden means that anything less than a win against the World Cup favourites Argentina will see Sven and his men on the scaffold. A first round exit will see them noose around the necks.

The pen is mightier than the metaphor

Yes I'm talking in execution metaphor again. Metaphor is a favourite trick of specific breeds of sportswriter. It fudges the subject. Simplifies things into concepts that lack relevance, even the executed had more fairer trial than an England manager.

All though on occasion it is used for stunning relevance metaphor is on the whole the last resort of the bored and the desperate.

Back in October, 2000 I penned an article entitled England, Keegan etc... I mean, who cares? the conclusion of which was that while many paid lip service to England the truth of the matter was that everyone really preferred their club sides anyway and ultimately given the choice between success as a national and success as a team they would stay local.

That has not changed. People still do not care enough about the England team to address the problems it faces in any serious way.

Where we go wrong

The Premiership is still 20 teams, it will not be coming down to 18 anytime soon much less the 16 that might make a difference.

Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal. These clubs never say to the G14 of Europe's top clubs "Enough Champions League football". The reason Sweden's Everton reserves ran us ragged in the first game of the World Cup was because 90 minutes in the second string at St Helens every week leaves you a lot less tired than a Champions League campaign.

The top clubs still play in too many cup competitions. Nothing major would be lost if the Champions League clubs were excluded from the League Cup.

David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Michael Owen, Emile Heskey, Ashley Cole et al. These players have not had a midweek off in over a year.

Did we finished football early in this country? The England squad flew out the day after the Premiership's final game. Contrast that to South Korea, who look the brightest team in the competition so far. The majority of the South Korean squad has been together since January when that countries league was suspended to allow preparation.

I'll meet you half way there

Finish the Premiership in January? Probably not but there is a midpoint to be reached and that point is being missed.

Personally I think we will get the results to get through the first round but it will be in spite of English football, not because of it.

What to do about it?

For the sake of argument this is the midpoint that I think that English football should be aiming for.

  1. Twenty teams to too many for a top league. Cut it down to sixteen and let the players have decent rests. Twenty makes the season a test of fitness not finesse. Would this exclude the likes of City and West Brom from the Premiership? In my opinion, no. What it might do is cut out the "too good to go down" brigade that gets by in the Premiership but do nothing. Everton, Sunderland this is a call.
  2. Champions League slimmed down. More Groups, less group stages with the winner only going through. Finish the group stages before the break at Christmas so that when it reopens in March its starts with Quarter Finals to stop end of season fixture block.
  3. Champions League clubs should not have to play in the League Cup nor should clubs in the UEFA cup.
  4. More international competitions. The Rous Cup of the 1980s and 1990s was rubbish but it did give England decent competative games. I would suggest a kind of Home Internationals in the midweeks spread over two years with perhaps Eire and perhaps another Europeans thrown in for good measure. Six nations of football if you will.
  5. Start stealing players. Imagine England facing Argentina with a fully fit Ryan Wilson (Giggsy to you and me) down the left. The Welsh nicked Giggs from under our noses, the likes of Andy O'Brien are taken before we get to them. We either start "stealing" over countries players ala Owen Hargreaves or we stop people stealing ours.
  6. Win or lose: off the booze. Lee Sharpe is only 30 years old. He was a superbly gifted footballer he should have had a string of England caps and played in three World Cups at least. We all know that Lee liked to enjoy the trappings of football. We need to make a change as a culture, and perhaps not just a football culture, away from the pub or we are going to carry on turning talent like the 18 year old Lee Sharpe into free transfers like the 30 year old Lee Sharpe.

However to underline the point. If City kick off in August in the First Division at Valley Parade without a 12 point standing start I would not give a hoot if England were paggered by Argentina and Nigeria.

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