Thursday, December 13, 2007

A New Era for England?

Oi, it's two fingers over here, Fabio . . .

So, it looks done and dusted in terms of Fabio Capello taking over the reins of the Three Lions, and despite what you think of the choice, if an announcement is made later today, one may go so far as to say the English FA didn't make a mess out of this one. Capello's got a lot of history, mostly good, but some of it less than professional. Compared to Steve McClaren, who never rose above being just plain shit, and the stoicism of Sven Goran Erikkson, I'd say it's a step in the right direction.

Capello, who's won every domestic competition in Spain and Italy, as well as a Champions League, was sacked from the La Liga-winning Real Madrid side of last year for being too defensive-minded, but is fluent, flowing soccer what England really need? I'd argue that may not be the case, considering not many English teams play that way anyway and it's not apparent that the majority of England's players have the skill to do so.

Like many, I do believe England's foibles are a result of organization, motivation, and a lack of belief. While I laugh at the constant evocations of "pace, penetration and passion", Capello looks like the kind of gaffer that'll give you a chance, and if you don't make the most of it, it's your fault. And that, is exactly what England need from its players.

Sure, he called Paolo di Canio "an ugly c*nt" that had a face that "looked like a penis", but that's more of an observation than anything else. It is the fact that Capello doesn't back down from anyone that should give him an advantage over previous gaffers. We already know he's results-oriented, so that's not an issue. Perhaps the only real issue is how he will deal with the English press, and whether his abbreviated national team schedule will not irritate his legendary predilection to lash out.

What disappoints me is Steve Coppell expressing his sadness in the FA's decision to go foreign. I understand the frustrations of England's talent in terms of playing and coaching becoming a second-rate country, at least in European terms. Yeah, it sure does suck that there aren't any above-average English managers, but what are you going to do?

At this point, England are the American auto industry in the late 70's and early 80's. Still churning out hulking, gas-guzzling inferior products, Detroit couldn't keep up with the innovations of the Japanese and Germans and paid dearly for it. The big 3 US automakers never completely rebounded to return to their previous heights in market share, but I do recall seeing a Honda Accord being stripped and investigated at General Motors' Tech Center in Michigan around the beginning of the 1980s. And that's the only way GM could even hope to compete, by figuring out what the foreign competition was doing right, and how to best duplicate it. Without that, there was no hope of survival.

While a simplistic analogy at best, to me this is similar to the state of English soccer. They don't have the skill players because the training's deficient and antiquated. They don't have the forward-thinking managers for the same reason. The only way for England to become a soccer power is to take advantage of Capello's appointment and use him as a training course for the next generation of English managers. Oddly enough, the only thing everyone seems to agree upon is that the future of English soccer is in dire straits, and there is really no one to pull it back into the path of innovation and progression. And it seems the FA have picked a lane in terms of the senior team, so why not ride those coat tails to at least bring England's youth level to the rest of Europe, at least in terms of skill and technique?

The Premier League may be arguably the best league in Europe, and perhaps it'll remain as the ultimate destination for a lot of the world's top talent, but that just affirms England's need to emulate and copy those things that bring foreigners to England. You cannot ignore innovation and hope your plodding, ancient techniques will win out over faster, better ways of doing things.

Yes, it is sad that the FA has to go outside of their own, the land that created the sport, the nation that has more leagues, teams and registered players than any other country, to find some direction for its future. But where else would you start?


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