Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Has England’s Firepower Burnt Out?

Amidst all of the transfer deadline chaos I found a moment to look at the England squad for the upcoming (and crucial) Euro 2012 qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales. Any slip could leave England in real danger of not qualifying as group winners with their final game away at Montenegro in October. Montenegro being their main rivals to topping the group. A country that has existed for 5 years and has a population of 625,000. Christ, times have changed.  

Like most English football fans I am the most eternal of optimists when it comes to the national team. Or at least I was until the morning of 27th June 2010. That day England were absolutely tore apart by their worst of enemies – Ze Germans. The English defence was pitiful whilst its attack looked completely devoid of ideas. Although the defending that day was awful it was actually a rarity to see it that bad. The woeful attacking however had been a recurring theme in that simply embarrassing World Cup. 3 goals in 4 games against backlines from the likes of Algeria and Slovenia. Looking at the current crop that Fabio has called up I can’t help but think, when did our forward line begin to look so average?

Wayne Rooney, Andy Carroll, Darren Bent and Jermain Defoe are the four strikers that Mr. Capello has selected for the impending qualifiers. There aren’t any possible striking selections out injured at the moment so we would assume that these four players are the England coach’s best options. Let’s compare these players with the four forwards that Glenn Hoddle selected for France 1998 – Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Michael Owen and ‘Big’ Les Ferdinand. They say the stats don’t lie so shall we see if there is a talent gap?

The class of ’11 have a collaborative total of 128 caps and 45 goals at a rate of a goal every 2.84 games. The class of ’98 had at that stage a collaborative total of 94 caps and 33 goals at a rate of a goal every 2.85 games. So, unless you are the most nit-picking of readers, it’s even stevens.

What about league form, the criteria that qualifies these players (past and present) to play for the national team. Well we are talking about strikers here, how many times have these guys scored 20 league goals in a top flight season of English football? Between Fabio’s current crop they have done this twice, Rooney and Bent both achieved this in the season preceding the 2010 World Cup. Some would have thought this was a good omen. Some would have been bloody wrong then wouldn’t they?

Alan Shearer et al really prove their worth in the domestic stakes. At the time of France ‘98 between the four English strikers they had scored 20 goals in the top flight EIGHT times. Shearer himself had scored over 30 league goals on three different occasions. This dwarfs the efforts of the current England marksmen.  Surely this shows that over the last ten years or so that the strikers of this country have lost their edge and weakened in ability as a collective.

Sure you could make excuses for England’s current four front men. Wayne Rooney hasn’t often been played as an out-and-out striker. Andy Carroll is still only 22, his career is still ahead of him. Fair points. However – Teddy Sheringham rarely played as an out-and-out striker. In 1998 Michael Owen was only 18. By age 22 Owen had scored far more goals than the ‘Geordie Ponytail’ currently has to his name.

Where have these problems come from? The increasing influx of foreign players into the Premier League cannot be discounted. Out of the top 4 teams last season only one of them had an English Striker – Rooney. If more English forwards played for top 4 clubs then you would have to think that they would be hitting the 20 goal target more often. But the reason they’re not playing for these clubs is because they’re not good enough! There was no mention of Jermain Defoe or Bent replacing Carlos Tevez at Manchester City this summer.

Are they being given the chances and the experience to be good enough? The amount of money that can be rewarded in the top flight means that so much depends on teams scoring goals, could be to stay up, could be to qualify for Europe. So these teams are unlikely to put their complete faith in young English strikers, there’s too much at stake. Perhaps if they did English fowards could improve in their abilities and would be used to pressure – the kind of pressure that can be faced at international level. The excellent performances of Daniel Sturridge during his loan move to Bolton last season illustrate this point.

So there is much room for improvement. England’s frontline is not what it was in the 1990’s, particularly on the domestic scene. No longer are the majority of the best strikers in this country actually from this country. Until this problem is addressed in some way I wouldn’t expect goals galore coming from the Three Lions in Poland and/or Ukraine. In fact I wouldn’t hold out much hope for anything particularly special happening next summer. Unless you’re watching Spain.

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