Well, only the football focused will have known, seemingly out of the blue but actually four years ago, that a ‘third’ men’s national-team full international tournament for the 55 members of UEFA (the sport’s European governing body) had been put in place [the other two being the existing World Cup and the Euros], didn’t they?
Well for the UEFA ‘Nations League’ inaugural season, it all started just this month [and continues until November] -– and it will then resume next June for the Finals.
Now, the process in this ‘new’ competition is quite fiendishly complex, but suffice to say that it is intended to keep international football in the frontline news, to fill the void between the other two major tournaments, and it is intended to eliminate so-called ‘meaningless’ friendlies. It is a biennial contest for the top national teams.
It can be considered have a long-term league-type structure:
*There are 4 tiers/divisions – 12 teams in League A [Top league], 12 teams in League B, 15 teams in League C, and 16 teams in League D
*In each league, four groups are formed (three or four teams in each group) and play each other both home and away
*Teams can also be promoted and relegated to a higher or lower league (tier) AFTER each tournament
*From the top league, League A, the winners of the four groups go on to play in the Nations League Finals, with two semi-finals and one final to decide which team becomes the UEFA ‘Nations League champion’
*The UEFA Nations League will be linked with the UEFA European Championship ‘qualifying’, providing teams another chance to qualify for the UEFA European Championship [a backdoor entry?]
*The Nations League may also be linked with UEFA’s future World Cup qualifications for the same purpose, possibly using the top two leagues
Well, the STARTING top rank (League A) was determined to be Group 1 France [Rank 01], Germany [Rank 15], Netherlands [Rank 17]; Group 2 Belgium [Rank 02], Switzerland [Rank 08], Iceland [Rank 32]; Group 3 Portugal [Rank 07], Poland [Rank 18], Italy [Rank 21]; Group 4 Croatia [Rank 04], England [Rank 06], Spain [Rank 09]. [So, the successful 8 of those 12 will play in the summer 2019 finals to determine the Winner, eh?].
The background to England’s first-ever Nations League match [one of four total] was the home game against Spain last Saturday and what was surprising to us casual observers, is that the England professional football pundits (coupled with the FA) have been filling the media news with unrealistic assessments of the England’s team’s prospects of success on the world stage, together with talking-up Gareth Southgate’s management abilities, lauding captain Harry Kane’s prowess as a striker [Golden boot winner – a fluke], and that coupled with presenting a gilded view of the team’s actual performance at the summer’s World Cup 2018 in Russia [won by France].
There should be no misunderstanding about that though –despite our team doing the nation proud by their achievement and gutsy performances (semi-finalists, but not richly deserved perhaps, and hardly ‘heroic’ as the headlines would have it?), nevertheless in reality that was not by their outstanding football on the pitch, but by some good fortune (though well-deserved) and by the top teams failing miserably this time round, wasn’t it?– whenever they came up against good teams they were found wanting, weren’t they? In reality England’s performances hadn’t been anything to write home about, and no player proved to be world-class.
Nevertheless, ‘on paper’ it did indeed ‘look like’ a success story and to be sure it had to be reflected in the World Rankings – England [Rank 6] are now flatteringly (?) listed higher than they have been for five years.
As recorded here at the time, the real ‘facts’ belie that outcome, because they are that in the Group Stage, England won two games [one with the team making very, very, very hard work of it all with a last-gasp goal that saved the bacon, and the other one against gamely fighting but out of their depth World Cup ‘first-timers’ with England falling asleep at the back at times, together with an unpunished pretty dire second half display], and then losing the really meaningless third match [a bizarre fake contest when both sides played a reserve eleven – and England’s second team was hopeless because it didn’t gel.
Despite another fairly disappointing performance, England then won the Round of Sixteen game on a penalty shootout [there’s a first time for everything!] when the match had ended in a draw after extra time – it can best be described as a shoddy game, a shoddy result and a bad game to play in, a bad game to watch.
In the Quarter-Final, England won, the team’s performance was its best of that World Cup and was credible for a change – though definitely on the park Kane was absent, and at times our fans had their hearts in their mouths when our defence went missing, eh?].
England got knocked-out in the Semi-Final in extra time, defeated but not crushed, while they had fought like the lions on their shirts for a win.
Then in a downbeat end to the tournament, England despite playing with passion, went-on to lose the play-off for 3rd place [so like in 1990 finished 4th], but with another lack of firepower display against a top team.
Nevertheless, this was a good tournament for England as they restored some pride back into our international team.
Well, so feet back on the ground, the bubble burst as England faced Spain [Rank 9] – who as the mighty one had suffered a shock World Cup defeat (penalties) against Russia – at Wembley in competitive football, and despite trying hard got dominated by an undoubtedly superior team, so they failed – demonstrating that in reality that they have a long way to go to match the best sides [it didn’t help that Kane isn’t firing despite his Golden Boot award]. Some might have noticed that Raheem Sterling wasn’t playing? (not yet dropped – just injured!).
Just three days later, England [well, a second string] played an international friendly against Switzerland [Rank 8] at Leicester City’s ground – now just why that meaningless dull game was scheduled, or why 30,000 wanted to watch it (apart from five or six dozen Swiss tourists), is a puzzle to many of us , isn’t it?
Well, while England were quite poor they nevertheless lodged-up a scrappy narrow win, this time with a very streaky performance, that was a far cry from what should be expected from a high ranking country’s team –though it has to be said that their opponents are a decent side [well, in a proper completive-type game, using their first-choice players].
The realization that England are NOT yet able to beat the best will come as a great disappointment to loyal fans – but many of us fear that realistically we will NEVER again reach that level. In all honesty, it doesn’t really matter how good the manager is, or the training, nor the tactics, if there isn’t world-class players in the squad, the team will continue to flounder against the top teams [the record has been abysmal over the past fifteen years, hasn’t it?].
England indeed have some GOOD players, but currently the ONLY English ‘world class player’ available is Harry Kane, and even he can’t hold a candle YET to the likes of Messi [Brazil] the top player, or Neymar [Brazil], nor Ronaldo [Portugal] who might be wilting just now.
You might wonder just why this is so, in a Country which indeed is the home of football and boasts the best league in the World, eh? The answer of course lies in the second item – the bloody FA and its ‘Premier League’, doesn’t it?
Yep, for many years now England’s top football league clubs have mostly been owned or controlled by foreigners or overseas interests [either as vanity projects, or as commercial cash cows, or money laundering, or tax evasion], and that takeover syndrome has been further leaching down even to all the other Football league clubs as well, hasn’t it? Yep, some 1/3 rd of such league clubs are substantially now in the hands of others [including in offshore tax havens], so they don’t give a damn about English football in general, nor the England team in particular, do they?
The FA has disgracefully allowed it all to happen when no other country in the whole world would have permitted it so they have destroyed their birthright and English football in the process – England will never again be a force to reckon with in the international field of football completion, will it?
The full effects of the FA’s incompetence are widespread of course. Like, our Premiership becoming awash with imported obscenely highly-paid foreign players, not only here sucking the lifeblood out of grassroots football [then sending it overseas and paying minimal tax in the process], but blocking the progress of all British talent, as it is progressively thwarted by lack of opportunity to develop, not least at the major clubs where they can’t get a game never mind being in the starting-eleven, eh?
[The apologists will say ‘if you’re good enough you will make it’ – but how do you actually get ‘good enough’ to displace from the team an established foreign international, just ‘bought-in’ this summer for £72million & £53million (Chelsea), £60million (Man City), £53million (Liverpool), £42million (West Ham), £29million & £18million (Everton), £23million (Southampton), £19million (Man Utd), £18million (Fulham), £12million (Wolves), – and when furthermore they are earning megabucks compared to you (NO manager dare ditch them, eh?)
The top 5 Premiership players are foreigners and earn from £13million a year (£250thousand a week), up to over £16million a year (£315thousand a week
England clubs don’t really bother developing our own local youth talent, but leave that to overseas clubs, and instead just buy-in their output with playing experience in their own leagues]
That situation is compounded by the owners also bringing-over foreign managers [some who can barely speak English] who know more about overseas players than they do English talent so unsurprisingly they suck-in what they know, to the expense of local players, as well as denying the prospects of English managers to get a look-in.
If you want a glaring example of just that look at the playing background of the aforementioned Harry Kane, will you? He signed professionally for Premier League club Tottenham Hotspur as a 17 year old, but despite his talent he got hardly much team experienced at all, and was simply off-loaded on season-loan to lower clubs, first Leyton Orient, next to Millwall, then on to Norwich City (part) followed by Leicester City (part).
It took a full 4 years before Kane was given his first Premier League start for Tottenham [against Sunderland (when he scored his first Premiership goal)] – that was despite the fact that already he had been good enough for England’s U17, U19, U20, and U21 matches, eh? Just a year later he was actually playing for the full England Senior team as well – what does all that tell us about the dearth of ‘experience’ opportunities being given to England’s top prospects, do you think? That the rungs of the ladder up to the top of professional football have been snapped-off by our own FA, perhaps?
Then perhaps there is also the example of Jamie Vardy, who kept playing in lower leagues despite being dumped aged 16 by Sheffield Wednesday, and demonstrated that he was a prolific goal-scorer. He was then snapped-up by lowly Leicester City of the Championship, was instrumental to them winning promotion and then the Premiership title itself despite being a totally un-fancied outfit – he got his England cap, and has played for the national team in both in the last Euros and World– did the FA system play any part in any of that, do we think? NO.
Or how about 18 year old Phil Foden of Man City [been with them since a youth], now on the verge of a full England cap, but before this weekend had been played for just 8 minutes in the Premier league this season– and the club had bought an expensive foreigner @ £60million instead this year, so much for ‘opportunity’, wouldn’t you say? [Moreover, Foden has already played for England’s U16, U17, U18, and currently U19, as well?].
[In the Nations League England will now play Croatia away (12 Oct), Spain away (15 Oct), and Croatia home (18 Nov) – Croatia knocked-out England in world cup semis]