Saturday, 30 October 2010


If like me, you were sickened by the recent Wayne Rooney debacle then you might like to consider my proposal for bringing some sanity back to the English game. Although I enjoy watching some of the continental talent that has enhanced our ailing game, the money that is now being coughed-up in wages and transfer fees for players, some of whom barely ever grace the field of play, has now extended beyond saturation point and has become obscene. Professional footballers in the top flight now compare with bankers for their selfish greed. I think it would be wonderful if we could put an end to this scandalous financial destruction of our national game to return to the standards of the past when footballers were admired for their talent, and not for the cars or their sexual conquests nor for the size of their bulging wallets.  
It says a great deal about the development of the game in our country that no English players have been included in the 23 short listed by FIFA as contenders to win the Ballon D’Or award. This should not surprise anyone because so little has been done to promote young English talent due to the dominance of foreign born players in the professional game. When it comes to senior English players; Rooney, Terry, Lampard, Walcott etc, although talented, rarely express their skills with the same consistency as Messi, Fabregas, Iniesta, Lahm, Xavi, Villa and dare I say, the precocious Ronaldo.Can anyone name more than one or two young English players that are likely to become world class? It is a crying shame because out their somewhere there will be players with the raw natural talent to succeed in the game if only the opportunities and resources were there to find and encourage them. If youngsters could be nurtured from the moment they start school, then we might be able, in time, to produce an English national side that could compete with the best. However before this can ever happen we must rid education of this misdirected belief that to be competitive is unhealthy and also find teachers that are qualified coaches. Perhaps this is the fundamental reason that Britain has ceased to be competitive in so many spheres, not just in sport?
When I was football crazy youngster professional clubs had scores of players on their books and fielded umpteen teams that competed in four of more leagues at different levels. A skillful youngster had the opportunity of being spotted by a scout from a professional club and if they showed the right level of commitment and talent they would be signed as apprentice players. They would work their way up through junior and youth teams on tiny wages to play in the reserves that, for the top clubs, competed in the Football Combination. If they demonstrated that they had outstanding promise, with suitable coaching they might eventually have played in the First Division, considered by most to be an honour. They were not motivated by great riches but more for a love of the game. Before Johnny Haynes became the first £100 a week footballer and George Eastham took his employers to court to end the maximum wage ruling, players were poorly paid, many needed second jobs to survive and for the most part professional footballers went down the local pub and took a bus to work like everybody else. And yes, the majority were role models to their fans.

Today, although clubs have reserve teams, these are normally comprised of players that are not part of the first team squad. Those that play in the reserves are mainly youth team players or others that have not yet made the grade to senior status. A few may get selected to play a handful of first team games, but most are likely to slip from prominence very quickly to be loaned out to some lower league cub, be given a free transfer or give up the professional game completely through injury or disappointment. This is what happened when the squad system evolved. With first team squads comprising of more than 20 players (Arsenal has 27) unless a player is selected for the starting eleven or as one of the substitutes, he is unlikely to get much playing experience in competitive matches. This can lead to disillusionment and a drop in form. How can players with obvious talent such as Theo Walcott be expected to keep on top of his game if, barring injury, he has to sit on the bench before being called to make a cameo appearance for the last thirty minute of a match? Some first team squad members may spend the majority of their time with a club sitting on the bench without playing while still drawing a very generous wage.

At Arsenal the reserves also have 48 listed players.This only serves to make a player's situation worse. Only some of these can expect to hold onto a regular place in the second string, others will play for the youth team but some will remain matchless. With 75 players competing for limited places in three teams can leave some with the belief that their careers may never take off. Arsenal is fortunate to be one of a handful of clubs with a wide choice of players on their books; but those clubs suffering from financial difficulties have had to cut their playing staffs to meet their commitments.This has not deterred some clubs who face bankruptcy from continuing to pay ludicrous wages.

Fabianski who has recently replaced Almunia between the posts. Most of his time at Arsenal has been spent on the substitute bench waiting for Almunia to either be injured or dropped. So, when his chance came his performance was below par and he played poorly. Compare his shaky performances earlier in the season when he player occasionally to how he played today, and you will see the difference even a few regular first team places make. Fabianski has grown in confidence and he is already looking a much better goalkeeper than he was previously. However, should Almunia be recalled, Fabianski could lose this new found confidence and this could have a devastating effect on his career.  

In the days before money became the be-all of the game players, even those that were only mediocre,were appreciated by the fans for their skills but most were also approachable because they had not been revered with super star status. English players may not have quite been the best in the world but in 1966 they were good enough on their day to win the World Cup. Today a team fielding our very best and often highest paid players have difficulties competing on the same pitch with minor nations.

Surely the reason for this is that clubs have found difficulty finding enough suitable home grown players.There are signs that the game is in decline from a playing point of view. During the 1970s to hire a football pitch for a Sunday league team was almost impossibility, at least it was in my part of London. But today, with less pitches available, there appears to be a glut that are not being used. Maybe kids are more interested in burying their heads in computer games than playing in competitive team games? I don’t know. But even if the majority are stuck in front of their monitors this will still leave tens of thousands of lads, and girls too, who would dearly love to play football. Perhaps more youngsters than ever have the aspiration to become professionals even if they are lured more by the riches than their enjoyment of the game. But this still leaves scores who would love to play for a professional club, less for the money, but for the enrichment it can bring to their lives.

But we have neglected the game. Professional coaches will probably tell us otherwise by explaining that the playing staffs at most clubs are much smaller than they once were because clubs simply cannot afford to run four or five teams. My response to this is that we are living a lie, pure and simple. If they refused to pander to the outrageous greed of their prima donna superstars and their pushy agents who have bled the game dry, there would be far more money available to spend on additional teams for youngsters. If they signed far more English born players there would be a better chance of some of these reaching the top that could one day win the world cup again for our nation.

It is nothing short of obscene for Wayne Rooney to be paid what some reports claim to be in excess of £200,000 a week for kicking a ball. I appreciate that he has the capability of returning some of this money to Manchester United by helping to bring continuing success to the club.In commercial terms, branding bearing his name also profits the club, but with so many talented people in other professions claiming benefits, how can his wages ever be justified? Would it not be better all round to cap player’s wages to say £150,000 a year, a lot of money by most people’s standards, and distribute the remaining millions between thousands of up and coming youngsters?

Am I being naive or is this merely too simple? Unfortunately we live in a world dominated by greed and while clubs continue to give in to footballers' pay claims our game is never likely to return to grass roots level.

No comments: