Armchair Pundit

Why England should quit international football

Alex Chick

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You think the English overreact to football failure?

Well how about the President of Nigeria suspending the team from international competition for two years following their first-round exit from the World Cup?

Goodluck Jonathan, who sounds like something Mrs Ross might say when her husband calls Andrew Sachs, has said the country needs time to reorganise its football in light of a disappointing performance in South Africa.

It seems a little harsh on the Super Eagles, who were a Yakubu open goal away from reaching the knock-out rounds with a limited squad.

But the idea of pulling back from the front line and taking stock sounds distinctly appealing for Team England's fallen heroes.

Whether Fabio Capello stays or goes, there will be no new broom swept through the England squad.

The next England manager faces the unenviable choice between the has-beens and the haven't-got-its.

Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry will still be England's best midfielders when Euro 2012 qualifying starts. And probably when the tournament comes round (if we get there).

We simply don't possess the strength in depth to cast aside senior players in the way Argentina have Esteban Cambiasso and Javier Zanetti.

What are we doing to do - start Michael Carrick and Tom Huddlestone? Jermaine Jenas? Scott Parker? The options really are that limited.

And our lack of depth at centre-back - supposedly our strongest position - was cruelly exposed by a single tweak of Rio Ferdinand's knee.

Capello is not a man prone to panic, but how else to read his inclusion in the World Cup squad of a man with no knees and a wholehearted plodder who quit international football three years earlier?

Capello was right, though. Once injury and suspension got the better of Ledley King  and Jamie Carragher, Matthew Upson proved uniquely unsuited to the challenges of a World Cup. Challenges like heading a long clearance from the opposition goalkeeper, or staying within 40 yards of the other centre-back.

So the current crop are tried and detested and the understudies are plainly not up to the job. To find any truly talented players, we have to dig deeper to the ranks of the U21s and U19s.

But our callow teenagers cannot be expected to deliver right away. They're barely old enough to buy Belvedere cocktails for their Page 3 girl WAGs.

The manager appears to have no choice. If England go into their first Euro 2012 qualifier with the intention of winning, the names on the teamsheet will be Terry and Gerrard, not the genuinely promising Jack Rodwell and Jack Wilshere.

If we are going to try, then the same players that lost in Bloemfontein will take the field against Bulgaria on September 3 (and won't that be a joyous occasion?).

So let's not try.

The kids aren't ready yet - who cares? Let's put them in, give them some experience and lose constantly for a couple of years.

Make no meaningful attempt to win football matches for at least 24 months, but get a squad of players comfortable with the ball, and with the sight of each other on the pitch.

You might say that's what the Under-21s are for, but this way they get to play with the few senior players with a future in the team, the likes of Joe Hart, James Milner and - if he cheers up - Wayne Rooney.

Even more importantly, they get used to playing against top international opponents.

Staying in Euro 2012 would save the FA the bother of arranging eight friendlies, but games against Switzerland, Bulgaria, Wales and Montenegro hardly promise the sternest test.

I would rather see us pull out of the tournament altogether and instead play 10 top teams every year from all around the world - say, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Spain, Holland, Germany, Portugal, Japan, Ghana, USA - in prestige exhibition matches.

And to make sure the opposition tried, they would be paid an Allen Stanford-style million dollars a head if they beat us.

OK, it could easily cost the FA £100 million, but you could raise this by flogging Wembley, which is suitable only for Bon Jovi concerts and providing temporary accommodation for X-Factor entrants.

I'm only half-joking. Wilshere might not be ready now, but in four years? Every chance, especially if he has 30-odd senior caps under his belt.

This policy, which I have rather unwisely christened the Withdrawal Method, will also help to break the biennial cycle of renewal followed by inevitable failure into which England have slipped.

When something fails, fans and the media demand the precise opposite, and the accommodating types at the FA oblige.

Sven-Goran Eriksson too passionless? Let's bring in a northerner on first-name terms with his players. Steve McClaren exposed as an overly matey amateur tactician? Let's bring in a disciplinarian with an impeccable record. Fabio Capello too strict and distant from his players? Let's bring in a geezer man-manager who doesn't mind if the players have a drink. And when Harry Redknapp fails, we will all be clamouring for a hard-headed foreigner again.

As dull as Eriksson's regime was, he managed to instill a degree of continuity and stability. He made a reasonable squad of players perform up to their natural level, but never over it.

We need more of that continuity, but we also need it in conjunction with a group of players who might actually win something.

We aren't going to win Euro 2012. Fact.

So let's take our ball away and build towards a tournament where we might be contenders.

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