Jim White

Latest England squad scrapes bottom of the barrel

Jim White

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Hard as it may be to rustle up any enthusiasm, never mind find the cash for a match ticket, England are back in competitive action shortly.

Yesterday Roy Hodgson announced his squad for the friendly with Norway and the Euro qualifier with Switzerland to the general response of a shrug.

This is what England have become: no more than a so-what diversion between Premier League fixtures, a little light relief before the serious business of the Champions League starts.

Certainly there can’t have been many, even among England’s long-suffering, magnificently loyal hard core following who can have viewed the list of names Hodgson produced with much in the way of optimism.

Sure, there are a couple of exciting prospects in there, players like Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that might rustle a few opposition feathers. But hardly enough to guarantee a full house of the eager and the excited at Wembley.

Indeed, rarely in the recent history of international football can there have been an England party as underwhelming as this one.

Shorn of Theo Walcott, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Adam Lallana, Kieran Gibbs, Michael Carrick and Chris Smalling through injury, with Ashley Cole, John Terry, Steven Gerrard and now Frank Lampard absenting themselves from selection, Hodgson has reached the very bottom of a barely-filled barrel.

The golden generation may not have been up to much, but now they have gone we now entering the age of iron pyrites. This must surely represent the least accomplished England team in 50 years.

And it is hardly Hodgson’s fault.

He too may not ultimately be up to much, but he is a manager without choice, a coach whose room for manoeuvre was long ago sealed off, a man who surveys the top of the English game and sees nothing of any immediate use.

Sure, he might have picked Jonjo Shelvey, Tom Huddlestone, Harry Kane or James Ward-Prowse, players no less effective than those he has selected.

But none of them would be confused in a talent race with Bastien Schweinsteiger, Mario Gotze or Toni Kroos, never mind Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.

The truth is, England is experiencing a drought of a kind rarely encountered before.

What we have reached here is ground zero, the very bottom of the curve, the unintended consequence of the way we organise our domestic game. Hodgson has fewer Englishman playing in the top division than ever before from whom he might pick a side.

And those he can choose are largely to be found in the lower reaches of the league, or sitting on the benches of the top sides.

It is one of the hilarious ironies of the invention of the Premier League two decades ago that the FA backed it in the belief it would strengthen the England team. Instead, as it has grown financially ever more muscular, as its global each has become ever more extraordinary, so England have withered and shrunk.

For sure, there were periods in the past when the league and the international side were on entirely different levels. In 1977, for instance, England boasted the European club champions  yet failed to qualify, for the second time in succession, for the World Cup.

But now the gap is harder to explain. Huge amounts of money have been invested in our club academies.

For the past 15 years we have had the most sophisticated programme of youth development in action. Yet clubs increasingly prefer to staff their first teams with imports.

At Manchester United – a club with a long established tradition of producing its own – the summer has seen the expensive recruitment of foreign talent and the jettisoning of the home grown.

And few could argue with Louis Van Gaal’s decision to prefer Angel Di Mariaand Ander Herrera over Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley. The two young Englishmen simply aren’t as good.

There are many reasons for the growing disconnect. Older heads will be shaken at the scale of youthful financial reward, the claim that riches stifle ambition is now a commonplace.

You only had to look at the sight of the Wilfried Zaha, turning up at Crystal Palace for a year long loan from Manchester United, and greeting the stalling of his career through the window of a £100,000 sports car to see the problem given graphic illustration.

He looked wholly philosophical about his seeming decline. But then anyone looks philosophical in a £10,000 designer suit.

It is an argument, but one which collapses when you realise that young players are handsomely rewarded in Spain, Germany and France too.

No the problem runs deeper than the bank accounts of the young players. It is an institutionalised fracture at the heart of the game, the huge conflict of interest between its two principal governing powers. Premier League clubs simply have no interest in assisting the development of the national side.

And yet it need not be a mutually-exclusive relationship.

In Germany, the Bundesliga manages to maintain a supportive duality with the national side, providing Joachim Low with a consistent flow of talent from which to pick.

All we can say for certain about the English game is that none of the issues exposed by Hodgson’s choice are being remotely addressed.

At the start of a new era, nothing is about to get better.

Follow Jim White on Twitter @jimw1

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