Jim White

Pearce’s passion won’t solve deeper problems

Jim White

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There won't be a shortage of pride this evening at Wembley. Leading out the England team as coach, Stuart Pearce will almost be bursting with patriotism and fervour.

A man of uncomplicated approach and passion, for him this will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career; if he makes it through the national anthem without spontaneously combusting, he will be doing well. Never mind that it is likely to be just a one-off, a stand-in, before, in the intriguing syntax of the FA's Adrian Bevington, the next man is knee-jerked in, Pearce will savour his moment like few before him.

And a good thing too. Great to see. It is undoubtedly positive in a world quite as cynical as modern football that someone is keen to identify higher inspiration. Pearce's sense of a calling contrasts with some of the previous incumbents of the England manager's blazer whose motivations have largely centred around what they could stuff into its pockets. It will be heartening, inspiring, a huge relief to deal with someone for whom all this matters way beyond the prospect of remuneration.

Nice, but ultimately meaningless. It won't change anything that it matters for the boss. Nothing at all. For a start, Pearce was part of the England squad in South Africa yet failed to communicate his passionate affection for his country to any of the players, who turned a series of displays that redefined the term uninterested.

True, while sitting alongside Fabio Capello he was largely reduced to the role of the Italian's play thing, humiliated on a regular basis and thus hardly a figure of authority. But he was still there, every day, working with the players and singularly failing to pass on his own feelings. Or if he did, it was not so you would notice.

But even if he had, it wouldn't have made a jot of difference. The days of stirring dressing room oratory about national duty are long gone. The point is, for all his intense desire to do well by his country, Pearce is faced with the same problem faced by all his immediate predecessors, the problem that will dog whoever gets the job on a full-time basis this summer, the problem that will even stymie as universal a choice for the job as the great Harry.

And that problem is the international side is now a far distant second in the priorities of our football culture. With the club game so much in the ascendant England always gets the leftovers, even in tournaments, it's the after-thought at the end of a season in which the participants have already been drained by their employers.

Our clubs have no incentive to develop young English talent. Their priorities are to build the best squad they can as quickly as possible, and to do that the world is their market. It means Pearce, like Capello, like Sven, like Steve McClaren, has no more than 30 players to choose from. And at any one time half of those are not available, withdrawn from international combat to preserve them for much more important club duty ahead.

We could all pick an England side who could do reasonably well on paper. Hart; Walker, Ferdinand, Jagielka, Cole; Parker, Wilshere; Walcott, Gerrard, Young; Rooney. There, just done it. Didn't need £6 million a year for that task: the choice is so thin, give or take the odd disagreement, it is the one we would all come up with.

Frankly, you don't need to be a tactical genius to assemble an England team. But the chances of that side ever playing together are about as high as Wigan winning the title. The moment any England manager wrote the names down, three of them would have been withdrawn by their clubs, with another three dropping out in the following week.

Why? Well, just ask yourself this question. John Henry, Randy Lerner, Stan Kroenke, Roman Abramovich, the Glazers: do they have the remotest interest in seeing their players putting themselves at risk for another team? What possible incentive do they have to support the England team?

Quite the opposite. Tonight England's players are facing two of the least compromising central midfielders in world football in the shape of Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong. Which owner wants to see their priciest assets compromised by those two red cards waiting to happen?

The consequence of our muscular Premier League, selling its shirts from Addis Ababa to Auckland, watched everywhere from Chicago to Shanghai, is that England has become a footballing sideshow.

A diverting one, for sure. One we can get worked up about every couple of years, once the proper season is over. But ultimately one whose prospects were scuppered the moment we ceded all authority to our clubs. And no amount of Stuart Pearce pounding his chest to remind everyone of its true meaning is going to change that.

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