From an external perspective, Germany’s footballing landscape – despite garnering four world titles, producing three individual clubs victorious in Champions League/European Cup campaigns, and a further trio ousted at the final stage – seldom receives the inspection it merits. Few recognise the nation for its subordinate professional ranks, nor its thriving semi-professional, right through to amateur scene, unless tasked with acquiring reason for its global dominance; for which comparison – culturally intertwined in its subconscious rhetoric – is broadly devoid with South American, nor even Mediterranean brethren. Prior focus, and plaudits, have been fixated from a journalistic angle on the prudent, nationally ubiquitous academies that, if not prophesised by former Deutscher Fußball-Bund (DFB) president Gerhard Mayor-Vorfelder, were certainly enacted as such in 2003 – and now extend to 366 sites across all regions – and the continentally omnipotent multiplicity of exclusive UEFA-standard coaches available within a coherent and visionary system. Undoubtedly, the symbiotic relationship between the DFB and the Bundesliga – operating the two major professional tiers of the sport in Europe’s predominant non-transcontinental economic and residential force – upholds the values of co-existence and mutual beneficiary; striving to achieve a common ambition of authority, yet it is fundamental to the introspective analysis of both entities, and their proficiency, to maintain the role of the scourge of both the Premier League and La Liga in our comprehension. Elitist entrepreneurs, rarely portrayed in British media with the best interest of their chosen vessel at heart, permeate the Bundesliga’s ranks, however romanticised the common image – moulded by the much-hailed 50+1 ruling – may be.
Accepting the rather unfavourable converse view, then, the presence of geographical disparities – including, most prominently, a Hoffenheim outfit presently led by Julian Nagelsmann, yet also comprising the relatively miniscule towns of Sandhausen, Aue, and to a certain extent Heidenheim, in the 2. Bundesliga – is called into distinct ethical question. Comparable with the environmentally-prophesising, establishment-defying and generally inimitable revelation of Forest Green Rovers, now of League Two, alongside Fleetwood, Burton, Morecambe and the cult furniture piece of Accrington Stanley in English contexts; the nigh-28,000-strong city of Eibar in La Liga and rough 39,000 residential resources of Soria-based Segunda División side Numancia of Spain’s professional ranks; Sassuolo’s 41,000 or so inhabitants, alongside the 60,000 and 62,000 of recently-promoted Benevento and Crotone respectively, in Serie A; the rather ambiguously-titled Cittadella, of whom 20,000 citizens habituate, or Virtus Entella, of the 28,000 of Chiavara, in Serie B, yet entirely polarising in the context of industrial Deutschland’s 82 million citizens, this cultural trend far outweighs any other in economically privileged Western Europe. As such, it is certainly quizzical that a nation deemed as the least unsustainable, liable to entrepreneurial influence or immoral – at least in sporting contexts – of global, let alone continental, superpowers plays host to the highest standards of rural football, notably breaching the realms of elite professionalism, in the continent’s economically imperious districts.
Fundamentally, socio-economic factors have a significant resonance on such status. The 75.51% of Germany’s total population residing in urban areas – or 24.49% in rural regions – compares favourably, in analysis of the aforementioned trend, to the mere 20.25 and 20.20 respective urban percentiles posed by French and Spanish administrations, and 17.16% present in the United Kingdom, while also recording results of unerring similarity to the 24.97% of the entire European Union, according to 2016 World Bank statistics. Comparatively, sparsely populated Italy’s considerable 30.88% rural populace is offset by the perennial sporting pre-eminence of Milanese, Roman, Neapolitan and Turinese outfits – victorious in 83 of 116 domestic championships, while only six external conquerors have come in the post-war era, the last being a Gianluca Vialli-inspired Sampdoria in 1990-91 – and the evidential prevalence of retirement in rural national regions; the eleven states with population densities lower than Napoli’s Campania, Milan’s Lombardy, Rome’s Lazio and Turin’s Piedmont returning age averages of 45.68 years per citizen, while the quartet of city states were found to have citizens with the average age of 44.5. Factor in that Germany – belying its modest rank as only the seventh largest European nation, and fourth in the EU – dominates the Union’s metropolitan landscape while contributing 18 of the 100 largest cities (three more than the next nation, the UK), including effectively the dominant city in Berlin, seven of Europe’s ten lowest unemployment regions, arguably the continent’s second financial hub in Frankfurt and its third busiest port in Hamburg, and you begin to realise the economic stability and regional diaspora of the German populace, thus enabling sporting prowess at all geographical levels.
Yet the circumstance of Hoffenheim is scarcely plausible as a mere consequence of socio-economic opportunity. Nestled in the Rhein-Neckar region – from which the club’s stadium moniker is derived – of the nation’s densely-forested, French-bordering south-west, the village, on recent records, boasted fewer than 3,500 inhabitants, while comprising the vast amenities of a petrol station, an Italian restaurant, a school, a joint bus and train station, and the precursor to a 30,150-capacity, state-of-the-art football stadium. Respected locally as one of twelve constituent villages of the broader town of Sinsheim – whose population, at around 36,000, still defies the continentally-encompassing circumstance of the club, and where the aforementioned ground is based – its modesty was enlivened by Heidelberg-born software entrepreneur and billionaire Dietmar Hopp, who, alongside fellow former IBM employees, co-founded, in 1972, what is now the world’s third-largest company in the software industry; SAP SE. Immediately recognisable as a brand for attentive Premier League viewers – courtesy of a lucrative presence as official “Cloud Software Providers” to Manchester City, as visible on pitch-side advertisement – the company also collaborated with the DFB during its “SAP Match Insights” scheme to collate and present data from national team training performances prior to the 2014 World Cup campaign, and has featured in involvements with associations and clubs in sporting industries as diverse as ice hockey, sailing, golf, Formula 1, cricket, American football, baseball, tennis and basketball in the past. And yet 77-year-old Hopp’s greatest achievements – regardless of a reputed $6.3 billion personal worth – will remain those closest geographically to his Walldorf-based establishment and personal concern in Hoffenheim, while leading them, throughout the entirety of the 21st century, from the fifth national tier to an astounding continental magnitude.
The now-defunct – in respects of senior male exploits – Dietmar-Kopp-Stadion stands to this day as a functional, 6,135-capacity testament to his unparalleled contribution across the transcript of German club exploits. Reportedly ‘gifted’ to a club he subsequently engineered his way into, to mark the 100th anniversary of the existence of the entity officially referred to as Turn-und Sportgemeinschaft (TSG) 1899 Hoffenheim, the ground lasted only a decade before accomplishments exceeded its dimensions. Graced with an immediate consecutive duo of promotions at the turn of the century, the eponymous stadium – then with a capacity closer to 5,000 – captured only fleeting memories of Verbandsliga Baden and Oberliga Baden-Württemberg divisions prior to a six-year consolidation at Regionalliga Süd, or third tier, level, and reminiscence of prior exploits amidst successive runners-up performances worthy of elevation in both the Süd and 2. Bundesliga. Fortune, perhaps, favoured their ascent in avoiding the overpopulation-enforced introduction of the 3. Liga in 2008, and requiring only a historically unrivalled four promotions compared to five, yet the achievements of Hansi Flick and Ralf Rangnick – two visionary tacticians mentioned regularly in reflections of German football’s cutting-edge present prowess, yet at respective stages of appointment a former Bayern Munich midfielder-turned coach of Oberliga Baden-Württemberg side Victoria Bammental, and an inconsistent former Stuttgart, Hannover and Schalke helmsman – in mutual five-year tenures laden with two league titles, two further promotions and three DFB-Pokal Quarter-Final appearances, cannot be underestimated. Posed with financial resources worthy more of the Rhein-Neckar region – 5,637 km2 of technological heartland that, while largely devoid of sporting legacy itself, a trio of national league champions have hailed from nearby, in 1908-09’s Karlsruhe Fussball Club Phönix, 1909-10’s Karlsruhe FV, defying cultural norms of the amateur era in appointing Englishman William Townley as coach and producing 14 of the goals scored in a 16-0 1912 Olympics thrashing of Russia, and 1949’s Mannheim – than of even a town of Sinsheim’s modesty, the institution ensured that Hopp’s commitments wouldn’t be spurned in sporting achievement.
Executing the progressive platform Hopp would’ve demanded required vision the billionaire could not merely purchase, but nurture and enrich. As heralded previously, Germany’s network of regionally devolved fragments working to an evident pattern and mutual ambition is fundamental to the nation’s international success, and Hoffenheim in no way deceive such trends. Investing, financially and emotionally, equally in the similarly unassuming academy upon arrival, Hopp witnessed three promotions in the first decade of involvement in TSG 1899 Hoffenheim II, with sixth-tier Landesliga Nordbaden II competition rapidly evolving into the Regionalliga Süd and remodelled Regionalliga Südwest at the fourth rung of organised football, alongside senior sides from Trier, Mannheim, Koblenz and Worms and academies from Mainz, Frankfurt, Freiburg and Kaiserslautern. Registered amongst their historic products, and as testaments to the platform offered to a previously untapped regional pool of talent, are Brighton midfield maestro Pascal Groß, German Olympic Silver Medallists and defenders Jeremy Toljan and Niklas Süle – retailed for utmost profit to Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich respectively –, current under-21 international midfielders Nadiem Amiri and Philipp Ochs, under-19 German representative Dennis Geiger and Swiss under-21 goalkeeper Gregor Kobel, thus defining the Hoffenheim-Hopp venture as sustainable and constitutionally compliant, if not exceeding for their geographical subservience.
Yet throughout their Bundesliga occupation, Die Kraichgauer’s fortunes have fluctuated. The later fortunes of Flick and Rangnick – having ushered in two phases of effectively uninterrupted and extraordinary development, the five-month 2006 tenure of Lorenz-Günther Köstner aside – as Joachim Low’s national team assistant and Sporting Director, following an earlier managerial role, at RB Leipzig, respectively, entail courses adapted and refined to decidedly sheltered environments, while Hoffenheim themselves have since employed seven separate managers, including Nagelsmann, in six years. Has Hopp’s institution radically altered the face of management in Germany? It is difficult to gauge, yet from the few examples of their professional history, disillusion with the cityscapes and continuity usually professed has appeared to emerge.
Employment, and its tribulation, pleads less of the duo at institutions renowned for their proven success of appointment – the DFB – and of flouting the 50+1 rule – RasenBallsport Leipzig’s Salzburg-based board, so has Kopp’s influence proven to be ethically irresponsible for the fate of German football? Certainly, its close successive parallels in the story of Leipzig – originally a fellow fifth tier club, SSV Markrenstädt, in 2008, with a license purchased from the 15,000-strong town 11km southwest of Leipzig and an ambition, as Red Bull’s fourth sporting enterprise, to reach the Bundesliga within a decade – dispel the myths of club football within the realms of Die Mannschaft as a thoroughly honest, politically autonomous and idealistic institution. Liable to the economic influence and systemic manoeuvre of the Austrian-based energy drinks brand, Leipzig flout the broadly successful 50+1 rule by inserting key company directors into club positions and preventing the constitutional voting rights of public members; of whom, defying fundamental ethics, the regulation of is meticulous, and to an extent reminiscent more of Joseph Stalin’s Communist Party than Jeremy Corbyn’s modern Labour.
As for the 15,000 constituents served by fellow Rhein-Neckar side SV Sandhausen – statistically recognised as the smallest professional German outfit, and housed at the Hardtwaldstadion, with a capacity 414 larger than the town’s populace itself – 18,000 Saxon citizens of the former mining town represented by FC Erzgebirge Aue, who, if so desired, could burst the Sparkassen-Erzgebirgsstadion, carved elegantly into the local Ore Mountains, and 1. FC Heidenheim’s 48,000-populated minor city on the border, from Baden-Württemberg, of Bavaria, however, the comparisons are certainly drastic. Equipped, rather modestly, with stadiums constructed, in their modern forms, in 1950 and ‘51, Aue and Sandhausen respectively exist broadly as the determined exponents of small-scale industry amongst a scene of communal high-rises; having exploited the lucratively untapped nearby urban populaces of Baden-Württemberg’s Heidelberg, alongside Hanover as a seldom-recognised aspect of German sporting culture – a rugby city – and Saxony’s Chemnitz and Zwickau.
Dominant, when provided with the requisite resources by an image-conscious Communist state, for almost a decade in East German competition, Aue – the established locals to Chemnitz, which was renamed, rather unequivocally, in 1954 as Karl-Marx-Stadt, and thus selected as the similarly rechristened SC Wismut Karl-Marx-Stadt – were victorious in four national championships and an East German Cup campaign between 1955 and 1959, while subsequently representing the apportioned nation in European Cup to various degrees of late-1950s success. Eliminated by Ajax in the 1958 First Round, having suffered a conspicuous floodlight failure at the imposing neutral site of Berlin’s Friedrich-Ludwig-Jahn-Sportpark – where within three years the Berlin Wall would stand – 100 minutes into a third qualifying leg with Polish champions Gwardia Warszawa and passing through by virtue of a coin toss; qualifying again with a third leg that ended, fortunately, in an indisputable 4-0 against Romanians Petrolul Ploiești and defeating IFK Göteborg before being ousted by Swiss opponents Young Boys in a Quarter-Final third leg, the year after; and recollecting their fervour for a third leg, or play-off, in 1960-61 when being eliminated by Austrians Rapid Wien in a First Round reached courtesy of Northern Irish opponents Glenavon’s refusal to travel to East Germany, nor a neutral venue, amidst diplomatic collapses during the construction of the infamous wall, Aue’s tale is certainly not of small-time serendipity – regaining independence in 1963, holding the record for the most elite-level East German matches played and embracing reunification, while adopting their current guise in 1993. Regaling their extensive and markedly turbulent history, however, threatens to derail focus from current exploits, with the same to be said of Sandhausen – established in the midst of World War One, while boasting records as twelve-time North Baden Cup holders, twice German Amateur Championship victors in 1978 and 1993 and six-time Oberliga Baden-Württemberg champions, last in 2007, and involved in protracted mid-2000s negotiations alongside Hoffenheim and Astoria Walldorf, under Kopp’s prerogative, to form a united FC Heidelberg 06 side that would never come to fruition.
Concerning ethical inspection, the histories of our dastardly duo of small towns appears entirely credible and worthy of highly coveted 2. Bundesliga positions mounted with every effort of consolidation in previous seasons, amidst the introduction of sides including Köln, Stuttgart, Freiburg, Nürnberg, Ingolstadt, Darmstadt and Kaiserslautern. Rendering analysis to mere mitigating cultural fixations of empathy deters from the systemic threats of, and to, a nation’s footballing establishment, and thus compromises objectivity. Inherently, as the 50+1 rule remains solely applicable to professional entities under the influence of either Bundesliga tier – controlled by the Deutsche Fußball Liga (DFL) – the impact of single purchase parties can impact on the proceedings of a season, a highly-coveted promotion and the future of many entailing clubs, led by an economic powerhouse or espousing communal, sustainable proprietorship. The aforementioned Heidenheim, despite its prime position on the Bavarian border and nigh-50,000 population, established a 10,000-capacity, yet thoroughly modern, stadium in 2010 for the foreseeable future; the ambition of contemporaries unremarked and unheralded in such an example, but for what reason? Misleading, in itself, is the club’s historically much-altered moniker – 1846 far from the year of official footballing inception, considering Sheffield F.C. were but 11 years from personal establishment, and in fact the instigation of gymnastics organisation in the city, while 1911 was the date of football’s introduction – yet the figure of 10,000 remained applicable only to minimum 3. Liga regulations, before another 5,000 seats had to be added to the tune of €4.5 million in 2014, following elevation to the 2. Bundesliga. Loyal to home-grown manager Frank Schmidt throughout a decade of broadly upwardly mobile exploits, the outfit require the financial injections of local corporations – including locally-owned mechanical engineering firm Voith, of whom the Voith-Arena is currently dedicated – to sustain proceedings in such an economically imposing amphitheatre as either stage of the Bundesliga.
Yet the pattern is replicated in every German professional constitution. The relationship between corporation and community – in this example, portrayed by a conglomerate membership in a football club – is as intrinsic in Deutschland, as Europe’s principal economic behemoth, as the role of the auto brand, stability of politik or regionally-defining wurst. Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen – or rather their ownerships and directorial panels –, as institutions intertwined with globally-renowned sponsors Volkswagen and Bayer for more than two decades, even earned the constitutional right to defy the 50+1 rule and enable their corporations to control greater capital, while only four of 18 present Bundesliga grounds remain untainted by sponsorship-imposed guises; Borussia Mönchengladbach’s Stadion im Borussia-Park, Hamburger SV’s Volksparkstadion, Werder Bremen’s Weserstadion and Hertha Berlin’s Olympiastadion. Of the remaining fourteen sides, four have sacrificed their stadium identity to banking or insurance firms, three carry automobil sponsorships, two have adopted titles each from the pharmaceutical, beverage and energy industries and another – Freiburg, from the isolated extreme south-west of the nation – sports the interests of a tourism firm promoting the Black Forest. Yet unlike undemocratic and callous English commercial panderings, each and every single example is localised and specific to the thriving economies of regions from Berlin to Munich, Hamburg to Stuttgart, Dortmund to Frankfurt and Mainz to Bremen; discounting Red Bull – based in Fuschl am See, a village at equal parameters between cosmopolitan Salzburg and the Austrian Alps – and Leipzig’s nigh-600km geographical disparity, of course.
Fundamentally, these relationships – as opposed to the influence of multinational corporations in potentially breaching the regulations of the heralded 50+1 rule – garner the eternal respect of economically-mindful, yet ferociously regionally competitive German citizens in a socio-economic circumstance and sporting culture entirely divided from the external expanse of Western Europe, and highly industrialised EU area. It is this loyalty to locally-forged, and regionally-fixated brands – reminiscent of philosophy amongst any capitalist global economy, yet far protracted to the circumstance of a decidedly individual psyche – that empowers multi-billionaires, and their corporations, to reinvest and reward their local community by means of balance, both in respects of diplomatic responsibility and democratic influence, with mass membership bodies. Far from naïve, the Bundesliga, and DFB, fully comprehend the progressive responsibility of individual financial contributions in the continual competition of constituent clubs, both on domestic and continental scenes. Such was the intention of their October 1998 amendment; ensuring that, appeasing the critics of an institution that had produced only a single European Cup finalist – 1996-97 champions Borussia Dortmund – in its reunified guise, not-for-profit membership schemes were now an illogical economic option rather than the undisputed status quo. Subsequently, Allianz, Audi and Adidas-funded Bayern Munich appeared in 1998-99 and 2000-01 finals – defied, in iconic circumstances, by Manchester United’s late surge in the prior, yet victorious in the latter, when ousting Valencia on penalties – while Bayer Leverkusen lost to an equally famous Zinedine Zidane thunderbolt at Hampden Park in the 2001-02 final, thus validating this eventual compromise as mutually beneficial, even to this day.
To reach the true pinnacle of the nation’s domestic sporting spectrum, then, has required, certainly, the fortunate influence of a neighbouring, and constructively ambitious, billionaire for Hoffenheim. Yet what they personify, alongside subordinates Aue, Sandhausen and perhaps even Heidenheim, is a decisive and visionary fervour for resilient inspiration; projecting creativity on a landscape of great adversity, while exploiting a significant local discrepancy. Ethical caveats permeate effectively all tales of overriding romanticism, and often are beyond alleviation; such is the circumstance of our lauded villages and towns mired in suburban, industrial obscurity. Quashing the romanticism of portrayals of fiercely independent and overachieving municipalities – more akin, in international comparison, to Burnley’s second dawn, as a town of merely 73,000 inhabitants, at present times in the Premier League – the dispelled myths of German football are rife within national confines, yet for foreign mainstream press on perennial proverbial tenterhooks for sensationalism, the trend has translated only gradually, and through imperceptive filters at that. Clarity, and justification in the juxtaposition with amoral British commercialised landscapes, is demanded by the culturally inimitable entity that is the German footballing colossus. In a nation where democracy and collective trajectory is paramount, not just to internal proceedings, but upon union-wide and global economic exploits, it may be the circumstance that fortune can glean social elevation from rural obscurity; yet, in the ultimate testament, to ascend the elite ranks an adept poise of both commercial subservience and communal empowerment prevails as the fundamental factor. Heroic towns, when depieced under microscopic journalistic inspection and objectively reassembled, return, rather hearteningly, under exactly such a defiant and inspirational status guise, and few other such honesties asserted by the German institution can be as intrinsically candid.
As father time beckons social media-averse generations of moderately lucrative domestic helmsmen and FA coaching programme graduates – Roy Hodgson, Harry Redknapp, Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock and perhaps even the increasingly tactically expendable Tony Pulis included – towards a proverbial kicking-and-screaming retirement, antiquated employees, uninspiring in a modern context, reflect the changing desires of an entire industry in which they are, ultimately, scapegoats.
Beguilingly, it is the ilk of Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville – products of remarkable academy outfits, trained under echelons of managerial talent arguably unsurpassed in the Premier League, multiple-trophy victors and cultured internationals – that are hailed most prominently as potential candidates for positions, at this formative stage, both in the Football League, and in the distant future perhaps even at their respective former clubs.
In contradiction to their mutual broadcasting exploits – and non-league ownership accountabilities, in the case of the latter trio –, however, these ties have as yet been rendered untenable, with varying degrees of professional coaching insurgence witnessed and scrutinised amidst Neville’s ill-fated Valencia tenure, Gerrard’s recently-adopted Liverpool under-18 management role, Scholes’ coy Oldham links and Giggs’ Swansea ties following a 2014 four-game interim Manchester United occupancy. Is this disproportionate, yet coveted, distortion in fact a realistic encapsulation of the drastic reform the British coaching system could be set to undergo in the foreseeable future? To an extent, a similar trend could be emerging across the globe in the context of the impending retirements of Guus Hiddink, Dick Advocaat and Arsene Wenger – where each hail from a nation presently struggling to harness the full extent of their kaleidoscope of youthful promise – but do widely accepted fallacies of generational shifts boast credence in such examples? Ultimately, is personality – or style – overriding the substance of management in modern circumstances, or is romanticism simply skewing the rationality of broadcasters in our interpretation of events?
Underlying each passing day, and match, in the context of the slanderous, immediately pre-emptive broadcasting trends we are exposed to across numerous platforms today, is the martyrdom or salvation of elite-level managers. The disposable acreage of each club’s multifaceted equity assembly, they are prone to a greater, and more prolonged, extent of denigrating torment in the midst of tactical struggle – quite rightly, certain quarters may argue, when referencing their superior professional requirements and accumulated knowledge – yet are rarely hailed to equally iconic statuses as those implementing their philosophies in victorious accomplishments. It can, of course, be debated that as progressive history coagulates, it becomes the commander, as opposed to the soldier, who is regarded, and broadly projected, with the honour of achievement; affirming English eighteenth century dramatist George Colman the Younger’s declaration to “praise the bridge that takes you over.” Certainly, amongst sporting subcultures more appreciative of perpetually progressive tactical flair and innovation, in conjunction with its implementation, as opposed to the purely ephemeral fixation on physiological aesthetics, such a conclusion could prove appropriate, yet with mainstream media increasingly straying – in the pursuit of commercial, or social, relevance – into the degrading rhetoric and toxic milieu of presumptuous subsections of club support more vaunting of apparent loyalty above objectivity and basic justice, such present interpretations appear self-misleading. Despite the evident influence of Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho, Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino and Jürgen Klopp, as a segment of the sharpest intellects available in the modern elite form of the sport, on the enhancement of English Premier League quality and tactical trailblazing much-lauded in present Champions League reputes, it appears particularly English demographics remain averse to divert from idiosyncratically condemnatory values, nor the disingenuous bandwagoning on Romelu Lukaku, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Phil Jones, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Harry Kane, amongst others.
Alongside us, as consumers, however, are playing staff and administrative club kingpins as receptive to the erratic reputational qualities of managerial candidates amidst modern trends, and if so, how significant could its role be in the impending appointments set to pose boards of directors – largely, in this example – across the continent? Cults of apparent compatibility ruled by commercial value may convince vulnerable chairmen, granted, and the temptation of serving under personal idols could potentially alter a squad’s position, yet you’d imagine the current rationality of appointment – at least in most sane confines – would at least be maintained, if not rendered acutely pertinent, in an environment placing greater economic emphasis on every single performance than any preceding it. This interpretation, however, is totally reliant on present curriculum vitae, with Gerrard having only recently secured his UEFA A Coaching Licence, Giggs and Neville – as former, albeit brief, Premier League and La Liga bosses respectively – boasting Pro Licences, and the reluctant Scholes only a B Licence, while having to realistically compete with journeymen and established cronies, perhaps of 20 years’ experience at such a rung and with infamously extensive contacts, in order to gain even initial gravity in the managerial market. Gerrard, as the only member of the quartet currently in professional employment, reveals a commendable pragmatism that defined his later playing years and likely identifies with each of his fellow coaching programme products in the context of embracing duties to future generations; “If you come out of the game and automatically think you’re going to be a top coach because of the name on your back, or the career that you’ve had, then I think you’re taking big risks and cutting a lot of corners and a lot of learning, growing and evolving out.”
Cynicism, if anything, persists Scholes’ identification with the regressive culture of management in English hinterlands – stating in an exert from the Class of 92: Out of Our League book, released in September 2016; “I’d probably be sacked after five games if I was manager, wouldn’t I? I don’t really know if I’ll ever manage. I’ve done my UEFA B Licence. I haven’t done the A Licence. I will get it done. But I’m just wondering, is it worth it? I haven’t had any major offers. I had one offer from Oldham a couple of years ago.” This caution has perhaps manifested rather poignantly in the current status of many FA tutelage graduates as assistant managers and youth coaches, as opposed to the ‘shop window’ Brian Clough once eulogised. Nicky Butt (Manchester United Head of Academy), Phil Neville (former Valencia assistant), Kevin Phillips (Derby first team coach) and James Beattie (Middlesbrough first-team coach) each embody what may be attributed as an institutional disparity and preceding distrust, if any character flaw exists, in their commitment to the development of club standards as opposed to personal perseverance; yet what is, in fact, failure to exhibit the ruthlessness or tactical ingenuity of overseas exponents, nor the systematic and comprehensive knowledge of proceedings of established lower-league figures. Further allusion is delivered in Gerrard’s admission – though biased in its depiction, through Peter Glynn’s (FA education content editor) astute ‘boot room’ questioning and slant – that “A lot of ex-players over the years have been put off by the amount of work you have to put in on the[coaching] courses. I think [in the past] it was almost a test on the courses and people were intimidated to fail and didn’t want to be put in the spotlight in front of all the other people that were on the course. The good thing about the FA now is they’ve changed the courses, they’ve evolved the courses and they’re more enjoyable. You’ve still got to put the work in but you get time to grow. So when you are judged or tested, you feel more ready.”
Regardless of how negligible Dan Ashworth – who personally contacted Gerrard, amongst other former Three Lions representatives, regarding the pursuit of qualifications – and the broader FA may intend the feature of a palpable character reverence to be in the coaching courses and future management they espouse, however, unless there is a radical departure in the direction of sporting culture across the globe, their task will succumb to fundamental psychology. Emboldened, in an egocentric vacuum, by the platitude of plaudits – financially beneficial or otherwise – enveloping their sheltered route to international representation, the products of present elite academy systems rarely have impressed upon them the pivotal concept of administration. Institutionalised footballing culture may have altered to depict the pursuit of post-retirement coaching employment as a theme of charity, and punditry – an exclusive profession prior to the expansion of subscription services comprising, amongst others, Sky Sports and BT Sport – as the stable, less demanding vocational course. Punditry, in its vastly broadcasted, intensely lucrative circumstance, serves to protect the sycophantic cult, particularly of English ex-internationals both lauded and derided by an infatuated media, and entices those devoid of both evident post-playing plans and the necessity for further revenue following demonstrable playing salaries.
Management is, through its very fabric, a resilient, and arguably naïve, individual’s profession. The tribulations of successive generations of established internationals – Stuart Pearce, David Platt, Chris Waddle, Glenn Hoddle, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Ince, Ray Wilkins, John Barnes, Tony Adams, Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Martin Peters, Bobby Charlton and Nobby Stiles amongst their number – only allude to the fundamental character detriments of a national team bourgeoisie, with only Jack Charlton (35 caps), Alf Ramsey (32), Don Revie (six), Joe Mercer (five) and Brian Clough (two) the omissions to such an alarming precedent of the professionalised era. Certainly, when presented with such imposing underlying circumstance, there is a subsequent impulse to denounce the potential of future aspirations – yet as a culture we must guard against pre-emptive complacency. FA Technical Director Ashworth evidently intends to eradicate the subservience and malaise that has festered with the oblivious advocacy of a systemically profligate and uncompromising coaching programme, and thus prevent the further spurning of certain coaching abilities, yet can he truly achieve impartiality, objectivity and future aptitude, above mere competence, amongst former internationals to counterbalance the extensive catalogue of former semi-professionals and inferior professionals the nation boasts?
This is a concern facing many global associations presently, yet the plight of English councils appears drastic; Gareth Southgate’s uninspiring presence as Three Lions senior helmsman ineffective if intended to dispel certain inferences. Aforementioned Dutch associations have recently witnessed a long-standing and nationally respected former international, the 107-time-capped Giovanni van Bronckhorst, guide Feyenoord to the 2015-16 KNVB Cup and 2016-17 Eredivisie title – the Rotterdam outfit’s first in a lean spell of 18 years – while, in unambiguous contrast, the closest any current English top-flight manager (Michael Appleton, interim Leicester City boss, included) has come to the national side was Eddie Howe’s duo of under-21 appearances issued alongside the ilk of Emile Heskey, Jamie Carragher and Frank Lampard at 1998’s Toulon Tournament edition. Those who doubt the relevance or influence of such elite experience, either, should be directed to the focal internationals Pep Guardiola (47 Spanish caps), Antonio Conte (20 Italian appearances), Mauricio Pochettino (also 20 Argentine runouts) at the vanguard of Premier League rivalry, in addition to Zinedine Zidane (108 French caps, and a World Cup to his name) and Diego Simeone (106 such Argentine presences, a Confederations Cup and two Copa Américas) as the beacons of empowered tactical trailblazing; finally verifying playing privilege not as a hindrance to managerial capabilities, but as an increasingly pivotal aspect of evolving administrative duties.
Regardless of era, and broadly geopolitical or ideological circumstance – unless dictated to in decision by an acutely autocratic state, or devolving responsibility in the process espoused currently at RB Leipzig, where Ralf Rangnick, as the more prominent ‘Sporting Director’, delegates coaching tasks to former Ingolstadt boss Ralph Hasenhüttl – the immediate thesis of managerial power will remain seated with the qualities of tactical coherence, coaching prowess, adept interpersonal harmonising and, though an unenviable aspect, disciplinarian status. For the survival of the profession, there is no reneging on these factors. Providing trends demonstrating the exponential incline of astronomical wages across global fronts continue to permeate the existence of professionalised, particularly elitist, ranks, diverse propositions may soon be footed at the vulnerable centralised figures external audiences revel, in their sensationalist majority, in the vilification of. The implication of a lifestyle marred by such acutely prominent fame and resultant responsibilities may arise for an increasing array of young players, and if club psychologists cannot sufficiently resolve the issue, a figure vaulted in international relevance for the exploits of a turbulent decade, and highly esteemed amongst all in the sporting community, could prove an effective resort. Comprehending the escalating demands of contemporary professionals is a rarely-lauded aspect of managerial care, complementing tactical flair. These are not concerns that can afford to be shouldered, nor devalued, in an age increasingly aware of the distinction of mental health, particularly among young professionals, in this sector, and the duty falls both with the hopefully revered employees at the forefront of sporting exploits and the broader institution of employment as to provide guidance and sincerity.
Nor can the minutiae of a publicly flagrant sporting lifestyle be undermined. Though certainly not incapable, coaches who have grafted careers towards the pinnacle of management from humble playing careers, and have largely operated in definitive hierarchical structures, cannot comprehend, nor operate to such erudite extents, the potential circumstances of a national cup final, continental competition, international tournament or other vaulted occasions to the same extent as a former elite-level, all-observing ex-idol. Similarly, though decidedly generationally-dictated, the socio-economic undertones of unrest – pertaining to the submission of a transfer request –, cultural alienation, perhaps amidst remote pre-season excursions, or the modern work-life balance, while not attributed to the guidance directly of managers – ultimately the sole individuals whose opinions are valued – can be moulded and influenced by even the most casual conversation and insight. In many respects replicative of the ‘super coach’ trend in present professional male tennis ranks – comprising former Grand Slam champions Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Andre Agassi, John McEnroe, Goran Ivanišević, Michael Chang and Carlos Moyá – the mere presence of greatness, eliciting immediate admiration, alongside comprehensive managerial aptitude, can elevate playing standards irrelevant to any fallacies of coincidence. An intrinsic and fundamental psychological onus manifests in such circumstances on performing for those who earn your respect, rather than demanding it, amidst the holy managerial trinity; defined and rational tactical innovation, inimitably perceptive player development and the stimulation of existential value.
Inevitably, however, when employing such heralded profiles, sacrifices are demanded of the directors and executives mired in such decision. Regardless of the extensive fees accrued in gilded playing careers, multiple league, continental competition and potentially world victors are likely to demand extortion to appropriately unprecedented standards, with a cultivated cultural adoption of agents – even progressively ‘super-agents’ including Mino Raiola, Jorge Mendes, Jonathan Barnett, Pini Zahavi and Kia Joorabchian – as the true dictators to utmost power in managerial respects, complementing their players’ stranglehold. Expenses not without potential economic reward, certain quarters may contend, as the rapport established during formative careers transfers to more dignified, yet still immoral exploitation of reputation to the profit of both individual and institution. The regaling romanticism and global interest cajoled from what, at this stage, remains a decidedly left-field appointment option – yet which could quickly evolve into a societal norm, requiring systemic cultural adaptation is enacted – is destined to deliver the prospect tabloids have been attempting to elicit for successive seasons now; sensationalist vessels, in this case subservient pundits, assuming office to implement the constitutional revolution these forms demand in the midst of an apparently unacceptable run of poor form.
This entirely differs from the FA’s interpretation of their programme’s potential success, however. Demands clash, and these reformed ex-professionals will be drawn into conflict between their duty to the improvement of coaching standards, and their career stability criticising those in the very position their employment could have been realised. Loyalties are examined when circumstances reach such an introspective stage, and for the fortunes of the FA in pursuing global inclinations, only one decision can prove ethically justifiable. Personality must be sacrificed to a certain degree for employment in this industry to prove viable, as credibility and substance are in the self-preserving broadcasting sector, and critically the deductions of an individual’s values can be revealed in this impasse. Not a career-jeopardising alteration if conducted in this circumstance, but one that can drastically contort routine and subsequent personality projections.
Yet this is by no means an argument to the derision of largely self-made helmsmen. Defying the stereotype of humble pragmatism within exasperating constraints, and despite never having played a senior professional match, Julian Nagelsmann and Maurizio Sarri – of Hoffenheim and Napoli respectively – are two of the most rousing modern tacticians, yet for the benefit of the sport – neither, after all, has achieved significant decoration to date – a greater scope and depth of prior playing experience in coaching ranks can prove little other than beneficial. Unless the alarming correlation between morally-silencing wage escalations, hierarchical protectionism and apparent post-retirement security, and the reluctance of a deafening majority to enrol into the profession, is dispelled, however, and we witness cultural redemption, those of Scholes’ scholarly ilk will evade the pivotal profession. As the culture of unparalleled economic liberty reaches hyperbolic excesses of self-gratification, either of two radical outlets could ensue; doldrums intensifying of the incapability to convince ex-elite intellects of the magnitude of management, or at the very least coaching, exploits, or the presently dominant class of gilded ex-internationals comprising a vaster sect as attempts at replication mount across clubs with the requisite ambition and resources for more of their prodigious quality. Regardless of potential cultural evolution, a broader composition of such all-encompassing playing careers desperately requires addressing in coaching programmes across the globe. The pinnacle of achievement in the sporting vacuum is, in the perspective of hopefully the majority involved, both accomplishment in physical performance and the subsequent transmission of accrued insight to successive generations; not just to the extent of a single individual, but an impact on the broader sport’s spectrum. While Dan Ashworth, amongst fellow visionaries – or at least the scarce intermittent bastions of administrative competency in a negligent establishment – has identified this, and is attempting to personally rectify the disparity, it remains such a vast cavity that resolution cannot be performed by a single commendable individual.
Intentions are only as successful as their course of action. For many retired ex-professionals, I fully accept, character or lifestyle predispositions may hinder their ability to coach successfully – and for a vast majority of managerial careers, inferiority will define their exploits in a moral recalibration never before experienced. To not be challenged in these pre-empted and cynical observations of the tribulations management entails, however, is intolerable in a culture straying increasingly from external reality. Whether football, in its elite industrial existence, is willing to compromise on its vaulted pedestal for exponents of physical prowess and salvage a managerial subsect from the deliverance of mediocrity, however, is doubtful. Culture, in its all-encompassing form, cannot alter when only desired so; evident resolutions must be adopted in legislative procedure – a process in which a trust deficiency currently dictates throughout the game. Such, unfortunately, are the disenchantments of modern sport.
Quashing recent rumours of assuming managerial responsibilities at Lancashire’s, or more appropriately Greater Manchester’s, subordinate Latics, Clarence Seedorf and Paul Scholes – the latter certainly with greater provincial credentials – reintroduced Oldham Athletic to mainstream media in perhaps the first tangible incidence since an aborted attempt to sign convicted rapist and former Welsh international striker Ched Evans on a free transfer in January 2015.
Usurping a perennially tumult-stricken, yet juxtapositionally inconspicuous former Premier League constituent institution in classification of significance, the duo of retired midfielders – globally lauded, multiple Champions League-winning professionals, at that – defined the now-League One club’s diminished modern role in a callous English footballing hierarchy. Circumstantial adaptation has long since pervaded the Latics’ ranks, however, rendering this observation irrelevant. Alluding, more pertinently, to the pre-emptively ill-fated ownership ambitions of Moroccan businessman Abdallah Lemsagam in a side currently mired in financial disparities, and only able to sustain survival courtesy of the uncompromising tenacity of caretaker manager Richie Wellens, at the forefront of a loyal backroom staff – alongside players – going temporarily unpaid for the third time since 2011, these headlines underline to the consciously unfeasible vision of Lemsagam. First Seedorf – a close friend of the Dubai-based entrepreneur and agent, accepting an invitation to survey the club’s facilities –, then Salford-based recent adviser Scholes, as an inflammatory consequence, and now the ilk of Brian Kidd, Walter Zenga and Pablo Correa have drawn insatiable focus as potential Lemsagam targets in forging a prestigious Lancastrian identity amidst a seemingly inevitable majority 70% purchase from generally commendable current chairman Simon Corney.
Such a farcical situation bears a striking resemblance to Corney’s January 2005 arrival; alongside fellow New York-based telecommunications capitalists and British expatriates Danny Gazal and Simon Blitz, he salvaged the club from impending administration and fostered an immediate relationship with both Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, while lavishing ambitions of re-establishing the Latics at a Championship level. Pretences incomparable, you may argue, with the universally overzealous vision such a considerable demographic fall victim to today, yet for the club consecrated as members of the Premier League’s inaugural two seasons, little has changed; reaching the play-offs only once (sixth in the 2006-07 season) and having consolidated a recurrent relegation-teetering position in each of the previous consecutive eight seasons, with unerring accuracy between 15th and 19th. Stagnation quite to that extent remains a largely unbeknownst quality to the see-sawing circus surrounding the Latics – having witnessed no fewer than 66 sides, amongst which six current Premier League clubs including former champions Leicester City register, grace the Boundary Park surface over Corney’s nigh-13-year reign – and proved an intolerable exertion for the permanently Long Island-fixated Gazal and Blitz by July 2010, effectively citing unreciprocated investments and unfulfilled ambition as their unresolvable grievances.
Institutionally, Oldham – both as an economically deprived division, with a reported 2016 average household income at £23,920, between Manchester’s gilded metropolis and the rugged Pennines, and a sporting body in the lower quartile of Football League attendance attractors, with apt consolidation this decade at crowds in the mid-4,000s – facilitates such investments in a regrettable encapsulation of naturally attractive, if definably vulnerable, proposition of their kin across the nation. Of League One counterparts alone, they can identify Portsmouth, AFC Wimbledon, MK Dons, Wigan, Charlton, Bradford and Blackpool as fellow victims of the Premier League’s dazzling lights; gradually resurgent past addicts, persistent offenders yet to heed from systemic malaise and, well, the complicated entanglement of the rightful heirs to the Crazy Gang throne and the cowardly Buckinghamshire pretenders, amongst their ranks. Kindred spirits, however, can be found most prominently in this Saturday’s particularly fitting fixture, as taking – or having taken, by the time you read this – to the Boundary Park pitch will be former Premier League champions and fellow spiritual Lancastrians Blackburn Rovers. An organisation that sacrificed its very identity and social essence to the detrimental, yet apparently economically profitable, influence of India’s Rao family – of Venky’s fortune – Rovers’ demise under ownership unprecedented in its incompetence has resonated as one of the most tragic of 21st century English football, in a period when, for the elite, an apparently impermeable financial blanket should exist to prevent FA humiliation.
These are not the words of a cynic, but a realist. One only has to admire the miscued rationale of ruinously negligent self-proclaimed chieftains in the culpability of almost every calamitous Premier League relegation – the Allam family at Hull, Vincent Tan at Cardiff, Karl Oyston at Blackpool, the transition between Mohamed Al-Fayed and Shahid Khan at Fulham, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, QPR’s Tony Fernandes and Mike Ashley of Newcastle, of whom his SportsDirect company is, coincidentally, a leading sponsor of the Latics, the most prominent of these examples – whilst quantifying the impact of economic mismanagement and obsessive sporting intrusion to conclude that the political, self-centered campaigns of such men are detrimental to the stability of a historic communal entity. Thus, no applicable rule should defer in Oldham’s instance; especially considering the primary objective of Lemsagam, providing he does fulfil his obligation, following a lengthy observation process, will be solely to survive in both financial and sporting respects – the hard-fought Corney operation to stave off as dramatic a stagnation as League Two demotion may beckon vital not to be rendered worthless within the first few months of non-British ownership in Latics heritage. Commercially, the variance between Leagues One and Two is, admittedly, negligible, yet the attendance figures – already paltry, lagging behind certain opposition inferior in the pyramid – for arguably Greater Manchester’s fifth favoured outfit would dissipate even to greater extents amidst immediate disillusion, rendering investments subsequently compromised. It is challenging, conversely, to also perceive elevation – nigh social mobility, admiring the inexorable plight of Corney’s spurned vision – beyond mid-table League One obscurity and especially into the now-gilded Championship ranks, almost entirely habituated by ex-elite constituents and interspersed with global talent.
Dare they embark, as it certainly appears, on what preceding fatalities would condemn a financially jeopardising, if not self-destructive, establishment-rivalling exploit, the Oldham institution would require acute introspective analysis. Trust has already been invested in an as-yet unanointed – at least in official capacity – financier to such an extent that of the Latics’ increasingly irregular summer signings, all of those employed after July were, allegedly, of his prerogative; Belgian Eintracht Braunschweig reserve winger Gyamfi Kyeremeh, Dutch former Ajax youth product and Nantes loanee Queensy Menig, Haitian former Ligue 1 goalkeeper Johny Placide, former Saint-Étienne academy graduate midfielder Mohamed Maouche, Curaçao international and European journeyman winger Gevaro Nepomuceno and French Ligue 2 midfielder Abdelhakim Omrani, perhaps never candidates to pursue Mancunian careers, and even less so for Oldham, but the result of Lemsagam’s evidently extensive agency ties. Such is Lemsagam’s overriding influence that, identifying his future employees and consequently implementing the League One rarity of an international break on the Latics aside, it was reputedly his decree to former manager John Sheridan that caused only 14 senior players to be considered of appropriate integrity for even the matchday squad when visiting Blackpool in late August – ensuring that Sheridan was decidedly isolated in the dugout at Bloomfield Road amidst a 2-1 defeat. Evidently, then, permeating the club is a vacuum of inevitability and culture, perhaps, even of fear at the fundamental solitary role of the Moroccan in salvaging the 122-year institution; appreciating the two-weeks belated September imbursements undoubtedly as prolonged gratitude-stirring Dubai investments, asserting the puppeteer’s presence over an out-of-depth Corney and dutiful Wellens.
To use such disdainful rhetoric, however, alleviates the context of the plight. Naturally, Oldham – as 1990 and 1994 FA Cup semi-finalists, ’90 League Cup runners-up and, as aforementioned, thrice registered as amongst the post-war elite 22 establishments of English football in the same early 90s era – desire progression, and a pride unheralded in Pennine parts for over two decades. It is not unrealistic, surely, to revere the communal fervour and ensuing attendances that punctuated prolonged national relevance; perhaps not to the extent of concerted 1910s and ‘20s First Division occupation, in which they achieved the zenith of their existence, albeit tainted by depleted attendances amidst the outbreak of war in bronze-medal and runners-up positions in 1913-14 and 1914-15 seasons respectively, nor the near-18,000-strong crowds defying of Third Division status in the immediate aftermath of World War Two, but, while respecting the role of the demise of once world-leading cotton spinning and broader textile industries in the town, a respectable stage comparable with the 9,153 average the 99 seasons of recorded Latics history has yielded.
Undefined, yet perceivably lofty Lemsagam ambitions – certainly rendered such in consideration of the ever-expanding commercial market and systemic present channelling of young minds solely into elitist forms – could be realised sooner, as opposed to later. Reignite the idiosyncratically British form of perpetually cautious, consciously masochistic optimism – as witnessed in the regular mid-6,000 attendances of Premier League-espousing early 2000s chairman Chris Moore’s reign – and he could dispel the stagnation that has distinguished Corney’s lone rule, and has featured an unerring eight consecutive seasons of sub-5,000 crowds defying a record that has witnessed such paltry figures only registered in six prior seasons; 1960, 1969, 1970, 1985, 1986 and 2001. An obsession with such calculations must register in Lemsagam’s ideology once, rather than if, FA paperwork is fulfilled, as it will underline his ability to revise the outlook of the Latics in an ever-adapting EFL structure and commercial context and sustain any pretences of immediate upscaling. An attractive proposition for investors both aiming to intertwine personal vision with a long-established institution and utilise the thriving Mancunian housing industry for a means of ethical retort – citing the communal benefits of their investment in high-rise facilities, only to economically alienate the average Lancastrian from access – Oldham, not least with the squad currently at Wellens’ disposal, but potentially in the armoury of a truly high-calibre individual, require a constitution able to harness their socio-economic position. No longer can they afford to stagnate in the unprofitable dredges of self-obfuscating and subordinate League One status.
Nor, conversely, can they survive at the tyrannical dictation of a self-righteous despot perforating into the soul of the establishment. Thus, a perennial balancing act is required amidst astute management – surely stipulating of the presence of the Supporters’ Trust, of whom 3% of all shares belong, and will morally forever remain. Can they, despite gathering in depleted contemporary numbers, prevent aforementioned apparitions of detriment, degradation and potential demise?
Though unsubstantiated by statistics, there is the obvious counterargument that, harking back to the usurping commercial figures and youth-centric fervour for Manchester’s glitterati, the force wielded by supporters’ establishments and representatives dissipates as the pyramid divides. The dictatorial preservation of Karl Oyston, Roland Duchatelet, the Dao family, Vincent Tan and Assem Allam, amidst arguably the most vitriolic and unrepentant protests of 21st century British football, only validates the prior statement, uncorrelated though it is with the progression of AFC Wimbledon, Wycombe Wanderers, Exeter City and Newport County – all fan-owned entities profiting in an institutionally perverse, professionalised Football League environment. Herein lies a perilous precedent; overseas magnates degraded as universal harbingers of unsustainable aspiration tainted cynically as in the pursuit of personal profitability, while democratic, communal bureaus subsist conversely detracted as espousing nigh-communist footballing revolt and professing financial stability above upwards mobility. Fundamentally, such callous generalisations cannot exist as the extents of introspective analysis within sporting chambers, nor journalistic investigation, in an age posing greater trepidation and potential rewards to both ownership forms, and for Oldham – encapsulating a far broader subordinate, or at least less immediate, spectrum – their future will not be dictated by the unwavering regimen of either of these apparent rules. Providing Abdallah Lemsagam incorporates the socio-economic circumstance of what is now a sporting community at his mercy or deliverance, as opposed to that of the wider Mancunian sprawl, and realises the limitations of the club’s infrastructure in what, without pragmatics, threatens to be a concerted pursuit of ultimately unobtainable fortune, his investment could be potentially prove successful.
Staffordshire’s Burton Albion, West London’s Brentford and Lancastrian rivals Preston North End, however, defy these socially implanted limitations in a resolve of arguably undervalued modern magnitude, especially amidst a Championship environment with increasing reliance on tycoon-derived finances, imposing facilities with heritage in elite service – 19 of the current 24 constituent clubs having heritage in the Premier League, while 16 of those were during the 21st century – and globally-sourced playing squads for whom the nationally subsidiary proposition is becoming progressively lucrative. Not all aspirational, locally-owned and largely conventionalist entities can achieve the uncompromised, if unembellished honour of the Brewers, Bees and Lilywhites, and certainly not those with a fundamentally defective infrastructure and naïve executive management.
As inspiration can be sourced from the establishment-defying exploits of Burton, Fylde coast side Fleetwood Town – themselves a fellow League One and Lancastrian outfit – and phoenix formation AFC Wimbledon as institutions elevated from the depths of English non-league structure, however, contrasting correlations connoting the cautionary encounters of clubs as geographically diverse, and thus nationally liable, as Portsmouth, Blackpool, Blackburn, Bolton, Bradford, Wigan, Charlton, Leeds and Coventry arise in precaution. Each of these former Premier League states found financial mismanagement at least partially culpable, if not pivotal, in their respective relegation freefalls, and yet very few have heeded such harshly-delivered competitive deferrals; German-owned, community-focused Bradford and Portsmouth, having graced Fratton Park with a fleeting fan ownership programme abruptly halted by the cowardly, yet democratically conferred, sale of assets valued at £5.67 million to Walt Disney magnate Michael Eisner in August this year, perhaps the closest, yet opting, particularly in the latter’s example, for a path well marked by ethically dissenting, perceivably falsely ambitious compatriots. Chief amongst their indefatigable stranglehold of financial distortion are the Rao’s – overseers of the crowning nadir of Rovers’ 142-year history, a whimpering demise from eleven consecutive seasons of Premier League competition into the Championship and League One within seven debilitating years of government – who entered into the 2017-18 season with medially embarrassed resolutions to reinstate second-tier status within 12 months. Despite the significant economic burdens of a payroll including former Celtic and Scotland defender Charlie Mulgrew, Northern Irish international midfielder Corry Evans and former Premier League representatives Craig Conway, Danny Graham, Dominic Samuel, Elliott Bennett and Peter Whittingham, not to mention prestigious helmsman Tony Mowbray, the family’s aspirations may not have incorporated the contingency and circumstantial familiarity of startlingly unbeaten Shrewsbury Town, nor seasoned Wigan and Bradford campaigners, currently out of reach of the 19-point Riversiders, albeit lacking two games in pretext.
Rovers’ status as one of only eight post-war former English league champions to descend to the third tier of domestic competition – Portsmouth, Derby, Leeds, Wolves, Nottingham Forest, Burnley and the anomaly of Manchester City their company in such an exclusive bracket of ineptitude – may hold resonance for devoted footballing historians and 1990s aficionados in years to come, but for upcoming generations, those engaging in the formative stages of lifelong fandom, the Lancastrians will simply be derided as another unfortunate victim of the revolving elitist cycle. Another pin on the map, former preeminent seraphs for whom financial, and ethical, agony has befallen their skewed psyche. While Oldham can never lay claim to even that stage of significance, rather valued only marginally above regional adversaries Rochdale and Bury in lower-league pedigree, such a drastic state of effective irrelevance will surely permeate their existence unless the apparent agendas of Lemsagam are commenced with haste. Yet such remiss vigour that it would plunge the club into peril supersedes any ephemeral enthusiasm, and remains a perpetual threat to survival when teetering repeatedly on the edge of League Two beckoning – depths the Latics have only fallen to for seven seasons in both the early 1960s and ‘70s. To depict fallacies of an exalted inspiration in the ilk of Mancunian idol Kidd, Milanese eccentric Zenga or largely unheralded Montevidean quality Correa – recently deposed from his nigh-22-year Nancy employment, as both former player and manager – establishing a concerted, sustainable ascent primarily beyond present manacles, and successively into the realisation of aspirations akin to overachieving Championship contemporaries, would be a gross embellishment of infrastructural capabilities, regardless of Dubai-derived injections.
Virtues of humility and rationality, however, rarely define Lemsagam’s predecessors, whether on the South Coast, atop Yorkshire peaks, immersed in Birmingham industry, situated upon Tyneside or shelved in juxtaposing Lancastrian corridors. Culpable for the misdemeanours of such institutions, perhaps these moguls were, but an aspect they each shared was a degree of transient hope; both for the projected vision of first-team fortunes and local implications. Protect this aspiration and accept the responsibility of his role in social East Lancastrian proceedings, and Lemsagam – regardless of prior character faults – can restore pride in the Latics, a quality largely unheralded but eternally fundamental to any community. Study the scene – here, after all, lie the husks of former glories, unfortunate enough as to have not prolonged their top-flight occupations prior to the implementation of financially salvaging compensation, and the causation for the Premier League’s parachute funds – and navigate the perils of impulsive slogs of seasonal competition, and perhaps Oldham Athletic could be salvaged. Not just financially, but in long-unfounded respects of national reputation. A considerable if, certainly, but one that holds the pride of a community at its mercy. No longer can they be martyrs to perpetual adversity, lacking a realisation of their communally unifying potential. Consigning Blackburn to a last-gasp 1-0 defeat registers as a conspicuous forbearer of this reinvigoration – long may it endure the tribulations of Oldham occupation. Long may it permeate those whose intentions honour their club, their community and their sport.
“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the furthest thing from it. Because cynics don't learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness: a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.” Such a degrading sentiment – described here by, unexpectedly, American chat show host Stephen Colbert – has manifested with conceited candour amongst England national team ‘supporters’ in an era defined by desensitised ingratitude and almost immediate distaste. “Cynicism is what passes for insight among the mediocre”, also argues Time Magazine political columnist Joe Klein – yet little blame can be apportioned to the impulsive detractors and apparent victims of the tribulations of the FA’s befittingly incompetent international senior male, and therefore dominant, representatives. No illusions are apportioned by a 2018 World Cup qualification reliant on points accrued in the dying embers of eminently winnable ties against Slovakia, Scotland and now Slovenia. Watching the English national team, in a vast majority of its post-2006 guises – and thus my formative experience of their exploits – and their inevitable toil to discrediting ends, regardless of intermittent promise or inevitable demise, prises the progressively prevalent sycophantic will for ineptitude from the most masochistic factions of national support. Or so the rhetoric goes.
Adopting the resort of a gratuitously industrial 4-4-2 in the second half of a stuttering eventual 1-0 victory against Slovenia’s resolute travelling force this week only exemplified this self-flagellating and apathetic persistence. The historic staple of English coaches – yet entirely ill-equipped in this context, with Raheem Sterling, previously occupied in an attacking midfield role vacated by Dele Alli’s gesture-enforced suspension, supporting the otherwise isolated Harry Kane, and a decidedly un-dynamic duo of defensive orientation in Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier in central midfield, while pleading for the one-dimensional attacking outlet of wing play – it reared its timeworn, disfigured presence in the nation’s hour of apparent need and contrived only to further aggrieve witnesses with superior penetrative incapacity. Only when the anonymous Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for a characteristically insurgent Jesse Lingard was impetus temporarily regained, yet it was far from to the credit of a blind and desperate reversion to an in-vogue 3-5-2/3-4-3 variant on Southgate’s part that, with the introduction of Michael Keane, a fortunately opportunistic Kyle Walker was able to capitalise on Jan Oblak’s optimistically committed, yet misjudged, distribution to Bojan Jokić in the third minute of added time, whip across to Kane and assist an appropriately opportune prod for self-deprecatingly jubilant qualification assurance.
Cultural conditioning has led so many astray, however. What once existed as a merry intermittence between domestic action now is perceived as a void of endurance; not of the hope or vision that once instilled itself within a structure trusting of the detrimentally prescribed ‘golden generation’ of Messrs Beckham, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Campbell, Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Owen, Neville and Rooney, but of the existential demeaning of Jake Livermore, Chris Smalling and the inclusion of four goalkeepers in a squad of 23 conscious individuals. And what is left to blame? Blasé, arrogant slander is attributed to all expanses of the sport’s largely commercially ambivalent form, regardless of the undermining fact that it is a solely institutional disposition of the Three Lions that competition here applies evidently as a platform for individualistic promise or realisation – since 2006, divulging the temporarily raved talents, and thus claiming the scalps of Andros Townsend, Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, Luke Shaw and Ross Barkley – as opposed to tactical cohesion of a wider unit. Blaming the issue on a disparity of facilities, lack of adequate playing opportunity or selection inconsistencies at all stages of international development, though all acting as relevant arguments, blatantly disregards the visible incompetence and underwhelming performance of a nation and association honestly acting well beneath its capacity; unable, and unwilling, to approach tactical investigations. Alleviated by uninterested pundits serving under the nationalistic-compliant introverted perspective of feeble broadcasters, this is a fundamental concern that, throughout the respective heralding and denouncing of St George’s Park, youth teams from under-16 through to under-21, and the diversion of funds from regional FA’s into seemingly self-rewarding and rurally isolating inner-city ‘Parklife’ initiatives, has gone relatively, and criminally, unnoticed amidst the wider global landscape.
Qualification for major tournaments is a pre-requisite, regardless of tactical approach, for all in Southgate’s position – certainly not worthy of a reputed £250,000 contract bonus – and often proves futile, as a process, to the confidence or fluency of either an England team or its helmsman. Not since October 2009, comprising a run of 38 successive outings, has the side even lost a qualifying match – a ten-man 1-0 in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine, after Rob Green earned a 12th-minute expulsion – thus proving the inherent and undermining inferiority of opposition at this stage; Switzerland, Wales, Scotland and San Marino representing their sole opposition within Western Europe, and only the former of those a top ten nation according to FIFA’s World Rankings at the time. Ruled, consequently, by such a state of self-security – uncompromised, following a decade now of cultural introspection, by Steve McClaren’s infamous Croatia calamity – Southgate, prolonging a ritual espoused by predecessors Allardyce (albeit briefly), Hodgson and Capello, has opted for a reactive, as opposed to proactive, managerial approach. Rewarding Harry Maguire, Aaron Cresswell, Jordan Pickford, James Ward-Prowse, Ben Gibson, Nathaniel Chalobah, Nathan Redmond and most recently Harry Winks with selections has not proven his flair for the uncovering of youthful talent, nor his bravery in the trust of unacquainted representatives. The two caps – Ward-Prowse and Redmond’s, as substitutes in a March friendly in Germany more memorable for Lukas Podolski’s overhead winner and retirement statement – accrued between this serendipitous octuplet during their respective stints within the ultimate platform of St George’s Park ranks only elaborates this fact; Southgate, bereft of a multitude of options partly attributable to incessant ‘injuries’, acting upon short-term value, as opposed to visionary role.
Granted, these players may have been scouted as members of a long-established dossier of prospective call-ups, yet for each to have been only recognised in the midst of positive club form – Winks, prominently, elevated amidst an injury Fabian Delph incurred and after his only Premier League start of the season, Maguire after August plaudits ignited objectively for his temporary goalscoring prowess, and Chalobah similarly amongst a scene of Marco Silva-inspired Watford resurgence – only proves credence to the perceived ingratitude and inconsistency of personnel assembly. Gibson, and perhaps Ward-Prowse, solely, amongst these selections represent any apportion of reward; notably reliable in their service, both as captains, to Southgate while the 57-cap former defender was occupied with under-21 employment, though it is regrettable that the promoted helmsman has, in all eight cases, seemingly offered such short-lived spells as pre-meditated motivation for potential return whilst posed with injuries to Phil Jones, Danny Rose, Adam Lallana and Danny Welbeck, not to mention the ill-form of Theo Walcott, Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere and disparities of quality in central positions.
Most inviting of condescending devalue, however, is the disconcerting and inept inability not of Southgate, nor recent predecessors, but of the national institution in the approach to tactical identity. Lurching non-confrontationally between a 4-2-3-1, its natural offshoots – the 4-3-3, 4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2 – and 4-1-2-1-2 midfield diamond, or flirting with the concept of an Antonio Conte and Chelsea-cultured 3-5-2/3-4-3, the visually ever-present evidence is that, regardless of intentions, the natural resort of wing play is the primary, and largely sterile, expression of an obliviously dilapidated, subservient outfit detached from imposing, or vaguely competitive, ambitions. Flawed, in similar realisations as the Dutch, Argentine and Australian national sides in present respective guises, with unprecedented tactical capacities within their ranks – for the fundamental rationale that it renders the managerial inability to harness such dexterity to profit internationally all the more inconsolable – the naïve English approach enters into the global fray with the long-deposed philosophy that pertaining to national trends, and the systems most akin to club football for selected representatives, will ease the intermittent contrast between the forms.
Only a minor issue herein lies; none of the tactical exponents so influential on current Premier League trends hail from within national borders, and therefore have had negligible prior resonations within the FA’s hierarchy. Acceptable in Italy, Spain or Germany – each of the three prior World Cup victors – where, respectively, 18 of 20 (90%), 16 of 20 (80%) and 12 of 18 (66%) current elite division club managers are national citizens, and the remaining Serie A duo (Serbian Siniša Mihajlović and Croatian Ivan Jurić) and Bundesliga sextuplet (Hungarian Pál Dárdai, Dutchman Peter Bosz, Croatian Niko Kovač, Austrians Peter Stöger and Ralph Hasenhüttl and Swiss Martin Schmidt) are derived from inferiorly facilitated and subservient border nations, this ideology may prove fruitful. Accounting, also, for the trio’s national team representatives since mid-November 11 months ago, a respective 87.23% (41 of 47), 62.79% (27 of 43) and 69.77% (69.74%) remain employed in their nation of origin and, according to recent BBC Sport statistics, 76%, 88% and 69% of players at this summer’s Under-21 European Championship – compared to England’s 47% – receive their 2017-18 playing time, of which last season English hopefuls had restricted by a discrepancy of around 17,000 minutes to Spanish counterparts, roughly 11,000 to German products and 10,000 to Italian contemporaries, in the Serie A, La Liga and Bundesliga, thus confirming the appropriate balance of tactical diversity between the potentially constructive trilogy of respective association visions, domestic divisions and continentally competitive clubs in the blueprint for player development.
Despite the widespread derision of the international form – attributable to the narrow-minded, uncorroborated attitude bred by sole allegiance often to forcibly introverted broadcasters – as a laborious, erstwhile exploit devoid of tactical primacy or influence in the modern sport, it is impossible to counterargue the fundamental fact that international football, in its mere calendar presence, has been a central, unifying platform for tactical innovation and redefined implementation throughout its historically defining observation. Tactical ingenuity and innovation is far from the alien concept cynics who limit their international spectrum to the British Isles believe; transcending nations, its significant influence has persisted amongst the approach of each World Cup and continental victor, in addition to the less fortunate speculators – Gusztáv Sebes’ 1950’s Mighty Magyars, Ferruccio Valcareggi’s Catenaccio-derived 1970 retort to Brazilian pre-eminence, Rinus Michels’ 1974 edition of Dutch Total Football, Telê Santana’s critic-defying and exuberant 1982 midfield box, and in more contemporary circumstances the titan-quelling 3-5-2 of Italy’s Antonio Conte at Euro 2016 – laying evident to this. Granted, each identity was primarily espoused in domestic divisions, but they were mastered, in every example, on the international stage; the prestigious pinnacle of each playing and managerial career. The same capability does not bless England, nor has it for many a painful decade.
It is a perhaps a definition of introspective provincial culture that when posed with defeat, as witnessed in McClaren’s ill-fated 2007 campaign, Fabio Capello’s autocratic 2010 imposition and Hodgson’s ritualistically inconsistent 2014 and 2016 fleeting displays, the English institution has reverted and regressed into its comfortable shell – thus stagnating tactical perspective and consigning, even inviting, further embarrassment from sides with the foresight to negate and probe such uncertainties and evident chinks. Iceland, Slovakia, Uruguay, Italy, Algeria and the United States have each defied the self-entitled English behemoth in crucial group stage involvements, and yet these occurrences – each hard-earned exemplifications of the execution of a defined tactical objective, for Iceland a restrictive, counter-attacking 4-4-2 used against its original exponent, in similar circumstances to Slovakian and American restraints, through to the creditably mobile 3-4-2-1 of Algeria, 4-3-1-2 of Uruguay and asymmetric 4-3-1-1-1 of Italy – have incurred negligible tactical restructure from any men hired, primarily, to enforce a comprehensive senior identity and intent.
So consumed are they by the constituent politics of the position, however, that ultimately intentions are so degraded through controversy and criticism that original statements and visions become the victims of distrust; cynicism, thus, spawns. Festering in the degrading residue of spiteful self-loathing has not been a route to redemption, rather only a further deterioration into ineptitude and insecurity – if judging on the visible fluency of performances against admittedly restrictive opposition, throughout this period, at least. Pertained with the onset of social media, as a tool unfortunately harnessed to its greatest extent by demographics compromising the nadir of human capacity for self-awareness, sincerity or exponent gratitude, the callously disregarded ramifications on the players and officials who, inevitably, receive the extent of vindictiveness in their fundamental positions, has not aided any potential progress or alleviation of concern in any form. Practically, it appears far easier to lay blame with a label; Roy Hodgson, Gareth Southgate, Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Jack Wilshere, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling, Greg Clarke, Greg Dyke or Dan Ashworth. It is an unfortunate liability of the human character to explicitly condemn individuals for the compromising of an institution, only accentuated by the immediate response platform and public forum of social media.
César Luis Menotti, chain-smoking rebel, wispy-haired socialist icon and Argentine manager during the politically intrusive 1978 home World Cup, stated “a team is, above all, an idea”, while continuing to argue “and more than an idea it is a commitment, and more than a commitment it is the clear convictions that a coach must transmit to his [team] to defend that idea. So my concern is that we coaches don’t arrogate to ourselves the right to remove from the spectacle the synonyms of festival, in favour of a philosophical reading that cannot be sustained, which is to avoid taking risks. And in football there are risks because the only way you can avoid taking risks in any game is by not playing.” Having established a gilded reputation on such professing applications of optimism, Menotti presents the antithesis of English pride and stubborn resignation to subservience, as he did in opposition to the anti-fútbol campaign instigated by Victorio Spinetto, Osvaldo Zubeldía, and most prominently Carlos Bilardo, profiting in his era. Not directly addressed amidst his speech, yet certainly implied, is the fundamental fact that competent diplomacy is worthless in a role where coaching ability is the task posed, and that without coherent vision, the objective of a managerial stint is non-existent, to render it bluntly. Selecting a side entirely comprising the elite of Premier League clubs, and the established furniture of the side, amidst continual failure, does nothing to demonstrate heeding from painful processes. And as we all know, courtesy of Albert Einstein, “the true definition of madness is repeating the same thing, over and over, looking for a different result.” That is the only evident conclusion we can currently draw from the senior side’s apparent development, with Southgate’s influence extended solely to the uncharacteristic, yet predictably short-lived, testament of a 3-4-3 formation in Dortmund.
Perhaps due to the dissolution of a once-proud English bloc of bosses in the formative Premier League era, and increased subsequent trust in elite overseas options, the national side has long since abandoned its capacity for impact or influence on domestic competition, while detaching – almost farcically – from immediate cohesion with their sole source of senior representatives. Admiring the records and notoriety of remaining English managers currently employed within the league – gratifying 4-4-1-1 loyalist Eddie Howe, pragmatic 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 exponent Sean Dyche, inobtrusive 4-3-1-2 campaigner Paul Clement, widely unheralded fluid 4-4-2 reenergiser Craig Shakespeare and the as-yet undefined readmission of Hodgson – and none inspire as tactical innovators, nor garner the respect and awe of certain Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, German or Argentinian helmsmen. More widely regarded as adept man managers and trustworthy delegates within limited resources, they operate sides praised for diligence, spirit and rigidness in the event of an odds-defying result – demeaning factors, surely, preventing the influence of home-grown tactical ideologies on their nation of origin, regardless of humble roots. Instead of the club’s complexion being lavished in such events, desperate punditry has to divert acclaim to individuals – as evident amidst Burnley’s 1-0 victory away at Everton last Sunday, when James Tarkowski was honoured, and immediately identified as an England representative within months. Fundamental issues exist within this form of analysis. Yes, he performed to a high personal standard at Goodison Park, yes he contributed significantly to a headline-grabbing victory, but was he the sole reason? Was his performance so astounding that Gary Cahill, John Stones, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or the previously-gilded Harry Maguire should immediately be aborted as incompatible options?
Immediately, as a single English player in the Premier League reaches as unprecedented a standard as is vaguely impressive, pressure is applied to assert claims to a national team selection. Regardless of any role in the tactical approach – of which, pre-emptively, we have defined as largely unaddressed, if not non-existent – of Southgate’s side, he is apparently justified to a role in a 23-man squad. Consideration for tactical fulfilment, competition or current occupants is whimsical, and a concern for the inevitably unsatisfactory hierarchy. Craig Dawson, Ben Mee, Lewis Dunk, Jamaal Lascelles, Rob Holding, Jack Stephens, Sam Byram, Tom Davies, Junior Stanislas, Tom Ince and Troy Deeney; what dazzling array of selection certainties could be spawned from the menial concern of a few consecutive pivotal performances, you imagine numbingly liberal praise-attributing pundits stating amidst show reels of a successful passing move or three, a courageous block to a goal-bound strike or a commanding match-winning headed response to a set-piece specialist’s delivery. Totally uncontextualized, arises the inevitable enquiry; “Russia coming up Alan, can you see him sneaking onto the plane?”
Personnel should always remain a secondary concern to tactics; that is a perennial fact of the sport, regardless of platform. Idiosyncrasies of each player’s approach and skillset are rendered only marginally distinguishable with the global context of modern scouting, and honestly, when paid so vastly for their services, what more are players other than the disposable vessels for a manager’s tactical exploitation. It is surely acutely hypocritical, in the meantime, to lavish praise on players for their successes, but disparage incompetent management for their failures, and render the role of coaching and management the more disposable, ultimately, than that of the pack mentality of dissenting and disgruntled players.
Amongst this discrepancy lies leadership, which, on the field, has congealed into evident derision in recent times, and lies currently within Three Lions ranks with a 24-year-old, 22-cap striker who has only played at a single senior international tournament, to little avail. Interlinking fundamentally with the implementation of tactics and discipline amidst challenging periods, quite how far Harry Kane – only the recipient of captain’s responsibilities on a handful of occasions at club level – can act as the mainstay of Southgate’s, and the wider national system’s, tactical identity aside from the application of seemingly unstoppable goalscoring habits is dubious, especially with roughly eight months remaining until undoubtedly ‘fatigued’ minds and legs will land at a reported Saint-Petersburg base.
Conservatism, as simple a statement as it may appear, should not reign Southgate’s side, nor the FA’s system. Winning at any cost should not be the sole priority, nor should overzealous designs on international accomplishment prior to the looming deadline of 2022. Studying the systemic philosophy of traditionally relevant, adaptable nations, enforcing a clear identity on competition should become a pre-requisite. Seize our position, often derided as on the peripheries of football, but respected by many outsiders as fundamental within the inner sanctums, whilst realising the potential of our diverse bank of talent, and the mentality of a potentially successful, yet foremost hungry, side should be amended. Is the institution prepared for a cultural overhaul? Certainly, the framework is being adapted to suit such prominence, but the diversity of ambition appears drastically lacking. Southgate, schooled and secure within the self-rewarding system, doesn’t strike supporters as a character capable of the drastic evolution required, despite best intentions and suggestive sound bites. Identifying clear tactical failings is not a strength presently equipped in the side, with vague inconsistencies and uncontextualized errors the major lamentations. Accusations, including the allusions of Alan Shearer and Lee Dixon – as witnessed on Thursday night – towards the unclear identity of the nation “we’re still going into an international competition without a clear definition of our playing style” typify the lack of clarity amidst the overwhelming theatre of opinion. Can they identify obvious tactical failures, or rue results with ambiguous statements? The approach of a stagnating, politically-concerned association, therefore, must be far more methodical, performance-orientated and professional; as per German structure, in which Oliver Bierhoff and Hansi Flick bear greater responsibility and influence than diplomats, and Spanish intents, with President Ángel María Villar, a former Athletic Bilbao and national team midfielder, dictating a definite sporting ideology. Dan Ashworth, FA Technical Director, cannot bear ideological responsibility alone.
Is the national establishment deluding itself to believe, or be persuaded, that it doesn’t require a fundamental address to the root of all primary concerns; the performance of the national side? It may appear positively competent of the FA to overhaul the facilities, youth procurement, coaching programme and committee identity they have found so embattled in recent years, but if aspirations of a 2022 redemption are to be realised, short-term confidence and aptitude requires reinstatement. Entirely dependent on an assured tactical identity able to rival the titans of global football and harness their own lauded individual talents, the English national side is fully capable of beating the best. Systemic allegiance to elitist players over a tactical approach inevitably sacrificing of high-profile talents for greater coherency cannot be maintained throughout failure after failure. Promise cannot lay untapped forever. One day, aspirations have to become a reality, and playing representatives must obtain their potential.
Author - Will Hugall
Now a BA Journalism student at Nottingham Trent University, I divide my time between my base in Radford and back home in East Sussex while watching as much football as I can!