Betfred Sport

It's just not cricket

England is a proud sporting nation and have delivered success on the global stage, but why does our national football team struggle in tournaments? Pete Dreyer investigates.

Those of us who take pride in supporting our nation in its sporting endeavours will know that recently we have been blessed with a good deal of success.

For such a small nation, England maintains a strong sporting pedigree and a proud record of achievement.

Despite this, it is an indisputable fact that England is primarily a footballing nation and most English sports fans crave international footballing success over all other things.

The logic goes like this:

Premise 1: The England football team contains some of the best players in the world.
Premise 2: The English Premier League is arguably the best league in the world, with the highest standard of football.
Conclusion: England should be regularly competing for major tournaments.

Strongest league

Though debatable, both of these premises are true over the long term. England has always produced some of the world's best players, and the Premier League is currently the strongest league in world football. But we are all well aware of England's recent history of underachievement, so what are we missing here? And where is all the success we should be having?

Well, to answer that question, let me refer you to a sport where England is having unparalleled success. England's cricketers are currently dusting themselves down after smashing India in both a Test and ODI series.

Right now, they have made themselves into one of the teams to beat in all forms of the game.

Though the sports are incomparable on a worldwide scale, there is something very significant to be said for the domestic cricket setup in England and how it has contributed to national success.

In cricket, the core of England's national squad are given central contracts that tie them to the national side. This means that their country ALWAYS comes first, no matter what. Clubs cannot refuse to release players, or demand that a player only plays for half a Test Match to avoid injury.

Club atmosphere 

The result is that the national side has the atmosphere of a club - these players want to play with each other and for their country more than anything else and they spend a significant portion of their season doing so (as opposed to a few weeks before major tournament qualifiers for the England Football squad). Also, they are well rewarded for their efforts; central contracts are worth a lot more money than club contracts.

At domestic level, you may think this would leave some counties in serious trouble. In reality, it results in two things.

Firstly, in comparison with the Premier League, both divisions of the County Championship are far more closely contested as the teams with a number of internationals will lose those players for long stretches. Secondly and more importantly, losing international players forces clubs to bring in younger talent from their 2nd XI or academies.

The best example is at Somerset, where Jos Buttler has been a revelation since replacing the England-bound Craig Kieswetter back in 2009. Buttler is one of many young players who have emerged through the gaps left by departing international players.

Progression of young talent 

The domestic setup encourages the progression of young talent and the results are there for all to see - England have a long line of quality cricketers fighting to play international cricket and many of them will be successful at the highest level for a sustained period of time.

The problem that everyone admits needs addressing in English football is the lack of opportunities for young English players in Premier League sides. Football clubs cannot afford to put their long-term solvency in the hands of a youngster, no matter how talented he may be.

The penalty for failure is so destructive (witness the decline of Leeds) that clubs cannot take risks anymore, and they cannot gamble on giving young players the chance to really prove themselves on the highest stage.

It is a natural logical progression that you should be rewarded with more money as you ascend your profession. Most England players claim that representing their country is the peak of their career. Yet it is club football that represents the financial peak, it is club football that rewards players.

Club football will always take precedence 

For this reason, club football will always take precedence for players, because if a footballer loses his club, he potentially faces losing his livelihood. You only have to remember the tragic circumstances that unfolded for Dean Ashton: a fantastic prospect and a future international who was injured in training for England and as a result he lost his career and his livelihood. 

It is no criticism that club loyalties are stronger. That is where the power lies after all, and many football fans would rather see their club win the league than see England win a major tournament.

Most of us would of course like both, but I fear that the money-driven nature of the Premier League means that, unless England stumbles upon an incredible generation of talent (much like Spain are experiencing at the moment) then major tournaments will always be out of reach.

Unlike English cricket, the domestic football setup is only ever going to hold back the national team and it could be a very long time before we see England win another major tournament.

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