What is wrong with English football?

investigates England’s failed 2018 World Cup bid and questions whether there is a larger problem affecting the English game

Even David Cameron couldn't persuade Sepp Blatter and his cronies to back England's bid: Image: The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr Creative Commons

Even David Cameron couldn't persuade Sepp Blatter and his cronies to back England's bid: Image: The Prime Minister's Office via Flickr Creative Commons

The failed English 2018 World Cup bid culminates a terrible year for English international football, where mood has spectacularly gone full-circle. The current depression following our failed 2018 bid is in stark contrast to the beginning of the year when the national side were riding a wave of optimism. English fans looked to the World Cup in South Africa with impatient confidence but the dreadful displays in the tournament – in particular our humiliation by old foes Germany – crushed the English optimism.

However, the 2018 bid had lifted us out of the gloom and had us looking to the future – hosting a tournament where England’s new generation of talent would shine backed by home support, but the bid’s failure yet again disposed of English optimism. So is the state of the English international set-up as bleak as the prevailing mood of the English faithful?

Well currently, we have a national team that is shy on the international stage and apparently fearful to play in front of their own fans. The fatigued statement that England’s top players fail to replicate their excellent club form on the international stage is still unfortunately very much relevant in explaining the England team’s lack of success. The ability of individual English players is undoubted but the attempts to shape a team and accommodate the different styles of these top players have ultimately bore no fruit. The continuous formation changes and the high profile removal of the captaincy from John Terry produced a team that, in South Africa, appeared disorganised and dispirited.

The new qualifying campaign has seen Fabio Capello place emphasis on England’s youth with the aim of developing an England team to be more competitive in the future. However, with Capello’s impending departure after the European Championships in 2012, the project lacks the stability needed to develop the new generation of England players and therefore, many doubts will remain to the success of this new direction for the England team.

Off the pitch the failure of the 2018 bid marks the English Football Association’s second consecutive failed attempt to host the World cup tournament after the unsuccessful bid for the 2006 World Cup. The failures clearly illustrate that the English Football Association has become alienated in the world of football politics i.e. FIFA. Now I will not pursue the arguments that football’s governing bodies are corrupt or anti-English but what certainly remains apparent is that England lacks a commanding voice on this international stage.

Arguably, English football’s only current success story is the strength of the Premier League, but can our league’s success be the reason for the demise on the international circuit? In the aftermath of the 2018 bid failure it has been stated that England as a football nation is perceived as arrogant by the rest of the football community due to the notion that England gave football to the world and therefore holds a self-assigned paternalistic role in world football and the Premier League’s strength, commercially and with the success of its teams, can be said to have bolstered the apparent English arrogant stance within football politics. Indeed, when the controversial 39th game of the Premier League was proposed to UEFA and FIFA it was roundly opposed and seen as an English attempt to achieve its own global theatre without the football’s governing bodies and their signature competitions.

It is evident then why English football can be perceived in such a fashion, and call it their envy or English arrogance, what is certain is that the Premier League has become a separate entity to the rest of the football community – which is happily settled under the umbrellas of UEFA and FIFA. Undoubtedly, the Premier League’s success has led us to assume a superiority that is not tangible on the international stage and it is essential that if we are to succeed with any future competition bids, then we must penetrate the political sphere of football more effectively and not assume that we can simply have our way because of the English football portfolio.

The Premier League has also been made the scapegoat of the national team’s unsatisfying record in major competitions over the years. The influx of foreign owners into the Premier League, attracted by the prospect of owning a club in the most commercial league in the world, is inherently having a negative impact on the state of English football. The desire for instant success has seen quality players imported from around the world, and although there are no qualms with the type of football that has consequently been produced, the new emphasis will certainly hinder the development of English talent within the Premier League.

The next generation of English talent is vital if England are to reverse their fortunes and although new rules are in place to aid the development of English youth talent, the current state of the Premier League is unlikely to provide a substantial pool of quality English players. It is this lack of depth of high calibre players that inhibits our success and makes us look on with envy at the squads World and European Champions Spain are able to assemble.

So is there any hope for the chronically frustrated England fan amidst the bleak nature of the English game? After the failure of the 2018 bid, former England manager Graham Taylor stated that “I’m just surprised that we’re surprised.” Maybe what we need to take from 2010 is that on the international stage England occupies a new role – our football prestige has not supplied any favor within the cohorts of football’s governing bodies and at the current moment, our national team is sadly not on par with the very best in the world.

The ongoing success of the Premier League seems to be both our only hope and also our troublesome burden. As long as our domestic clubs continue to be successful then the high expectations for the national team will remain but we can only hope that the abundance of quality in the Premier League will spill over into our national setup and mean that we do not have just a handful of world class players but a team of them. The prescription of patience to this problem is not one any English fan wants to hear, but although the current times are bleak, I remain certain in the future the three lions will be proudly roaring again.


  1. 12 Dec ’10 at 6:42 pm

    "English" football

    I think the notion that something’s Wrong with English football isn’t accurate at all. In part, this is because the different strands touched on in this piece – the Premier League, the England international team, the World Cup bidders – are actually 3 interlinked but really quite separate institutions.

    What’s true is that any failure – be it in a bid to host the World Cup or to win it – is bound to upset people. Anyone who thinks of the country as a footballing ‘nation’ might have an existential crisis about the fact that we didn’t get the bid, or do well in South Africa, but really they should try and be more realistic.

    Sure, we spent lots of money on the bid and sure, we have the best football league in the world. But that doesn’t mean we should automatically become hosts. We’ve already got the Olympics to take care of, and Russia have never hosted it – if the world cup is an inclusive event then you have to accept that every country in the tournament should be able to host the tournament, particularly one of the biggest in the world.

    And as for South Africa? The England team has never been an especially good team. Improvements will most likely be noticeable before entering a big tournament, not during it.


  2. I love it when you wear your England kit Bradley, so patriotic. xx


  3. 12 Dec ’10 at 11:57 pm

    Alan Pardew and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    What’s wrong?

    The Premier League and its plastic fans mostly.


  4. 13 Dec ’10 at 4:17 am

    Richard Brodie

    Week in week out, the UK sees the best standard of football in the world up and down the country. Barring Barca and Real, we have the most exciting 20 teams in the world, not to mention the fantastic lower league structure that exists in our country and even the semi-proffesional scene is one to be envied across the world. I am gutted I won’t see a World Cup in my lifetime but the world in general has changed; the UK is no longer the powerhouse that they were and there are many more countries whose people want to see a world cup in their country. The reason why Russia was chosen for 2018 was because Blatter wants to bring “football” to the entire world. He has done so in the case of Japan/Korea, South Africa, Russia and Qatar. He WILL win a Nobel peace prize (whatever that means.) But at the end of the day he has brought a worldly game to the whole world. I dont appreciate or admire the way that he has (forcibly so) gone about it but football by the year 2030 will be bigger than ever and that could be traced back to the Frenchman. Yes, our world cup WOULD have been the greatest ever, but it is time for the others to have a go, and if SA is anything to go by, Russia and Qatar will more than step up to the plate.


  5. “I am gutted I won’t see a World Cup in my lifetime”

    You don’t have a TV?


  6. 13 Dec ’10 at 1:04 pm

    Alan Pardew and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    Blatter is Swiss, not French.


  7. I wonder how many of the England fans kicking off on facebook and the like have ever actually got off their arse’s and went to watch England.

    Not many probs.


  8. 13 Dec ’10 at 7:09 pm

    Fabio Capello

    What is wrong with English football? Nothing, is good.


  9. “Barring Barca and Real, we have the most exciting 20 teams in the world”
    I think this is what FIFAs cronies refered to as “English arrogance”. On a more serious note, English football isn’t seriously flawed, others have problems too. It is more a matter of given the resources and revenue it generates, it should be doing a lot better.

    The biggest issue seems to be youth development, though able to produce players who have undoubted potential (Wilshere, McEachran, Rodwell) doesn’t produce enough of them. Germany and Spain football in particular seem to be a conveyor belt of very good young players.

    Why did England fail so miserably at the World Cup, many reasons. The one that stood out for me was simply how fatigued the players looked in everything they did, They dynamism of the German team ripped us to shreds but I couldn’t help feeling that if the game had been 6 months earlier during the season, England would have given a far better account of themselves. Given the pace and intesity of the Premier League compared to other leagues, a winter break at the start of january could be a starting point to helping the national team at big tournaments.