Two games, two defeats and a nation left waiting for an almost inevitable departure from another international tournament. So what’s England’s problem?
On paper it looks like a recipe for a solid international team. A country of 53 million people, obsessed with the beautiful game, with one of the most entertaining, and certainly highest paid, professional leagues in the world.
But the reality is that England are not a footballing super power. The country that gave football to the world are average at very best and it’s for one very simple reason: they lack a single world class player.
Uruguay have Luis Suarez, Italy have Mario Balotelli and Andrea Pirlo, the Dutch have Arjen Robben and Robin Van Persie, Argentina have Lionel Messi, Portugal have Cristiano Ronaldo and the English have no one.
At a World Cup it is simply not enough to have a squad of good players, as Uruguay proved tonight in their 2-1 victory over England, it is a truly world class player that will be the difference at this level.
Tonight Suarez, who many experts estimate to be around 75% fit after knee surgery a month ago, had two chances. The first he timed his run perfectly, ghosted in behind Phil Jagielka and powered his header past Joe Hart. The second he gambled that Steven Gerrard would make a mistake from a long goal kick and when the Liverpool man made that error Suarez made no mistakes with the finish to give his side the crucial win.
To make the space for the first and keep your composure for the second you have to be a world class player, the sort of player who scores ten more goals in Premier League than any other player as Suarez did this season. England have no one who even threatens to be on the same level.
There will be a few players that people will point to and suggest they might be on a par with some of the names that have been mentioned so far. So let’s address some of those shall we?
Wayne Rooney is the shadow of the player who made England fans’ jaws drop as a teenager at Euro 2004. This tournament his touch has been poor and his shooting wayward. Had it not been for two Uruguayan center backs falling asleep for Glenn Johnson’s tackle turned cross the 2014 World Cup would have been a total waste of time for the 28-year-old.
Steven Gerrard had a stunning season at Liverpool. With him as captain the reds threatened to win the Premier League but, perhaps like this world cup, many will remember Gerrard’s season for a defensive error that let an opponent score, his failure to deal with a long ball in the lead up to Suarez’s second couldn’t help but remind fans of the slip that let in Demba Ba at the tail end of last season.
Gerrard was world class. He proved that in Istanbul when he single handedly rallied a Liverpool side to take the Champions League trophy back from 3-0 down against AC Milan, he proved it when he scored twice in a FA Cup final when Liverpool came back from 2-0 down against West Ham.
Unfortunately that Champions League final was nine years ago, the FA Cup final was eight years ago and England’s talisman, while still a quality midfielder, cannot be considered world class anymore.
Daniel Sturridge had an extraordinary season at Liverpool and fired in 21 goals to silence any remaining critics from his time at Chelsea. He creates space well, shoots when he can but there will be very few that will argue he is on a par with players like Robben and Van Persie.
Raheem Sterling showed promising signs at this years competition occasionally picking the ball up and jinking around players with ease, creating something from nothing, but not enough. Not bad for 19 year old, and certainly someone to keep an eye on for the future.
So what’s the answer? Better youth development? More regulations in the Premier League to force sides to play Englishmen? Getting down on your knees and praying to God that we could go back in time and move Gareth Bale’s birth to a few hundred miles east of Cardiff?
Are players like Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez and Bale just freaks born with extraordinary natural ability as well as physical prowess, ambition and an unwavering desire to be the best? Development does play it’s part but if anything English talent is damaged by the complacency it imposes on itself by surrounding it’s best players by better foreign talent.
Football is a simple game made complicated by geniuses and morons alike but a simple fact of the game is this: If you have a player like Suarez, like Messi and Ronaldo, you can make something out of nothing and more often than not that is the difference between winning and going home. England have no one like that and will more than likely be going home come the close of play of Tuesday.
The country that produced Bobby Charlton, Bobby Moore, Gary Lineker and Paul Gascoigne will just have to wait it’s turn for another superstar.