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Chances of football coming home….FA

Some might be surprised, but I like the writing style of Stoke City supporter, Anthony Bunn, who has kindly authorised the below article as a Guest Blog Post. If you want to read more of his musings, just pop along to Duck Magazine.  Here goes, an article titled: “Mindset over matter: FA chance of succeeding?”

“In the post mortem that followed our national team’s shameful-but-not-unexpected capitulation in France this week, many fingers were pointed. Quite rightly, many fans have their say on football, and even more so when it comes to the national team.

“Look at them, in their armchairs giving it large and in bucket loads to professional players and managers who have been in the game all their lives”, some sneer. Yeah, as if watching football all your life doesn’t give you the right to voice an opinion, or in a lot of cases, state the bleeding obvious. And you don’t need a UEFA A badge to see England have been poor for decades and underachieving for decades now.

First things first: I’m no massive England fan. It’s always been and always will be Stoke City>England. I’m not bothered if that upsets some people, but I can take or leave our national team. I want them to win, but it’s never over-bothered me when they don’t. The recent cult of celebrity doesn’t help, with players pretending to be on mobiles when they get off the coach or having earphones on the size of Jodrell Bank. Fair play to Stoke players here, almost always ready to engage with those who go through the turnstiles.

In days of yore, when The Potters lost, my mood changed to one of darkness until we next played. Age and responsibility brings a maturity (in some cases) and an acknowledgement that a defeat in a game of football can be shattering, but you also have work to go to and kids training shoes to afford in the great scheme of things! But that has never been the case with England. As soon as the final whistle has gone, that’s me done and dusted. It has no emotional effect on me at all, apart from a  few games where we’ve given it a go or been hard done to.

But that changed a few days ago. And it wasn’t the fact that we lost to what many have disrespectfully called a ‘pub team’. If that’s the case, perhaps our ‘stars’ should take off their lovely big headphones and head for the boozer a bit more often, eh? No, it wasn’t the opposition or the defeat, it was the manner of the defeat, and the total lack of leadership and management by several parties in the immediate aftermath that boiled my urine.

Forget Hodgson. Indeed, I’ve tried to for years. The man should never have been appointed in the first place. He might seem the type who helps old ladies across the road and I bet he’ll do your car for you or trim your hedge while he’s doing his. But he shafted the international career of our captain – which yes, does make it personal – and I also don’t want simply a ‘nice bloke’ to manage my team. I want a bloke the players will die for, respect, and win for when the going gets a bit tougher than the group stages.

Just look across Offa’s Dyke or over the Irish Sea for managerial examples.

Whilst Hodsgon left Ryan Shawcross’ international future seemingly in tatters, it’s fair to say that the current England players have not needed too much of Hodgson’s help to wreck their own. And crocodile tears on French soil don’t cut it with me.

So if we know where the problems are and have an opinion on them – and everyone has blamed obvious targets such as those that run the game, resources, funding, technique, technique under pressure, desire and passion, the academy system etc etc – the solutions don’t seem as obvious. Why? Well there are so many contradictions for a start…..

Like Leicester City winning the league, many arguments will be skewed by the fact that Wales have possibly overachieved, or at the very least played so much better when the pressure was on, than England. Let’s remember, Wales’ match with Russia was virtually a knockout game, and since that they’ve won the next two knockout games. England have simply done an ‘England’ as soon as they get through a group. And where do most Wales players ply their trade? You can’t blame the system all of the time when others are succeeding from it.

And then there’s the “Academy generation” – as labelled by Jamie Carragher.  It also seems churlish to decry a system when it produces either world class players and ones that have gone been successful at Euro 16, whilst others are now back home after having shockers. Want examples – well Southampton’s system produced Gareth Bale and Adam Lallana, whilst Manchester City’s saw Neil Taylor and Daniel Sturridge experience it.  And as for the clubs they play for, Spurs’ regular left back (Danny Rose) has been totally upstaged by his understudy (Ben Davies) in France.

So back to the manager – should we really be smashing into Roy Hodgson, or should we in fact dig deeper and look at the people who appointed him and who he works for?

Long term, we have to look at football from the bottom-up, not the other way around. There are so many easy-wins to put right, and that’s where I want the FA to focus first. Make it easier and cheaper to get coaching awards and badges; tap into the best of what the world of football has to offer; stop making stupid boasts about winning the World Cup sometime soon and be realistic; distribute wealth evenly, fairly and where it is needed; and ensure that our children have the best possible chance to fall in love with the working man’s ballet.

We’ve all seen the stats this week about the number of qualified coaches other countries have, the cost of those qualifications, and the number of astroturf pitches in Iceland….etc. And those figures are a  hugely damning indictment of English football and the richest league in the world.

My own/son’s team didn’t have a match between the end of November and the start of March last season. Three months without football ensured many fell out love with the game, and there is plenty of other options open to kids nowadays, yeah? Don’t make it easy for kids to lose the football bug. Pitches and facilities just aren’t good enough in this country, especially in a climate that is temperamental. The slightest bit of rain turns many pitches into bogs, and that means either a postponement or a pitch that simply ensures who can boot if the furthest or has the biggest players, wins. Still. Just like it did when we were kids. But there wasn’t billions of £$£$£ sloshing about back then!

Invest in the future, not in the next one to five years. Take the hit of not doing well or even not qualifying: after all, the whole country expects little nowadays anyway. At least have a plan in place.

Next time you drive home from work or are out and about, have a look at how many kids are out there, playing football. I’ll save you the time: there is virtually no one. I drive an hour to work; past parks, pitches, wasteland etc….and kids are not out playing football. Perhaps we also need to look at the absolute saturation of football and sport on TV nowadays, too?

Kids need to be out playing the sport, not watching Sunderland v Norwich on a Sunday afternoon or Monday night. No one is more football-mad than my seven year old and yet he’s hardly watched any of Euro 16 – he’s bored by it. Rightly so, but the good news is that he’s out in the garden playing football or cricket.

Let’s not limit who we do pick as the next manager, too. No job should not be based on nationality or place of birth. It’s about having the right person for the right job; whether they’re from the Potteries or Auckland. Who cares? Eddie Jones with the egg-chasers now and Duncan Fletcher’s cricket revolution a decade or so ago showed that it’s about fresh ideas and fresh viewpoints – not just doing the same things over and over again.

England players have had at least 15 years of coaching – surely at that level they don’t really need coaching as much as concentration on attitude, mindset, freshness of approach, organisation, and ensuring that technique holds up under pressure and that winning is a habit. It’s in the head, not the feet.

Want evidence? Look at Eddie Jones’ comments after they went 2-0 up in the recent series down under. He was desperate to win 3-0 and said the third game was their final, after a quarter and semi. Imagine that team coming into the changing room after losing that last game or playing a dead rubber – he’d have banjoed them! Contrast that to resting 6 players against Slovakia – an absolutely dreadful decision that sent out more wrong messages than an inebriated answer machine.

Eddie Jones has, apparently, just gone back to mastering the basics. And that includes defence and set pieces. Like a headteacher going into a failing school, the first thing they look at are uniform and behaviour, not how flowery the curriculum is. You get the basics right, with the right staff hammering over the manager/coaches’ mindset, and you’re halfway there.

For me, elite sport is about that one word – MINDSET. That’s what the successful managers concentrate on, and that why they are successful. Mindset then filters into various avenues: performance, organisation, pride, sense of team, sense of worth, a knowledge of your role and what is expected of you, and it allows everyone to buy into what the manager is doing. Mindset is omnipresent – but that can be positive as well as negative, too!

Gareth  Bale is not a superstar in the Welsh shirt. He’s another player that has bought into a mindset whilst wearing the Welsh shirt. He’s their most gifted player but is one that is prepared to work harder than lesser mortals. And when you get that mindset, anything is possible – and the impossible can happen. Where England talk of the quarter finals being a solid tournament, Chris Coleman asks people to keep on dreaming. There is no ceiling on belief and hope, yet England managed to squeeze every single last drop of hope out of everyone. And as a supporter of a club that has struggled for most of the 42 years I’ve been watching them, hope is all that we sometimes have.

International football is not about passion – that’s another contradiction as evidenced by Joe Hart belting out the national anthem louder than anyone and then performing way below the expected level. But a positive mindset, allied to organisation and belief, means that passion doesn’t take over from performance when the whistle blows. I couldn’t care  less if our players sang Public Enemy songs during the national anthem if it made them play better. And whilst we’re on about anthems – please someone create a new one for our country. Compare it to the Welsh or Italian anthems and it’s akin to JLS covering Massive Attack songs.

Chris Coleman doesn’t seem a ranter. I’ve met him a few times and he seems a calm, decent bloke. He hasn’t had a particularly glittering career either, but he has got the Welsh lads buying into a mindset, a philosophy and a united plan. He has the world’s most expensive player doing exactly what he wants him to. Coleman also seems to use nationalistic pride in a way that doesn’t burden his players, too. Perhaps the FA should have a go at getting him – but I doubt he’d lower his standards now!

England’s Euro 16 campaign wasn’t damned by the Iceland game. Nor was the fat lady singing when Hodgson acted like he did at that press conference. No, our national team was shamed to high heaven in the 85th minute of the Wales v Belgium game….

That’s when Wales were leading 2-1 in the biggest game they’ve had in 58 years, against the World’s second ranked team. That’s when Reading’s right back was Wales’ furthest player forward when they should have been hanging on for dear life. That’s when an out-of-contract Championship player got himself into the box when he could have been on the half way line for when they lost the ball. And that’s when a cross of high quality – instead of simply running the ball into the corner – was matched by the header that sent Wales into the semi final.

That isn’t about passion, it’s not about academies, and it’s not about how loud the anthem was sung. It’s all about mindset; and whilst we started the last ten minutes against Iceland with the dynamic Rashford on the bench and four still in defence, Wales had their right back twenty five yards away from the opposition goal.

That mindset takes bravery. And bravery isn’t just about tackling and sticking your foot in. Bravery is about sticking to what you believe in when the pressure is on. Bravery is the ability to get on the ball when its easier to simply smash the ball away and kill time. It’s about having the guts to think on your feet and take a chance. That’s why Wales two wing backs have had so much attacking joy, shots and chances.

Until England have a new mindset we’ll forever be asking the same questions about the FA and our national team. Until we do things differently we’ll always be talking about multi-millionaires not earning their money when the pressure is on. The results of England and Wales last matches are all the incentive that the powers should need for doing an Edwyn Collins – rip it up and start again. It’s a blank canvas to experiment, look long term. The country will understand as we have had six decades of hurt.

The shame is never the result. There is no shame in simply losing. The shame is always in how the result was attained. We keep losing in the same manner, with the same excuses offered, followed by the same questions. The country deserves far, far better. Our children certainly deserve a national team to be proud of.”

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