ANOTHER FINE MESS

By Daniel Rankine
Nov 23rd, 2007

A week is a long time in football. Last weekend Israel were flavour of the month, not just because of our own Avram Grant, but thanks to the football Gods smiling down on a relived England, a pint was raised to our Israeli friends up and down every boozer in the land.

How we rejoiced. Now we cry.

The defeat of Russia should have been great for three reasons. One, it should have got an under performing, stutteringly dull football team to the Championships in Austria and Switzerland. Once there England could once again get over hyped and over excited before crashing out in the semis after a tepid performance and laughable penalty shoot out farce. Brilliant, I think you’ll agree. Two, the conspiracy theorists who linked Abramovich to some bribe swindle for the Israel-Russia result can now happily shut up. Everything to Roman having an Israeli agent to Russian financial clot in the television networks was dredged up in an effort to give England a handy excuse. Once again lazy racial stereotyping meant that the Russians would try corruption and underhand tactics to make sure that they won. It wasn’t that they were a decent football team that played for each other rather than a bunch of egos lumped together in mutual apathy. Head of the Russian dark side is once again Bond villain Abramovich who plots world domination from his yacht/hollow volcano/underground lair laughing into his money like the mad man that he is.

The same conspiracy theorist down the pub will also tell you that the moon landing wasn’t real and staged in a studio off Hollywood Boulevard, that Bruce Lee was murdered for being too good at Kung Fu and the war in Iraq was all about getting access to oil. (Never heard as anything as ridiculous, it’s not even like oil is valuable is it?)

Three, it should have dampened the media outcry to limit the number of Johnny Foreigner in the Premiership so that English talent can flourish. This third point is a complex one and the general simplification of the argument in the media has been tiresome. With England’s dire display on Wednesday this is a news story that is now expected to run right through till the Euros. Then we’ll remember why we’re not there and it’ll get debated all over again. The consensus being that if Premiership teams are forced to field home grown talent, then the Engliand manager will have more quality to choose from. The same argument has been used for the last ten years and is usually wheeled out after we ineptly get knocked out of another tournament by a technically better team (i.e. can take pens). This time we haven’t even made the tournament hence the media blame games.

The first stumbling block to such a proposition is the EU laws that mean workers are free to ply there trade in other EU nations without restrictions. It works just as well for the Polish fella who drives your bus to the next big money signing to grace the Bridge. It used to be ourselves who got the finger pointed at them during this debate but it’s currently it is league leaders Arsenal who are getting the brunt of the blame. With one Englishman warming the bench it seems a decent argument. Until you see that Arsenal are top of the league and playing the kind of fantasy football that normally only happens on a Playstation.

Arsenal have rightly earned their revenue the same as any other teams and spent shrewdly, how they’ve seen fit, nurturing the best in youth world talent to the benefit of the Premiership. The Premiership is one of the best leagues in the world because it attracts some of the best players. Simple. There are a huge number of Englishman plying their trade in the Championship and lower leagues. If the future English manager wants more choice he could have a look at them. Talent will be spotted if it is good enough and no amount of forcing the top teams to field more home grown players will change anything.

Arsenal got rid of a young Sidwell but he rose to the top (the Blues, obviously) because he had the talent to succeed. He might not be in the starting eleven at the Bridge but that’s because he hasn’t performed as well as the other players. Nationality surely shouldn’t be a deciding factor if a player starts. It should be form and ability, nothing more. Of course we want more English boys and local lads in the team. But they should be encouraged through quality training, from learning from the best players so that they have the top, technical quality needed at the highest level. Chelsea seems to be doing things well with our youth players. The likes of Scott Sinclair and Ben Sahar are learning their trade, gaining valuable match experience in the lower leagues. The clubs are happy to take on a promising talent for a few months and the player earns real match experience so they can push for the first team squad. It’s a system that will surely benefit us in the future. But the Premiership is a great league and I think incentives rather than restrictions would be better suited in getting young players at the top teams and ensuring England can qualify (and go out on pens) in future tournaments.

The weekend sees us travel away to Derby and looking for a good win and the three points. Fingers crossed the spate of injuries has ended and we can start to look forward to players coming back. Hopefully JT or Carvalho won’t be out too long as both are superb and will be much needed in the next month or so. Arsenal and United who are both looking formidable at the moment and wins are needed first and foremost. Christmas is the key period and we need to rack up the points to be in the mix. The football has been good to watch of late and if we can add some ruthless consistency in there then the team is capable of going on an impressive run. The goals could do with flowing against Derby just to complement the football. Israel has been flavour of the month and Grant is slowly warming himself to the fans.

The encouraging football is a good step and the attendance at the fans forum was a great gesture. If the football and results can remain positive then the next few weeks should see us remain near the summit.

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