Why can't England win major tournaments?

Rebecca Johnson takes a look at England's tournament performance

Rebecca Johnson
25th June 2018

After a long wait, four whole years to be precise, the World Cup 2018 in Russia started last Thursday with Russia kicking off proceedings in style with a 5-0 win over Saudi Arabia. Although the World Cup is one of the great sporting events, it brings the same vicious circle for England fans.

This of course is the classic optimism felt by England fans before a major tournament (a personal favourite being "Football's coming home!") before being ultimately let down by their team. Admittedly, this is no different to being a Sunderland fan, so I'm quite hardened to this feeling now.

The knockout usually happens in the group stages or last 16. Take Euro 2016 for example, where England were knocked out by Iceland in the tournament, to be branded as one of the most humiliating defeats in England's footballing history.

One game into the World Cup 2018, and England have beaten Tunisia 2-1 in their opening match, with a last minute goal from Harry Kane being England's saviour. All across the country, the optimism rumbles, with constant references to the song "Three Lions" and its most famous line- it's coming home. The question remains though, why haven't England won a major tournament since the World Cup 1966?

[pullquote]Bobby Robson was subject to a vicious media campaign throughout his time as manager[/pullquote]

One reason England haven't won a major tournament since 1966 is the role of the media, especially in recent years. The press hold a huge influence over the England team and the decisions made, particularly concerning managerial appointments; this is a shift in the type of journalism produced before and during 1966.

Take former England manager Sir Bobby Robson who managed the team between 1982-1990. The Guardian argue that he was the first manager to be the victim of tabloid press, with The Sun calling for Robson's sacking as England manager as early as 1984. Throughout his time as manager, Robson was subject to a vicious media campaign and eventually left the role after Italia 1990, being the second coach only to take an England team to the semi-final of a World Cup.

Furthermore, Sven Goran Eriksson in the build up to the World Cup in 2006 was subject to a media campaign calling for him to be removed from the role of England manager. However, this was further antagonised by the fact that Eriksson was a victim of a sting by The News of the World where Eriksson was recorded agreeing to leave England for Aston Villa after being led to believe a wealthy Arab would buy the club and appoint Eriksson as manager. Eriksson's personal life was also heavily documented in the tabloid press, and this must have had an effect upon the players with an awareness of how their manager was being portrayed in the press.

Clearly, the role of the press suggests that they reflect the interests of the general public and their interests, therefore if the press call for a manager to be sacked there is an implication of popular discontent amongst the general public. The English Football Association pay far more attention nowadays to the media when making their decision about England's future than before 1966. Thus the media must be a crucial influencer upon England's performance in tournaments, especially where managerial appointments are concerned.

[pullquote]Virtually all of the England players this year are regular starters for their club, these clubs being "big clubs" in the Premier League[/pullquote]

Another reason for England's lack of success is also due to the role of club football, with the impact of foreign players in the Premier League particularly. This is a weaker reason for England's lack of success, especially recently due to the FA's rules about English players, with at least eight homegrown players being in a squad.

However, take the last World Cup which took place in Brazil in 2014. England didn't even get out of their group, ranking last. Look at the winners of the 2013/14 Premier League, Manchester City, they just had the minimum eight homegrown players within their squad, but only two of the English players (Joe Hart and James Milner) had any sort of regular appearance for the club.

Compare this to the 2014 World Cup winners Germany and the winners of the 2013/2014 German Bundesliga, Bayern Munich. Bayern had twelve German players in their 27 man squad, with seven of these players getting regular football.

This highlights a difference in homegrown talent in England, with a focus on foreign talent for big clubs like Manchester City in England. Whereas Germany seems to focus on giving German nationals regular football.

However, I would probably dismiss this reason due to England's 2018 World Cup team. For example, 2018 Premier League winners Manchester City have four players in the England squad who are all regular starters. In fact virtually all of the England players this year are regular starters for their club, these clubs being "big clubs" in the Premier League. Manchester United have four players in the England squad, Tottenham Hotspur have five and Leicester, Chelsea and Liverpool have two each.

The makeup of England's 2018 World Cup squad

This highlights that there seems to be a bigger effort by clubs recently to play English players in their teams compared to the previous World Cup. Therefore it shows that there is a bigger presence of English players in English club football than previously, implicating that foreign players aren't "taking over" the Premier League due to the steady rise of English talent seen in the past few years.

The final possible reason for England's lack of success in major tournaments is one I myself hadn't even considered until recently watching a documentary called "The Impossible Job" about England managers. That reason being the everlasting presence of 1966 itself.

[pullquote]Of course a World Cup win is well overdue, but England can't live in past glories[/pullquote]

Take the song "Three Lions" in 1996 with one of the lines being "thirty years of hurt, never stopped me dreaming", 1966 is a recurring theme in English football. Former England manager Fabio Capello argued in the documentary that during his time as manager, the success of 1966 was always mentioned and he describes it as being "a ghost". It appears that the FA are obsessed by the success of England in 1966, and it is an underlying ethos of their policies for English football to replicate 1966.

Whether this is a conscious or unconscious ethos, the goal for future managers is the same: to replicate the success of 1966 in any major tournament.

In my opinion, this isn't a bad thing. Every England fan wants England to win a tournament, especially a World Cup, but in order to do this, it is crucial to look forward. England won the World Cup in 1966 – 52 years ago. Of course a World Cup win is well overdue, but England can't live in past glories. We need to move away from the obsession of 1966 and adapt our international football policy to the modern time by focusing on future talent and developing this for future football.

Whatever your opinion on England's tournament success (or lack of) in recent years, I reckon we've got a solid chance of winning the World Cup this year. If you need me I'll be in the pub in my England "Italia '90" shirt having a pint and singing "Three Lions" on repeat, because football’s coming home.

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