English players should get out more

November 30, 2007

Owen Hargreaves in training during his Bayern Munich daysConsider for a moment the following: when the draw was made for qualifying for the 2010 World Cup last weekend England and Israel were both ranked in the second tier (of six) of the European nations.

This already shows that while Israel have learned a thing or two and have improved, there is something wrong with England.

In 1992, when Israel entered the European fold, they were treated as little more than minnows, perhaps only a bit better than Luxembourg or the Faroe Islands.

A decade and a half later, Israel are ranked 18th in Europe and 26th among all FIFA member countries. One can argue about the validity of the rankings, but the general trend is undisputable: the gap between England and Israel and many other countries of similar stature to Israel, has narrowed greatly.

My colleague Julien Pretot last week offered a brief outsider’s view on England’s failures in the match against Croatia. If you’ll forgive another intervention, this time from the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, England’s problems seems to me to be about hunger and ambition.

Whenever Israeli players are interviewed before the start of a new season, or alleged details of their contracts are reported, they almost always portray a clear aspiration to move away from home to play in one of the continent’s big leagues.

How many up-and-coming English players look to better themselves by venturing to far-flung corners of the continent? I’ll bet you wouldn’t even need all the fingers of one hand to count them.

Of course, English players don’t need to go abroad to play alongside players of great talent, or to reach top levels of fitness. But it’s indisputable that English players could develop their skills in different ways by seeking a move abroad.

Young English players struggling to get regular games at their clubs could benefit greatly from regular action in other leagues. Playing for even modest clubs in major leagues like Italy, Spain, France, Germany and the Netherlands would help them develop as footballers and as people.

There has been a lot of talk lately about quotas but unless and until the Premier League has such a system in place isn’t it time for the English to do what the rest of the EU has been doing for years and take full advantage of the right to freedom of movement?

Ori Lewis is a Reuters correspondent based in Jerusalem

PHOTO: England international Owen Hargreaves, then of Bayern Munich, kicks the ball during training a day before last season’s Champions League match against Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, February 19, 2007. REUTERS/Andrea Comas


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A good point and one reason I believe why England have become so stagnant on the international field.

Like Irish rugby players based in England being jettisoned at international level, top English footballers fear a move abroad would hinder the chance of representing their country. Steve McManaman won two Champions League titles but barely got a kick for England during his time at Real Madrid (Emile Heskey has won more caps than him). Likewise, Owen Hargreaves was only a squad player for most of his time as a regular at Bayern Munich.

Will the next England coach really change this mentality?

Posted by Padraic Halpin | Report as abusive

I could see the big clubs going for some kind of exchange scheme for their youngsters, but it would even better to see young English kids making their way abroad on their own. A few young American players have seemed to do this (Benny Feilhaber springs to mind after he came through unnoticed at Hamburg).

Posted by kev | Report as abusive

The problem is that young English players often have price tags and wage demands attached to them, that make them unattractive buys for continental Europe’s leagues.

Posted by Jan | Report as abusive

Why would European clubs want to sign English players. The basic problem with English footballers is that they lack basic technical skills. Too much time chasing down long balls up the middle. English players typically play like Norwegians, not like Latinos. If you want to sign a foreign player, get a Brazilian with technical skills, not an Englishman without such skills.

Posted by davi paulo | Report as abusive

Davi, that’s a fair point. But maybe English players should be going abroad much earlier in their careers — maybe even as kids, on some kind of exchange scheme. That way they could learn better skills.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

It seems that foreign players have more of a hunger to do well in internationals because it puts them in the shop window. Securing a move to England can set a player up for life.

It is possblie that they actually reserve their best when playing against England thus making it more difficult for our national side.

The way Croatia played against England showed to me that these players were not as much interested in winning (they had already qualified) but were trying to secure a lucrative contract in the Premiership.

Posted by online sports guy | Report as abusive

I’m new to the soccer/football world, but from what I do know of it, English clubs have an awesome reputation. Why would young English players choose to move away from clubs with a good reputation? And also, isn’t it more of a motivation to play in your own country, or to play for clubs you may have grown up watching and supporting? That being said, I understand your argument for why English players should spend time playing for other clubs in order to develop their skills.

Posted by kn | Report as abusive

The simple fact here is that the English players are not skillful enough ,period .

Posted by daniel | Report as abusive

[…] recent years only David Beckham at Real Madrid can claim to have done well away from English shores. That’s largely because he was one of the few who dared to try something […]

Posted by Maran Collection | Report as abusive