English players should get out more
Consider 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