Why Does The England National Football Team Always Underperform?


Easy? Not For England

This article takes a look at the popular reasons given for England’s consistent failure at International tournaments and examines if these reasons are at all accurate, while also detailing what steps should be taken in future.
Firstly let’s start with the short-term issues and what may have gone wrong in South Africa.

433 Lions?

Unquestionably England’s core is made up of highly talented individuals that have each been key to numerous Premiership titles and strong Champions League campaigns. Given these facts, in my mind there’s no significant obstacle behind why they can’t perform at International level, if they are set-up within a formation and mentality that compliments their best attributes.

I’m a big believer in the 433 formation as opposed to a 442, so let’s draw up a list of reasons, for and against, why England might consider switching to a 433 formation.
  • England’s 1st choice defence all play 433 at club level and know it inside-out
  • England’s 3 best attacking players Rooney, Lampard and Gerrard have excelled while playing within a 433 at club level as opposed to 442
  • 433 would allow an extra man in midfield thus better passing and more options when in possession leading to a potential for more pronounced and precise build-up play and less kick and rush long ball!
  • 433 allows Gerrard and Lampard to both operate centrally, while giving them licence to attack with a defensive minded midfielder shielding behind
  • Less pressure and reliance on Rooney for goals as the wingers, aswell as Gerrard and Lampard would be encouraged to get in scoring positions more frequently to support the sole focal point in attack
  • Would then mean no place for an underperforming Crouch, just Rooney
  • <Gives the wingers free rein to stay high up, allowing them to pressurise the defence when not in possession, cutting off their time and space to play from the back and makes best use of the speed of the wingers at England’s disposal


  • Would take some adapting so may mean more short term pain at the expense of long term gain
  • Capello may be completely out of his favoured 442 comfort zone using it

I’ve had this thought about the need to change to 433 for awhile now and I was going to post this right after the USA match. Unfortunately since then ITV, BBC and others have stolen my thunder by hopping on the now overcrowded 433 bandwagon after the Algeria game. Never-mind, I think we can bring some new points to the table none the less.

As stated within the bullet points above, seven of England’s starting eleven have excelled using 433 at club level, surely this statistic alone means it’s a no-brainer, as it seems completely logical to me that it is the formation we should be using. Otherwise you are completely compromising the player’s abilities and roles performed at club level by picking them based on club form but then asking them to perform within a different formation and role for England. It’s counter-productive, surely you build the teams and tactics around the key players. Otherwise it would be like explaining to Zidane “yeah Zizou, I’m aware you are a great central attacking midfielder, but you are playing right midfield for France, as we’ve got Petit and Deschamps to play central midfield so you will have to play right midfield, OK? Or telling Gerrard and Lampard “I know you are two of the World’s best goal scoring attacking midfielders within a 433 at club level, but can you sort of completely go against everything that makes you good and instead play left and centre midfield just as the equally talented Scholes had to endure. Just mess about meandering in the centre of the park, not really showing any clear intent to attack and completely compromising and stifling both your exceptional attacking abilities that are so evident at club level.

In-fact on Scholes, that is the crux of the problem right there, we have one of the best technical midfielders in the World, one of the few players that could rival Xavi and Iniesta in terms of pure ability to dominate a game, yet instead of building the England team around such a player, as Spain and others would have done, we ask him to play left midfield and force his hand in retiring way before his time. An absolute tragedy. Similar creative talents, Le Tissier, Hoddle and now Carrick can relate to similar inconsiderate treatment.


Within a 433 Gerrard could adopt the more reserved centre midfield role as he did so successfully while Liverpool played under Houllier. From this position in a deep playmaker role, Gerrard would be afforded more time and space to dictate the play and scour the possibilities, making best use of his long passing and still affording him the chance to shoot from range. Gerrard playing this position would leave Lampard free to replicate his role at Chelsea, making forays in and around the opposition box. Obviously I’m no Capello, but the fact we are not playing our players in their best positions is unforgivable in my mind, I do not care how good Capello’s club record is, he’s clearly got it wrong and for all the money he is paid for his supposed expertise, the performances in South Africa were unforgivable.

Adopting 443 would also encourage a fluid passing game with the extra man in midfield, which England have been sorely lacking for years. If you think of the best performing clubs and International teams of the last 3-4 years, what’s the dominant tactic? The answer is a variation of 433, surely that fact alone tells you something, 422 is outdated, yesterday’s news, 433 is the tactic of choice for today’s elite.

Is it not about time England broke free from the stereotypical rigid “44 f*cking 2!” where everyone has to toe the line, conforming and compromising their unique talents for the good of the team? Where’s the room for self expression, creativity and invention that are all so pivotal to success?

We have to adapt and be open to change, especially now when the norm clearly isn’t working, yet England in particular seem more hesitant to do this than most. As a consequence England are World football’s underachievers, and have been ever since the 1950′s at least.

England Are The Best In The World At Something…Failing

Midway through the 2010 World Cup, Beckenbauer came out and said France are 2010’s underachievers (after drawing to Uruguay and losing to Mexico in their group), well that was before he had time to fully assess the inept England showings within their group. Uruguay and Mexico are far better teams than those in England’s group and despite the problems within the French squad, they can at least take comfort from the fact they were great just a few years ago, having won World Cup 98, Euro 2000 and finalists in World Cup 2006.

In comparison, what have England got to show for themselves throughout their whole football history? With the exception of World Cup Italia 90, the only time England have given a tournament showing of any note has been courtesy of home advantage, the 1966 World Cup and Euro 96.

This is the pivotal statistic right here, England (Currently ranked 8th in the World) have won just two of their last 19 matches against teams in the current top 9 of FIFA’s World Rankings. How can we expect to compete in major tournaments with a record like that? Despite the fact we have a handful of quality individuals, we aren’t as good a team as Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Holland, Germany, France, Portugal, Italy, and maybe even Russia, Croatia, Ivory Coast, Ghana etc.

The only major national team that are comparable to England in-terms of chronic underachievement is Holland. Yet they have won the 1988 Euros, finished World Cup runners-up in 74 and 78 (while giving Cruyff and the radical tactical framework of Total football to the World) and more recently 2010 World Cup finalists. In-fact Cruyff and the total football philosophy have played a big part in Barcelona and Spain’s record breaking successes over the last 5-6 years.

Obviously the media and fans do not help England’s cause to succeed by proclaiming we will win the cup every 2 years, and talking the players up despite the fact they have never translated their club form with any regularity to England. The public pressure on Rooney right now especially is immense, as it is literally all about him, he and everyone else knows no-one else will score regularly, so he HAS to. I think it really got to him as shown in South Africa, as evidenced by Rooney’s complete lack of control and awareness v The USA, but even more so v Algeria where it was as if a hypnotist had convinced him he wasn’t Wayne Rooney, but actually Emile Heskey’s less talented brother.  I would go as far as to say Rooney was the worst England player v Algeria, and that’s quite an accolade as he had a lot of competition for that award! It was the worst performance I’ve ever seen from him, right at the point where we needed him most, although I don’t completely blame him, as I would feel dejected playing alongside Heskey and watching him ruin all your best work time after time.

Frequent Reasons Given Why England Fail

Since England’s World Cup 2010 failure, pundits, “experts” and fans have all had their say on what they think is wrong with the current team and the reasons for past failures, here are some of the most popular:

Wolly With The Brolly?

Reason 1: Bad managers
I would state you can rule out the managers as the underlying problem. England have had exceptional managers of varying characters and philosophies who have excelled in club management, so logic dictates they can’t be the reoccurring theme.

Reason 2: The players are not good enough
What??!!  With the exception of Spain’s squad, this is way off the mark as the England team has been blessed with undoubted World class individuals at club level, who have won leagues and excelled within The Champions League, a level that is arguably higher than most Internationals. Lack of talent is not the main issue,  these players have been as good as their counterparts for their clubs. Ashley Cole, Ferdinand, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney and maybe Terry would all get a look-in if you were compiling a World elite squad. So there’s the nucleus of an excellent team there without question.

Reason 3: Too Many Foreigners in The Premiership Disrupting Youth
I don’t really buy this theory, because the way I view it is if the players are good enough they will get in the first team,  simple as that.  Also, surely the foreign players will help improve England’s players by giving them first-hand experience of their style and differing skills and methods. Before the influx of foreign players and the creation of The Premiership England were just as bad, so that would conclude foreign players are not the overriding factor either. Also, youngsters get sent out on loan when in their late teens meaning their development does not really suffer.

Reason 4: Coaching
This is one area I would agree is a significant problem, as it’s very apparent England’s players are not as composed and inventive in general when in possession compared to the other major International teams. Also, there is too much focus on winning, strength, pace and height and not technique at youth levels, all this at a time when a players development and learning is at it’s most potent.

Reason 5: Penalties
Admittedly England do have a very poor penalty shoot-out record in major tournaments which has meant they have been knocked out perhaps prematurely, but equally, so do other nations Italy and Holland to name two.

Reason 6No Winter Break
This is definitely a factor in my mind as witnessed by all the Premiership’s stars failing to perform at the World Cup, evidently tired and not up to their usual standards. I see no reason why the Carling Cup could not be scraped (as it’s predominately a competition for reserves and youngsters anyway and pretty much just the FA Cup repackaged) and the Premiership fixtures re-ordered to make space for a winter break.

Reason 7: Too Much Fan & Media Pressure
Do you not think the Brazilian, Argentinian, Dutch, Italian, French, German and Spanish press and fans are just as optimistic and expectant as the British press? Well they are and their players just accept it as part and parcel of the game and get on with it. Besides the same pressure is apparent at club level with the fans expecting teams and players to perform in the big domestic and European games every week, so it’s nothing new. The other major football nations face the same pressures and they seem to cope better than us, I believe the English players just have the wrong mentality.

England Players Behaving Badly

There is a lack of professionalism from a core set of the current England players with binge drinking, late nights and sleeping around the regular offences splashed across the tabloids. It’s not hard to imagine this lack of professionalism then leaks into their football and a lack of team structure and ethic within the manager’s tactical framework.

Obviously I’m generalizing hugely, but foreign players tend to steer clear of excessive drinking and getting caught out by the paparazzi and are on the whole less rebellious (well for the exception of the World Cup 2010 France squad).  Comparatively they tend to be more reserved, respecting and adhering to the tactical instructions of footballing authority. They see their job as a footballer exactly that a job that deserves 100% commitment and focus. England’s immature attitude has been most evident with Beckham and Rooney”s World Cup red cards for descent right at the precise moments when we needed them most.
It’s continued more recently in South Africa, with England’s players complaining of being bored, we’ll have a jolly lads holiday and play a bit of football when we’re not by the pool. Err guys, it’s not a lad’s holiday, you’re there doing a job for your country, trying to win a World Cup! Being restricted to a 5 star hotel and all the trimmings for 2-3 weeks is a hugely testing sacrifice that has to be made unfortunately.  Terry complaining to the press about Capello’s methods also shows a complete lack of respect for authority and a lack of willingness to follow the manager’s decisions. All this disagreement then translates to a fragmented team on the pitch.
Previously the player’s WAGS were allowed to join the England camp at tournaments, again this shows the wrong mentality, why were they ever allowed? This complete lack of focus and concentration on the prize is absurd, it’s as if the players want as many distractions as possible in-order to sabotage their own performance.
Here’s Capello’s opinion on the effect of the British drinking culture on players: http://www.sportinglife.com/football/news/story_get.cgi?STORY_NAME=soccer/10/11/13/SOCCER_England_Capello.html
Problems & Solutions
One of the underlying reasons I would give for England’s constant failings would be the quality and quantity of youth coaching.
Firstly England has less qualified coaches than the other major football nations, secondly our youth spend less time training, and thirdly the coaching relies too heavily on strength, pace, focusing too heavily on winning and kick and rush football as opposed to developing player’s natural skill, technique and self improvement. This win at all costs and hoof the ball philosophy does not allow composed technical creative footballers to develop especially the smaller ones that are the stars of other nations like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Aimar, Saviola.Also adding to the problem is England’s high pressing game (a staple of The Premiership and England team) is not workable in the hot summer temperatures of World Cups and European Championships., or when up against the possession based game of the Europeans and South Americans. On this note apparently when Beckham arrived at Real Madrid the other players nicknamed him Forest Gump as they were puzzled as to why he was running about the pitch everywhere and tiring himself out. They suggested there is no reason to run around like that, instead just conserve your energy and occupy a solid defensive position.
Equally there is an inferiority complex which runs right through youth, senior players and coaching staff as English clubs turn to foreigners time after time, instead of nurturing and producing English playing and coaching talent. We are now seeing the consequences of that, with a underperforming national team, no adequate English manager to take over the England team and foreign players dominating the top youth and first teams across the Premiership.
Chief Executive of the F.A. Premier League, Richard Scudamore, describes the new youth set-up proposed to keep in-line with the youth training in Spain, Holland and Germany:http://www.skysports.com/story/0,19528,11095_6293560,00.html
England gave football to the World in the late 1800s and now the World play it better than we do. Right from the beginnings of the game, England favoured a physical and long passes thoughtless approach, instead of short passing, retaining possession, subtlety, innovation and technique. This primitive close mindedness meant while the rest of the World excelled with their differing approaches England got left behind the times. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like we’re suffering from the exact same issues now nearly 100 years later!

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