I was watching an FA WSL 2 games this weekend between Millwall and Watford and it was a fully entertaining game with blood sweat and tears and a red card.
It was a typical game played the English way, the kind of game that you see at every level in men’s football from the Sunday league to the Premier League.
I am not criticising the fact that both sides gave 100%, it is something that is important in any football game. I am just saying that kind of football is the root of the England’s problem at international level. It is also important to note that the football played in the girls Centre of Excellence is actually quite good and skill-based rather than physically-based, therefore there is hope for the future.
I am French and obviously have grown and learnt football in a very different environment from the English one. I have now been living and watching in England for a total of 15 years now and I certainly believe that the ‘get stuck in’ mentality paired with the poor refereeing standard is the reason why England do not do well at international level.
I also link this to the saying you hear very often in football: ‘hard work beats talent when talent does not work hard’ which is the most annoying thing that people believe in.
I do not think there is an equivalent saying in France or any other countries.
So if the English players work hard, as hard as possible, that’s fine but then, what do they do when talent is working as hard?
They do not have a solution, because they have been programmed to work hard and win that way.
Getting ‘stuck in’ is typical English mentality
It is well known that the English football culture favours physical play rather than skill. If you add the natural tendency for English referees to be lenient to extremely lenient, you end up with players getting away with fouls, kicking, etc. that deserve yellow cards and sometimes reds.
In the end, if you are a skilful player and you get kicked for ninety minutes and given absolutely no protection by referees, how can you improve your skills and technical qualities?
At the end of the day, if your team has superior skills but cannot show it on the pitch because the referee does not allow you to play properly, you will have to turn to physical play to win the game. Hence it defeats the principle of improving your technical skills and just improves the fighting spirit.
You can see it at every football level here, when any player with a minimum of skill is targeted because the best/easiest/laziest way to stop a good player is to kick/push/slide into him/her. As referees do not apply Law of the Game 12, you end up with the situation getting out of control where the referee does not master the game and that is when red cards and injuries happen.
Football players are like wolves, if they feel a weakness from the referee they will try to take advantage of it. This is what happened this weekend, for example, the referee lost control of the game and a player got sent off.
So what does it mean for football at international level?
England cannot rely on only working hard and getting stuck in. First, referees are told at UEFA and FIFA level to be severe (compared to what is done in England) and give the yellow and red cards as per the rules and regulations. There is none of that ‘game management’ crap that pollutes the English game.
English players are at a clear disadvantage being used to a certain comfort with fouls not adequately punished or not even given. Then, players simply do not have the tools to find a solution to the problems they are facing. I have seen it through many age groups and senior teams in women’s football. And this also applies to men’s football, but the invasion of foreign players is often blamed instead.
As long as there is no change in that ‘get stuck in’ mentality, that is also linked to a ‘win at all cost’ mentality things will not improve and England will always be at a disadvantage at international level.
That ‘win at all cost’ mentality at youth level in men’s football is a clear problem. It leads to way too much direct football and duels fighting for second balls and it does not improve a player’s football skills.
As I mentioned earlier, the girls Centre of Excellence has a good football standard with a lot less fouling and a clear emphasis on playing football. Maybe England will end up winning the World Cup with the Women’s side sooner than the men?
There is also an urgent need to reform refereeing as well
It seems that protecting the physical integrity of the players does not interest the FA, hence the leniency towards fouling and the lack of cards produced that contributes highly to prevent football skills from developing.
The day the English referees apply, correctly and consistently, the LOTG, the game will shift towards playing football and the mentality will be able to change.
If the players keep getting booked and sent-off by referees, they will become a liability to their team, managers won’t play them and football will be able to flow.
Hence technical improvement will be able to shine on the pitch and England will be able to succeed at international level.
But this will take years to happen, and only if someone at the FA has the courage to reform refereeing.