Things haven’t been the same since the arrival of the Premier League and all its money, which happened within a few years of EU free movement of people.
People talk about “hunger” as a metaphor, but it’s not far from the literal truth. The vast majority of footballers come from working class backgrounds, and are driven to succeed in part because of their backgrounds. It’s the ticket out of poverty for the kid kicking a tennis ball about in Sao Paolo or the ruffian launching one at the top corner in Croxteth.
Football players have always been well paid, relative to your average earner on the street, but the sums that they receive, at such a young age, are staggering. Rooney is almost a personification of the issue, which is why I mentioned Croxteth earlier. Absolutely frightening at Everton, the 2004 Euros and his first couple of seasons at United. He quickly got his feet under the table, and his form dipped even further when he got his quarter mil a week contract.
How hungry can you be when you’re on that sort of dough? Especially if you’re caning Lambert & Butler and suppressing your appetite?
I know other international sides have some players that are extremely well paid by their clubs, but you normally have a decent proportion of the team that are plying their trade in the domestic league, earning a fraction of what their team mates earn. Still humble.
The tragedy of this situation is that we’ve got plenty of English players that are humble, but the reliance on big club players, no matter what their form or club position, almost guarantees that we’ll never see that humility save the occasional breakthrough of a player who hasn’t been told the rules and accidentally performs.
Normally from a big club, normally ruined thereafter, because hey, you’re in the England squad now. Stay on the back pages and you’ll stay in the squad. The manager’s position has become such a poisoned chalice since the Sun stitched up Graham Taylor that the FA never picks anyone too risky. The managers simultaneously don’t deviate too much from accepted media wisdom, yet also make inexplicable decisions to show that they’re their own men.
We end up getting the worst of both worlds. An untried Walcott. An unfit Rooney. Taking injured players to tournaments in general. Glass Jack, specifically. To be fair to the pundits, I think they’d have laid off Hodgson if he’d made the call to pick form players this year. They certainly weren’t demanding he pick Rooney or Wilshere.
We need a braver FA, with contemporary football people. We need to stop the near automatic selection of players. We need to able to recognise disruptive and successful players or teams, like MLT or Leicester, and work out how to apply that internationally. A cap should be a hard-won privilege, not a formality, and certainly not after the evidence we’ve just seen.