Friday, 8 July 2011

Why more English players should play abroad‏

Kevin Leonard explains his thoughts on why more English players should ply their trade abroad.

It is not often today or at any point in history that an Englishman will venture abroad for anything else other than a barmy drunken holiday or to invade a foreign land, take it over and tell the terrified locals to speak English from now on. And let's be honest, there isn't much difference between those two activities especially in the case of Gaza's transfer to Lazio. However, so far in this transfer window two young English players have transferred to two former European Cup winning clubs in Germany. Michael Mancienne has swapped the blue shirt of Chelsea and London's eloquent West End for the black and blue shirt and ice bars of Hamburg. Where as 18 year old Dale Jennings has some how landed a transfer from Tranmere Rovers to the German giants Bayern Munich, odd times indeed. It seems the transfer window had taken on a nostalgic feel to them with rumours of Scottish strikers like Kenny Miller joining Italian clubs and Irish strikers allegedly heading to Arsenal. But two young English talents signing for the elite of the Bundesliga does not represent any bygone era at all.

We are ‘well and truly in the twilight zone’ to quote a bygone Belgian rock band.

Besides the mysterious nature of these German shopping habits, we as English men and women (half of me actually) will inevitably ask the question; is this good for English football?

The egotistical nature of the TV presentations of the Premier League often leave the claim "best league in the World" ringing in our ear. Naturally most English fans believe this, which is fine. However when it is uttered from the mouths of pundits who don't actually watch any other league in the World one most question their claim. The fact is other leagues are very very good as well. The Bundesliga is perhaps one of the fastest improving leagues in Europe at the moment.

This is an environment which will excel the development of Michael Mancienne and Dale Jennings. It will give them an alternative view of the game in comparison to the one they would have viewed and experienced in England.

A lot of these clever pundits were very quick to belittle the Bundesliga, when Schalke were beaten by Manchester United in last seasons Champions League. Where as others like me have a slightly longer memory and can all too vividly recall 11 Bundesliga players humiliating 11 Premier league players in South Africa 12 months ago.

I would dare to say that this could be the catalyst of a new era of English football. That wonderful memory I mentioned can also recall football from further back than South Africa 2010. In fact it can recall a time before 2008 where the Spanish national team were not very good. Plenty of players that now make up Spain's first choice 11 were present in the years where La Liga sides would consistently perform well in European club competitions with an abundance of Spanish players. Yet Spain would fail on the international stage. The Spanish national side’s first choice 11 pre Euro 2008 was 100% La Liga players. The players were mostly from the very best La Liga clubs such as; Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia etc.

What was slightly different at Euro 2008? Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres were not playing in La Liga. They were playing in the Premier League.

Another fact that some would claim makes the Premier league the ‘best league in the World’ is because it some how hardened up the Spaniards. This is not what happened. Believe it or not they do have tackles in Spain too. If you want to really talk about the physicality of both nations, us English don't wave red flags in an attempt to piss off a raging bull that would quite happily impale you onto it's horn and shake you until you were unable to wave a flag ever again.

What the English league gave those players was a different style, a different point of view on the game if you will. On the international stage you will of course encounter more contrasting styles than in club football. This variety gave the Spanish a little something extra and even though Alonso is now back in Spain and Fabregas soon will be too, they have that little experience of another footballing culture which has helped the Spanish win a World Cup.

If Manchester United's Owen Hardgreaves, was fit he would be picked in the England squad every time. His time with Bayern Munich made him a unique player, not necessarily better than some English central midfielders, but he has a discipline in the holding role that other English players just don't have. This is no doubt a direct result from playing in the German mindset which places great emphasis on tactical awareness and positioning rather than work ethic and passion. Brains over brawn you could say. Having viewed Michael Mancienne’s display for the Under 21 side against Spain last month, I would say he greatly needs a brain and to immerse himself in a more tactical thinking environment or at least one where he can learn to pass a ball.

The foreign journalists in attendance at the Under 21 European tournament remarked that England had changed somewhat, they felt that our problem was we tried to play too much football. England are making a transition into the modern game by placing the emphasis on technique now rather than power, hence the inclusion of Jack Wilshere at senior level. The problem is changing a countries ethos is not like flipping a switch. It takes time. With defenders like Rio Ferdinand and midfielders like Jack Wilshere England has shown they can produce players of a more intelligent and technical calibre. We just need to do this on a wider scale.

Two youngsters in Germany is a good start to a new approach. They are not just any German clubs mind you. Only three German clubs have won the European Cup and two of them are Bayern Munich and Hamburg.

Personally I would send every 16 year old we have over to Brazil and tell them to do whatever it is those Brazilian kids do all day long. Or just hire Pelè to shag 11 English women so we can raise a team of English/Brazilians in time for the 2030 World Cup.

A World Cup we'll hopefully be hosting, hint hint FIFA!

You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.

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The Eternal Struggle

Just How Good is Gary Cahill?

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