Sky TV - not Capello - to blame for sorry England
Bill Mann: The super-rich Premier League stops young English players developing – hence the Wembley disaster
Today’s sports page headlines are predictable: ‘Capello gets an Eiffel’ blasts the Daily Star, while the Sun and the Daily Mirror both run with ‘Prat in a Hat’ above photos of the England coach looking disconsolate in a Three Lions baseball cap.
It’s eye-catching stuff, and reflective of how many England fans feel today after watching their side outclassed at Wembley by a rampant French team. But it’s also unfair, unhelpful and, in the case of the Sun, hypocritical.
Because it’s not Fabio Capello who’s to blame for the England football team’s sorry state. It’s the Premier League - an out-of-control entity which guzzles the money poured into it by BSkyB.
Last year the satellite broadcaster paid the Premier League £1.62 billion for the right to screen 115 live matches per season from 2010 to 2013. That’s enough to dictate on what days and at what times matches are played and more than enough to allow the clubs to tempt scores of foreign players whose presence hinders the development of young, home-grown talent.
Yet none of this is of interest to BSkyB, which is owned by News Corporation, whose other concerns include the Sun, the News of the World and the Times. Pick up any of these titles on any given day, and its sports coverage is dominated by its devotion to all things Premier League.
English football is now defined not by the national team but by the Premier League, and clubs don’t care whether the Three Lions beat France or not. Look at how Newcastle questioned Capello’s decision to select their young striker Andy Carroll; they said he hadn’t recovered from a groin strain and demanded he undergo a late fitness test. In the past, a club like Newcastle would have been proud to have one of their own as England’s No 9; now it’s a menace to their Premier League aspirations.
Similarly, Liverpool are enraged that Steven Gerrard suffered a hamstring injury in the closing minutes of last night’s 2-1 defeat, branding the England management "amateurish, incompetent and disgraceful".
According to them, Capello had agreed to play Gerrard for no more than an hour. They were quite unmoved by Capello’s perfectly reasonable rejoinder that, after Gareth Barry was injured, "we needed someone senior on the pitch because it was a really young team".
If Capello was in any doubt before last night how much importance the Premier League attaches to the national team he’s surely not this morning. Yet as usual it’s his mug splashed across the tabloids with every two-bit former player lining up to take a pot shot at the hapless Italian, most of whom owe their mock Tudor mansions and luxury sports cars to the Premier League gravy train.
But until that train is derailed England will continue their descent into the third tier of international football, unable to compete with the likes of France and Germany who attach far more importance to national pride than the domestic game.
Paris-based sports reporter Dave Crossan, who covers French football for Eurosport and Canal Plus Sport, wasn’t surprised by the ease with which France brushed aside England at Wembley.
"Young players are exposed to top-flight football at a much earlier age in France because there aren’t so many foreign players in Ligue 1," Crossan told The First Post. "And that’s because there isn’t the money in the French game that there is in the Premier League.
"No one in Ligue 1 earns the equivalent of £150,000-plus a week. Even the most high-profile players would earn that only in a month."
Yet Crossan says the quality of football in Ligue 1 is still high, as seen by the fact that Lyon and Marseille are both still in with a shout of qualifying for the knockout stages of the Champions League.
“Young French players tend to be technically better and more tactically aware than their English counterparts,” says Crossan. “The French have a very good youth system in place but also young players are allowed to make mistakes for their clubs the way young English players can’t.
“If a young English player does something wrong in a game he’s usually dropped and faces a long struggle to get back in the side. In France they understand that young players will only learn from their mistakes if they are playing regularly.”
One doesn’t have to look far to see the truth in Crossan’s thinking.
Kieran Gibbs, England’s 21-year-old left-back against France last night, has made just one Premier League start for Arsenal this season; Micah Richards and Adam Johnson, second-half substitutes last night, have made seven and five starts respectively for Manchester City. And Chris Smalling, the 20-year-old defender who wasn’t called off the bench at Wembley, has yet to start a Premier League match for Manchester United this season.
How can they be expected to perform for their country when their clubs barely give them the time of day? Then again, Arsenal are coached by a Frenchman, City by an Italian and United by a Scotsman. What do they care if England look stupid? ·
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