The flags are everywhere. Grown men strut the pavements with Rooney emblazoned on their backs. The bakery shops have football-shaped cakes. The tabloids offer free supporters’ kits. People whose passion for football rises only every fourth year rub their hands alongside addicts who proclaim Gerrard for King. Yes, it is World Cup time again and a large slice of the English population is as high as a coot.
There is only one question on every lip, can they win it? There should be a second but let us firstly focus on the immediate future. The answer, I believe , is yes they can. The loss of Rio Ferdinand is a blow but the England squad still contains some fine and experienced players. The mantle of driving the team forward in the heat of battle now falls on Steven Gerrard and he is more than capable of leading by example. When people such as Churchill and Brierley proved in their fields that a group of men prepared to fight every inch of the way as a unit whilst led by an untiring tiger can overturn any odds they set the formula that could see Englnd home.
Study of the draw can easily convince one that the path to the Quarter Finals should not be too rocky. From then on it becomes tougher as the English players come up against teams full of match-winners and many a Premiership star. But that takes us to the second question and it is one that should be to the forefront of the mind of every regular Premiership fan!
Is this the last chance England will ever have of the ultimate soccer glory? We are already light years on from the days when Alf Ramsay could cast his eye over every top club in the country. And we are an equal distance from the days when our football clubs saw their prime success as developing players capable of wearing the international shirt. The cricket counties still see it that way but the Premiership is no longer a development area for the national team. Indeed it is very much an overseas dominated affair now with many of the owners, managers and players having international loyalties far removed from these shores.
During the past season it was by no means unusual for a top Premiership side to take the field with no more that two players qualified to play for England. And there has often been a marked reluctance to release even those to take part in internationals. With the exception of one or two European clubs our Premiership offers untold wealth to mercenaries from abroad. Sometimes one wonders how this signing or that can possibly represent better value than a home-grown player but in the main the best performers in world football are bid for and duly arrive to the delight of a Club’s fans.
And it is really they who will have the casting vote. Are they happy to downgrade the quality of the national team? Does their individual clubs’ success mean everything to them. If the answer is in the affirmative the top clubs will continue to fight over the already established stars across the world’s soccer playing countries. Slowly but surely the number of English players will diminish. And with many financial crises developing the top clubs’ will cut their investments in academies.
There is of course a real possibility that whatever the fans want and are prepared to pay to watch, the matter may be taken out of their hands. Like the nation many Premiership clubs are heavily in debt and several will, during the coming season, fall victim in the way that Portsmouth did. The small elite group at the top will doubtless continue to regard £150,000 per week as a reasonable wage but even here some of the foreign owners may prove to be more profiteers than sugar-daddies.
However let us assume that the top half -dozen Clubs continue to spend , spend , spend whilst the majority either collapse or cut their wage bills dramatically. The possibility of the oft discussed European Super League will become inevitable. If that happens the choice for an England manager will be confined to the ‘second division’ whatever fancy name is conjured up for it. And would the main beneficeries such as Sky be prepared to continue to pay out fortunes to cover such matches?
Of course this is all conjecture. Given the growing financial armageddon Premiership clubs may begin to cut their outlay and turn instead to home grown yougsters. Someone may even realise that many would sign eagerly for an annual wage no greater than is presently paid for seven days. And pigs may circle the Houses of Parliament!
One thing is certain which is that the future is anything but. Many are inclined to be optimistic about the first question and considerably less so about the second. Those that lead English football are preoccupied with winning the staging of the 2018 World Cup. Perhaps they should spare a thought for the possibility that we will by then be down amongst the also-rans!
But for now we still have high quality players born of the days when overseas stars were the exception rather than the rule. Let us hope they can send the nation into rhapsodies even if it is for the last time!