Every major tournament for an England fan ends in disappointment and the players commitment to their country is put in question. So here is the question.
Is playing for your country the pinnacle for a present day footballer?
In sports such as rugby and cricket the pinnacle for a player is stepping out on the field, often reduced to tears singing their national anthem before battle. Even for individual sports such as athletics they have the olympics where they perform under their national flag. When was the last time you saw an England footballer reduced to tears from singing the national anthem?
The greatest player on the planet, Lionel Messi, is regularly attacked by the media in his native Argentina for never hitting the heights that he does for Barcelona. Is it because of tactics, quality of the team or passion for the cause that has prevented him from reaching those heights? Or is it simply the weight of expectation of his birth country too much for this little genius. For now people argue that Messi is one of the greatest to set foot on a football pitch but history will hold the infamous argentine No.10 shirt in higher accolade. The great Maradona will always be held in higher accolade purely and simply for single handedly taking his country to the 1986 World cup trophy. Until Messi can lead his country to success, history is always likely to hold Maradona above him. Other greats likely to be knocked down on the ‘all time greatest’ lists will be George Best and Ryan Giggs, simply because of their lack of international accolades.
Rory McIlroy famously had to back track in 2010 for calling the Ryder Cup an “Exhibition”. However after 4 days of grueling competition and the emotional roller coaster at Celtic Manor, McIlroy had to admit he was wrong. The infectious passion from the crowds bellowing out his name on the first tee everyday had convinced him that the Ryder Cup is more than just an exhibition.
Anyway back to the England enigma. The so called ‘Golden Generation’ will likely go down as England’s biggest failures. Its certainly not down to talent, the likes of Owen, Scholes, Lampard and Gerrard are certainly not short of talent. Arguably its the managers fault, but looking at their records can we really say Eriksson, Keegan, Capello are bad managers? Should we blame the press? First to build up a nations hopes when we win but always happy to destroy them to sell a paper. Then again if the players bled for the cause like Terry Butcher and Paul Ince a nation would stand by someone who gave it all in honour of their country. Or is it simply that a player knows where their bred is buttered and that club comes before country.
In my view England will never win a major tournament until pride is restored in playing for your country. There is no easy fix to this. I believe it starts at the very core of society in this country, pride in the flag just isn’t what it used to be. However, the olympics may just kick start a change in passion for country over club.