FWA Live: Liverpool

Another lively FWA Live with some hard-hitting views from the panel at the Museum of Liverpool

MICHAEL OWEN: England don’t have the young players coming through which is worrying

ALAN STUBBS: Stuart Pearce told me two players preferred to go on holiday rather than play in the European Under-21 Championship

ANDY DUNN: The FA want to manage expectations – “we’re not going to win and you must get used to it”

CHRIS BASCOMBE: No one should be surprised by the standard of football we’re getting with Hodgson

PAUL JOYCE: To expect England to beat Montenegro and Poland is a big ask

JONATHAN NORTHCROFT: People are fed up with performances like the one in Ukraine

THE fourth FWA Live, sponsored by Barclays, at the Museum of Liverpool on Albert Dock, was another resounding success.

Paul McCarthy, the executive secretary of the Football Writers’ Association, was the “manager” of a star-studded team that included Michael Owen (former Liverpool, Real Madrid, Newcastle United, Manchester United, Stoke City and England striker, now a BT Sport pundit), Alan Stubbs (Everton’s Under-21 coach), Andy Dunn (FWA chairman), Chris Bascombe (Daily Telegraph), Paul Joyce (Daily Express) and Jonathan Northcroft (Sunday Times).

The panel started by discussing England’s 0-0 draw in Ukraine.

PM: Had you been playing, Michael, you’d have been pretty pleased with the result, wouldn’t you?

MO:  There were two questions. One is the result, which is all-important for the team and what they are doing, and then there is the general state of English football which we always dissect after games. Certainly from a player’s point of view, you’re coming off the pitch, shaking hands and saying “that’s a great result…we’re top of the group…we have two home games left against teams below us which we should, in theory, be winning.” It would have been a happy camp. The performance is another matter. It was OK. We’ve been saying the same things over the past few years in many ways. We’re not Spain, we’re not Brazil or any of the great nations. If we went to the World Cup tomorrow we’d be relying on Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney and players like that. We don’t have the youngsters coming through who we’d hope would take the nation forward in years to come. From that point of view it’s slightly worrying.

PM: Jonathan, you were in Kiev…?

JN: Yes and it was a long way to go for such a bad game.  As a Scot, during my lifetime I’ve seen the national team go down and down. The same may be happening to England at the moment. As Michael said, the players coming through just aren’t quite good enough at the moment. Roy Hodgson was shocked at the negative reaction but speaking to fans, what he can’t get is that people are fed up with turning on the TV to watch performances like that. It might be harsh but I think the Barclays Premier League is so good and vibrant while England are suffering by comparison. In the old days getting to the World Cup might have been enough but people are looking for a bit more than that now. I don’t think the players coming through can provide a different England.

PJ: Travelling back from Kiev with fans…they were saying it wasn’t just this game, it was Poland, it was Montenegro and there is a trend developing where England haven’t played well. It’s win-draw, win-draw. We’ve only beaten San Marino and Moldova so to expect to win back-to-back games against Montenegro and Poland is a big ask from what we’ve seen so far. We’ve not seen any evidence in the group so far that we’re going to go out and play open attacking football.

PM: Do you sense there is more realism in the media about England, Andy, with less hype and hysteria?

AD: It was a deliberate Football Association policy, no doubt about it. They want to manage expectations – that is, we’re not going to win and you must get used to it. Why did they appoint Roy Hodgson over Harry Redknapp? Without a doubt it was to get a coach in who we won’t expect too much from, to the extent the new FA chairman [Greg Dyke] doesn’t expect England to win the World Cup in 2014. I disagree with Jonathan about our expectations and what we should be thinking. We are what we’ve been for the last 25 or 30 years. We generally qualify for major tournaments, we generally get out of the qualifying group and then we lose, often unluckily, in the quarters or semis. We don’t generally get hammered at major finals. The problem we have is the player group we’re choosing from is diminishing rapidly.

CB: There was a golden generation, you can’t doubt that. Michael was part of it, he won the European Footballer of the Year award. That’s why everyone is so disillusioned. An opportunity was missed. Those players at their peak, with the right manager…no one should be surprised by the standard of football we’re getting with Hodgson. [Sven-Goran] Eriksson and [Fabio] Capello were the same, they just had better players. It was two banks of four and counter-attacking football. If England played like a club side which would it be? Would it be Ferguson’s United? Wingers, a dynamic midfield, a goalscoring number 10…is that the archetypal English way? Or is it Stoke?

MO (smiling): There’s nothing wrong with Stoke…

JN: Jack Wilshere was hyped as one of the next generation…he played the number 10 role for England [in Ukraine] and made 16 passes in the entire game. That’s a position where the Brazilians and the Spanish have world-class players.

PM: In Greg Dyke’s  state of the nation speech the accusation was  that Premier League clubs are almost stunting the growth of young English players into the first-team.  You work with players of that age, Alan, how difficult is it now for English players to break through?

AS: I think it depends on which clubs you are coming from. At Everton, if they are good enough there is a pathway through to the first-team. I don’t know whether that’s the same at your Chelseas or Arsenals. Is there the same pathway there? Tottenham went out and spent £110 million on six or seven players so youngsters like Tom Carroll who were on the fringe of the first-team are probably wondering what chance they have. I think Spurs sent seven players on loan and that’s the way we’re going to have to go. Top clubs will send young players out to get experience of competitive football.

MO: When I was coming through the reserves were that…Owen, Carragher, [David] Thompson, Gerrard, Ruddock…you’d have five or six first-team players with five or six youngsters. That was a stepping-stone and the transition to the first-team wasn’t so big. These days, reserve matches are basically youth team games. It’s farcical. You progress through the academy, you get to 18 and the youth team – and then what? You’re never going to get from the youth team to Manchester City’s first team, never in a million years. Or United. Or Liverpool. Even at Everton you’d need to be sensational…

PM: …like a Ross Barkley…

MO: …even he’s been on loan [to Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United]. Eighteen year olds are doing the same thing they were three years ago, which is going stale because there is no stepping-stone.

AD: Chelsea invested millions in their academy and you think of some of their players who came through. Michael Mancienne [after five years of loan spells at QPR and Wolves he joined Hamburger SV in 2011) and Josh McEachran [on loan to Swansea last year, now on loan at Middlesbrough]. When players go back after a loan they become disillusioned.

PM: Is there almost a satisfaction of reaching a certain level with English players?

JN: Josh [who is 20] is a good example. He has a celebrity girlfriend [Brooke Vincent who plays Sophie Webster in Coronation Street] and has been earning £20,000 a week for the last three years . There is no real incentive because in his mind he’s made it already. He seems symptomatic of that made-it-before-you-have-proved-it syndrome.

AS: We give young lads who have done nothing far too much money. We are now talking about players on £10,000 a week before they have played their first game because of hype. Unfortunately agents now say if the kid doesn’t get that they’ll take them somewhere else. It’s a vicious circle, but there has to be a ceiling somewhere along the line where young lads only get so much money with the rest incentive-based. The trouble is, it is so difficult with agents.

The discussion turned to players who are eligible for the Under-21’s being promoted to the senior squad and then dropping back to the Under-21’s.

AS: It’s great for Ross Barkley that he was away training with England [against Moldova and Ukraine] but will he see going back to the Under-21’s as demotion? No, Ross won’t have a problem with this, he’s a wonderful kid and a lad who loves football. The last player we had at Everton who loved football [like that] was Wayne Rooney. Ross plays football because he loves the game. He doesn’t do it for money. I spoke to Stuart Pearce [former Under-21 manager] and he said his problem was two players preferred to go on holiday rather than play in the European Championship [this summer]. What chance do you have when young players prefer to go on holiday rather than help their country to win a European competition?

As Gareth Bale prepares to start his career with Real Madrid, Michael Owen gave his verdict on the former Spurs midfielder.

MO: He’s a top player and there will be expectations, but it can’t be too difficult when you have team-mates like Cristiano Ronaldo. He’s the top dog, one of the best two if not the best player in the world. Bale won’t take all the limelight away from him, but I’ve no doubts Gareth will do well. People can make a big thing about pressure, but if you are a top player you lap it up. When I was in the prime of my career I used to love going out and thinking “this team is relying on me to score a goal.” I thrived on thinking I was important. I don’t think Bale would fail because there’s too much pressure on him. I bet he can’t wait to get going and lap it up.

MORE FROM FWA Live next week when the panel give their verdict on Luis Suarez…and reveal the manager who has changed English football more than any other.


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