English football fans lose their minds at the mention of 1966. Now a 66-year -old is losing his. Greg Dyke the FA chairman has announced plans for the English national team to become World Champions in 2022, 56 years after they first achieved the feat.
Beginning today, there should be a documentary series made about ‘Dyke’s vision’ as it has become known to Skysports viewers. Let it run for nine seasons (from the match at Wembley between England and Moldova) to the deciding match in Lusail. Georgie Thompson can narrate, like she did for Premier League Years. Opening with the first scene, ‘This is the story of one man’s vision for football domination on a world scale.’ Cut to Dyke on the streets of London, armed with his leather bound folder, brimming with footballs equivalent of saving Gotham City. Unless manager Roy Hodgson has hidden superheroes for the job in Qatar however, English plans for success will remain on hold.
Roy doesn’t seem the type to organise a win in Russia, let alone operate the high risk strategy of withholding Messi type talent from the media spotlight. Paid well and thought highly of at club level he stands but his coaching at national level is unremarkable. Add to that, eleven English men in the firing line of a world cup campaign, sure to wilt like hot wax and Dyke’s vision takes on an infamous guise.
Long term targets must set a high water mark for success but Dyke’s ambitions are limited by his countries footballing culture. The problem is selling ideas of international achievement to players focused on prizes and riches at club level. A child in the street could give reasons as to why he wants to play for Manchester United or Chelsea before he has the thought of playing for England. That is because he has been caught up in favouring a club team before he knows about national sporting success. After he has watched Gareth Bale kicking a ball toward a cheering crowd at the Bernebeu, all bets for country are off. Don’t mention ‘The Giggs effect’ to the child either. It will only stub his emotional sporting development further. If you insist on talking to your son about Ryan, just say he was a bold boy for Wales. That will compute. A winger with over 1000 appearances for his club but as useful to his home nation as Gavin Henson now is. The point is not Giggs’ nationality, rather the precedent he and club managers have set, a cap is worth less than three precious Premiership points.
Think of international football as a school. Which country would you send your child to if he wanted to win a world cup? Why does England not stand out as a likely destination? Is it because, like education, those with ability will gain more from an environment that has a consistent record of high achievement? Or is it because ability of a child will be determined by the willingness of a teacher to get the best from his/her pupils? Dyke wants talented footballers identified quicker, nurtured better at youth level. Children and teenagers growing up in England presently are likely to contribute to the goal of 2022. Their development will shape the footballing fortunes of a nation bereft of worldly fame.
Yet optimists who place faith in the ability of children to one day change the prospects of England’s World Cup record are misguided. English football has hit rock bottom and during his latest address to the press, Dyke said as much. “The issue, quite simply, is this. In the future it’s quite possible we won’t have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. As a result, it could well mean England’s teams are unable to compete seriously on the world stage.” Tonight, English children will follow Hodgson and his team as England seek qualification for Brazil next year. Good thing they know as little about Moldova as they do about the future of the beautiful game on their doorstep.