Prior to Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier in the Ukraine, every football fan, the length and breadth of the country, would have gladly accepted a draw, yet the stick the manager and team have received in the wake of their goalless draw almost beggars belief.
Granted, it wasn’t pretty. But the bottom line is that the team are now only two home wins away from qualifying for the finals in Brazil next summer.
And if we can’t beat Poland and Montenegro, then clearly we have bigger problems with our national team than alluded to by Greg Dyke last week.
It’s almost the remit of the FA chairman to put his head above the parapet and Dyke certainly did that last week.
A lot of what he said made a lot of sense – I’m not sure about the World Cup winning prediction for 2022, nothing like setting yourself up, Greg!
The arrival of the Premier League in 1992 has changed the face of our domestic football beyond comprehension. It’s astounding to think that in the first year of the competition, Chelsea had only two non-British players in their squad, as did both Manchester United and Manchester City, while Arsenal had only one more foreigner.
Perhaps an equally significant statistic is that on the first day of the 1992-93 season, the highest-paid player, according to figures lodged with companies house, was Manchester United skipper Bryan Robson, who was being paid £8,000 a week, a figure now drastically dwarfed some 21 years later.
Records show that it was Middlesbrough of all of the clubs that really kick-started the wages avalanche.
In the close season of 1996, in the wake of the successful Euro 96 tournament, the highest-paid player in the country was Alan Shearer on £18,000 a week. Then, somewhat ironically, Bryan Robson by now the manager at the newly-built Riverside Stadium in Middlesbrough, signed Italian international Fabrizio Ravanelli and paid him a reported £48,000 a week.
Who, then, can blame the likes of Shearer and the rest of the top players in this country wanting parity with the foreign imports? And, so it began, the situation compounded by the advent of the foreign owner, to the point now where you are pushed to find more than a handful of home grown benefactors at the top end of domestic football.
In his speech, Dyke alluded to the fact that as the England pool of available players at the top end of our game became smaller, so would our chances diminish of succeeding in the top international tournaments.
You could argue that this has already happened to the smaller countries in the United Kingdom, younger football fans might find it hard to comprehend that Scotland actually qualified for five successive World Cup Finals between 1974 and 1990 – England didn’t even make 74 and 78!
Even Northen Ireland had back-to-back qualification in 82 and 86. With all due respect to both countries, this will never happen again, and it can all probably be traced back to the advent of the foreign import in this country.
Can it be stopped?
It’s easier said than done. While the football authorities can try to bring in legislation with rules about eight or more British players being in match squads, it’s things like the Treaty of Rome, signed by Ted Heath in the 1970s, mean it’s actually against the law to stop players from EU countries coming in and playing football.
Clearly, there is no quick fix, but for all his detractors, I do hope for the long-term future of our domestic game that Greg Dyke does get it right.
And, as for England, I think they will qualify and under Hodgson they are clearly a team that are hard to beat, it’s just we’d all like to see a bit more flair.