It’s back to the proper action in the Premier League after the pointless international break and a raft of predictable World Cup qualifiers. Matters resume with Manchester United at the top of the table followed by Liverpool who play Manchester City in the first live televised match of the weekend. A draw in that fixture would suit United who can win maximum points at Stoke later in the day.
International football has been in decline since the start of the Premier League and growth in importance of the Champions league. Even the neutrals are more interested in City v Liverpool than Malta or Slovakia v England. The top division in England is the richest in the world but features the fewest players eligible for the national team than all the other main European leagues.
There is a clip on Youtube which features a debate after England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. The then chairman of the FA, Graham Kelly, was pontificating about how now was the time to put a structure in place to give the national team the best circumstances in which to compete at the World Cup. He was asked about the future of the England manager, Graham Taylor, and he said:
“We must make the right decisions when we appoint the next manager of England and get the right structure.”
Jimmy Hill said the Premier League was not producing enough players who could excel for England and Terry Venables said we had the players but not the coaches!
At the National Football Museum there is a montage of England managers showing games played and matches won. No sooner had a picture of Sam Allardyce gone up when the odd jobs man had to find one of Gareth Southgate! Steve McLaren and Roy Hodgson had a good group of players to work with but were out of their depth in international football. Appointing designer managers from overseas did not work.
The FA did make two sensible appointments in Venables and Glenn Hoddle and then sacked both of them for non-footballing reasons. Over 20 years later they have gone back to the tried and failed method of appointing a civil servant as the national team coach. Gareth Southgate seems an intelligent chap but he couldn’t motivate his way out of a paper bag. But apparently though England are getting the structure in place!
The pace and dynamism of teams in the Premier League only highlights the stagnant, boring football England played against Malta and for some periods against Slovakia. It’s the very cosmopolitan nature of the league that has a negative impact on the national team because so few English players appear every week. When viewers watch the fixture between City and Liverpool they may notice the lack of English players. Liverpool are good enough to share the points at the Etihad.
In Marcus Rashford at least United have given a chance to a player who could win over 100 caps for England. He made a mistake that presented Slovakia with an early goal but then had an assist and goal to secure the points for England. Stoke could be in a bit of trouble at the wrong end of the table this season and United can win this fixture to nil with Rashford scoring at least once.
The televised matches over the rest of the weekend are about relegation issues more than potential champions and qualifying for the Champions League. Huddersfield have made a great start to their first year in the Premier League but they are still the club with least wealth in the division. Their match away to West Ham is the first fixture at the London Stadium for the hosts this season because it was being used for the World Athletics Championships in August. Huddersfield could get a reality check with a defeat in east London next Monday night.
The two Sunday fixtures bring together teams who could get embroiled in the nightmare scenario of relegation to the Championship. Burnley look more at ease than Crystal Palace under the current management and can win this home match. Newcastle visit Swansea with the club again in turmoil because it looks like Rafa Benitez was given no money to spend during the transfer window. A win for Swansea could bring things to a head and Benitez could be gone very soon. Even the England hierarchy could give the Newcastle board some pointers about dealing with managers!