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'Rooney the last of the street footballers - England team should be made up of hungry kids from estates'

Goal.com logo Goal.com 10-06-2017

The World Cup victory on home soil in 1966 was a long time ago and since then Germany, France, Italy and Spain have leapt ahead of England as Europe’s pre-eminent national teams on the world stage.

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The Times’ chief football writer Henry Winter examines England’s half-century of failings in his book “Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England Football and Why We Never Stop Believing”, updated this year to reflect last summer’s Euro 2016 horror show.

“I knew England were going to screw up in the Euros,” he told Goal. “I didn’t think the manager was good enough, I didn’t think the players were good enough.

“The other thing is that they’re fairly exhausted when they go into tournaments.

“So it’s partly the quality of players, partly the quality of coaches but ultimately I think it’s psychological.

“There’s no reason England shouldn’t beat Iceland. But you looked at Iceland and they were just absolutely up for it.

“The shirt weighs heavy for England.”

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That washout was just the latest in a long line of dismal tournament performances that Winter has seen first-hand having first covered the national team in 1985.

For the book Winter spoke to at least one personality that featured in every tournament from 1966 onwards. Through his research he has gained an insight into the reasons why England underperform.

It begins, he believes, right at the bottom of the pyramid – not only for young players but for coaches too.

“What we’ve got to do is develop more coaches, get more skills coaches into schools, sort out the academy systems and allow kids to stay longer in education,” he says. “And make them a little bit more responsible about their careers off the pitch.

“St George’s Park is the most important building in this country. It’s the Oxford of coaching which is what we need.

“We need more English coaches. And if they’re not good enough then we’ve got to make them better through St George’s.”

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Premier League money, says Winter, has created a generation of young players pampered in every aspect of their lives before they’ve even kicked a ball in senior football.

“We will continue to produce fantastic, technical players,” he says. “[But] if you don’t take responsibility off the pitch, how can you take responsibility on the pitch?

“There are kids in the under-15s, under-16s, under-17s, if they missed the coach in Paris or something they would be stranded.

“Swedish kids would go to the Embassy, sort themselves out, wouldn’t have a problem. But our kids we’ve stopped them being fighters and street-wise and that is just key.”

The salaries on offer to academy stars also warp relationships between boys and their parents.

“An average 17-year-old who’s not even got anywhere near the first team in the Premier League is on £270,000 a year,” he says.

“That changes the dynamic with the mother and father because you cannot discipline that. Who’s the breadwinner in the family? So many things we’ve got wrong.

“The kids just get it too soon and it kills them. Too much too young.”

Meanwhile, other potential players from poorer backgrounds are falling by the wayside as a lack of facilities and poor diets hold them back early in their development.

“I see the problems this country has got first-hand with obesity, problems in the estates,” says Winter.

“You go into state schools and the teachers don’t have the time or resources to go and teach. Also, they’ve lost so many of their facilities because they’re being sold off for housing.

“How much have they spent on Wembley? Three-quarters of a billion? Could you imagine if you put a 3G pitch all over the country. It’s what’s needed.

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“I went to see the health minister and said why don’t you take one percent of your budget, put it into state school sport and save yourself a problem in the long run. Their simple response was: ‘Why should I help my successor?’

“The system is increasingly looking at privately-educated kids because they are fitter. Isn’t that a great indictment? The England national team should be made up of hungry kids from estates. They’re hungry for the wrong stuff.

“You talk to academy coaches and if they’re getting kids at eight they’d rather take an overseas kid because he hasn’t been eating McDonald’s and drinking Coca-Cola for the last four or five years. It’s a huge problem.

“That’s a government issue as well as a football issue. There are privately-educated kids in football but, really, we need to be looking at the [Wayne] Rooney pathway. Rooney is the last of the street footballers because parents aren’t going to let their kids play. It’s tied up with societal problems as well as football problems.

“As Nicky Butt points out, he’s got a huge problem with young Manchester United players; they’re all dislocating their shoulders.

“They don’t climb trees and they don’t know how to roll. He’s been bringing in parkour experts and people from circuses to teach them to fall.

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“I would like them to play longer at their schools before they go into the system. I think if they join academies at 12 you might get a much more rounded individual and a much more rounded player.”

Becoming a rounded player is crucial in Winter’s eyes as he’s perceived a lack of curiosity for the world around them in England’s players throughout the years.

“They’re far too cossetted,” he says. “It’s partly the media, it’s partly the obsession with England when we go abroad. It’s why we haven’t done anything.

“They are just holed up in a high-class prison when they should get out and experience it. I’ve been to Robben Island and seen the Dutch players there.

“John Terry – to his great credit – of the 23 that were there [at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa], he went and did a private coaching session in a favela.

“David James got halfway up Table Mountain but the rest of them either went to play golf or went to a shopping mall.

“Half the players – including [current England manager Gareth] Southgate by the way – in 2003 turned down an invitation to fly out from Durban to Pretoria to see Nelson Mandela. Why turn that opportunity down?

“We’re blinkered. It’s partly because they’re scared of the media but it’s partly because they’re not plugged into the world because they’ve been plugged into football since they’re six or seven.

“That’s their parents’ fault, that’s football’s fault but ultimately we all have to take responsibility for our own careers – it’s their fault.”

England play Scotland on Saturday in a World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park with qualification for Russia 2018 already looking assured.

Despite the ease and regularity with which England qualify for tournaments, Winter is not getting carried away. He’s learned to temper his expectations when England make it through to a major finals.

“I think they’ll get out of the group,” he says. “If they get to the quarter-finals that’s about par for the course of what we should be.”

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