With my beloved Watford FC’s season petering out towards a rather lacklustre and disappointing finale, this week I turned my attention to the closing stages of the Champions League and Europa League competitions.
With both tournaments at the semi-final second leg stage and each of the four ties finely poised, I was looking forward to seeing some of the cream of world football in action in games that truly mattered.
As my Hornet heroes in yellow gifted Charlton Athletic survival in south east London, 12 short miles away at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea were to be involved in a battle of a different type – the fight for European supremacy. As an English football supporter, I wanted Chelsea to win, just as when the World Cup begins in Brazil, I’ll want England to triumph. As the game nervously ticked on, I found myself thinking about just how likely an English World Cup success story was. I scanned the Chelsea line up for likely protagonists. Three English players. Ashley Cole, Gary Cahill and John Terry. Of these three, only Cahill is likely to feature in Roy Hodgson’s plans.
Slightly taken aback by the lack of English participation, I scanned the Atletico Madrid squad. Not an Englishman in sight. A glance at the teams from the previous night’s game between Real Madrid and Munich revealed Gareth Bale as the closest thing to an English player on display and I have no doubt that as a proud Welshman, Bale would rather retrain as a plumber than feature with the three lions on his chest.
Fast forward to the following night’s Europa League action. Two games, four teams, no Englishmen. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t need to see English footballers performing to enjoy the game, and it’s been a long-lamented fact that not enough players from these shores make it abroad, but still, the facts made for uncomfortable reading.
With eight squads announced for the second leg ties, there were a total of 144 players in action. Of these, three qualify to play for England. Of this trio, just one is likely to feature in Brazil. In other words, 0.69 per cent of the participants in this season’s European semi-finals are current England internationals.
I’ve already written of England’s all-too regular early departures from recent major tournaments. Could a lack of European experience, at least in the games that really matter, be England’s Achilles heel? When faced with the stark reality of beating an international team chock full of players who have played in more high pressure games than they can even remember , are England really equipped to succeed? Spain stand on the brink of an unprecedented fourth tournament win in a row, but a cursory glance at their side makes it easy to see why. The majority of names in their squad have been involved in the latter stages of European club competition on a virtually annual basis.
In my role as Fan Ambassador, I named my England starting XI as Hart; Johnson, Cahill, Jagielka, Baines; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Lallana; Rooney and Sturridge. Of these only Cahill, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney can lay any claim to success in Europe with their clubs. It’s looking bleak, right?
There’s no reason why England, despite their relative inexperience, can’t perform in Brazil. Their talent is undoubted, and many of them are in the form of their lives. Never mind the jarring 0.69 per cent figure I mentioned earlier. It means nothing. These boys are going to give 100 per cent and we’ll be behind them all the way. Experience is vital and can undoubtedly prove to be the difference in tight games, but there’s only one way to get experience and that’s to give it everything you’ve got in the big games. They don’t get much bigger than a World Cup in Brazil. Come on England!
Mike Parkin is a lifelong football fan, a season ticket holder at Watford FC and a fervent supporter of the national team. Mike presents the popular Watford FC podcast ‘From the Rookery End’ and will be documenting his trip to the World Cup on the website: www.fromtherookeryend.com. You can also see Mike’s images on Instagram (RookeryEnd) whilst you can interact with Mike directly on Twitter by following@RookeryMike.