Wednesday, 13 July 2016

EFL Chief faces tough questions over Football League restructure at Supporters Summit

As a follow up to my post in the spring on the importance of supporter involvement in the proposed revamping of the English Football League, it is encouraging to learn that EFL chairman Ian Lenagan will answer questions at the Supporters Summit on 16th July.

The Supporters Summit is an event organised by the Football Supporter's Federation and Supporters Direct. It will be held at Wembley Stadium. More information can be found via this link.

So far the league restructuring has not gathered much traction and the EFL has not demonstrated if there is any appetite for the proposed expansion of the league to 100 teams among the supporters. 

In the meantime the new format for the EFL Trophy has been announced which is supposed to include invited Premier League and some Championship clubs fielding under 21 sides. Clubs are only invited if they have category one youth academies. The trouble is that reportedly half of the 16 clubs originally asked to join have already declined the invitation.

The fact that the EFL announced the new format without seemingly checking if the invited clubs would be likely to accept should be a matter of concern for many fans of EFL clubs. Invitations have now been extended to more clubs from the Championship. However, the new format has met with some hostility and it does not reflect well upon the league that very little the groundwork seems to have been done before making the announcement.

The EFL Trophy, under its numerous guises, remains a popular competition which has been running for 33 years. It represents a chance for second and third tier clubs to play is a meaningful cup final at Wembley. The competition is the recent subject of a Euro 2016 meme as it began to occur to people that the Portugal international defender Jose Fonte has a European Championship and an EFL Trophy medal.
The concern from fans seems to be about the potential watering down of the competition and the possibility that it might prevent lower division clubs from the chance of their big day out. The argument for including under 21 teams is that it will make for an effective proving ground for young English players as they try to break into Premier League first teams.

Perhaps Mr Lenagan will be able to explain the thinking behind the format changes and in turn supporters will be able to impress upon him the importance of the supporters, who are key stakeholders in the EFL, involvement in restructuring the Football League.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Euro 2016 Diary - England: What is to be done?

A photo posted by UEFA EURO 2016 (@uefaeuro) on
It is fair to say that recent political events may lead to a change of relationship between a large number of English and their national team. As one of the many millions who were on the wrong end of the EU referendum on 23rd June I am reevaluating my feelings towards the country of my birth and its national football team.

Supporting England has always been problematic for me. I have never been comfortable with what I call the typical expression of English nationalism. Now that England is heading into a political direction to which I am fundamentally opposed I do not know if I will ever really be able to get behind England again. This is my choice and my problem. However, I do not believe I am alone.

That being said, were I to be more positive you could make a case for the national team unifying our divided nation either through success on the field or contempt for its dismal failures. Analysing their latest debagging at the hands of Iceland is difficult. Did they fail because the players just aren't good enough or was it because the manager got the tactics wrong? Are Iceland's players better than England's or better organised or both?

I believe that the mainstream consensus within the media and at the English FA is that the players are of sufficient quality that they, with proper management, can "punch their weight" as the FA's Chief Executive would put it. England's defeat has been put down to them freezing or being too scared to play to their maximum which, with the sort of conceit characteristic of the English, would have been enough to beat Iceland. This of course presupposes that Iceland's players are not as good as England's and that I suspect is a view against which you could strongly argue.

Nevertheless, the FA have announced that full time psychologists will travel with England in the future for international tournaments. Dr Steve Peters is the author of best selling self help book The Chimp Paradox and has worked with Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Ronnie O'Sullivan. He has hitherto been engaged by England on a part time basis. Perhaps he or people like him can relieve the tension in the English legs.

But whether the players will ever be are good enough to go deep in international tournaments remains to be seen. The Elite Player Performance Plan  (EPPP) is still in it's infancy and we have yet to see if it will bear fruit. The plan has been strongly criticised for undermining local youth systems with may in turn produce fewer players. However, if it is successful then surely in time we'll see a broader pools of decent professionals with whom the England manager can choose.

EPPP is still in its infancy and it is too soon to determine as to whether or not they are a success. It is certainly not the time to be looking to restructure the system at this stage without at least giving it a chance to fail.

It should also be borne in mind that many of the current Wales squad learned their trade in England. This suggests that the English system is perfectly capable of producing players that, with the right management can succeed right now. If England can produce a team capable of getting to the semi final of the Euros then surely England can produce a team capable of getting to the semi final of the Euros?

As comforting as it may be for disgruntled and disenfranchised England fans, I am not quite willing to accept that the England players are rubbish. I look at the team and see a bunch of decent professionals who, given the right conditions, can manage what Iceland and Wales achieved and that is to get the best out of themselves. This is the lesson to be learned from the Iceland result and I believe that in some ways the defeat should to be as instructive to England as the 7-1 loss to Hungary in 1954.

Whether England will ever be good enough to win the World Cup or European Championships is not the point. What matters is that they give their best and depart with dignity Sadly they have failed to do so under Roy Hodgson.