Why did England fail at the World Cup?

Barring not qualifying for the damn thing, England just witnessed their worst World Cup performance in history. Roy Hodgson will have another to screw up a third international tournament. The English has become very forgiven all of a sudden. Perhaps an acknowledgement that it is either this or being very unforgiving to a more successful foreign coach who actually might take England in the right direction.

Which brings us to our first reason for why England failed. We are so damn clueless. Far too many in the higher echelons of English football are football illiterate, or at best partially literate. I hear many arguments against zonal marking, for instance, that have a complete lack of sophistication. Why does this matter? It highly suggests that too many in English football do not understand the game.

Ultimately, you can pinpoint England’s failure to this very fact, that we do not understand football. Which is laughable considering it was the English who supposedly founded the game. Though those of you know your football history will know it was the Scots who bothered kicking the ball, rather than rugby tackling the opponents. The English have managed to kick the ball, just about, but have managed to rugby tackle themselves in the process.

In football we have tactics. Tactics are merely techniques used by footballers to gain an advantage over the opposition. Those with good tactical brains are those that have a keen eye for exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition.

What I mean by this is different from other Englishmen though. I mean it in the most literal sense. It is an unassuming statement. I have no particular footballing style in mind. Great tactics could be seen in defensive sides managed by the likes of Jose Mourinho or they could be seen in attacking sides managed by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Marcelo Biesla. Perhaps the side under question is neither attacking or defensive. Perhaps the sides knows how to kick a ball instead of hoof it. Maybe they don’t though.

Yet your Englishmen will associate a tactical manager with someone who is cautious and defensively minded. Particularly, this manager will focus on stopping the strengths while exploiting the weaknesses of the opposition. It is clear though that such an approach fails to account that attacking football can be very tactical. Total football and tiki-taka are attacking philosophies that rely heavily on tactics. Instead the English see attacking football as fast paced and chaotic.

Even when commentators acknowledged the tactical acumen of the great Barcelona side under Guardiola, they never understood and comprehended what they praised. This became most clear when the wheels of the Barcelona machine began faltering. Many criticised Barcelona for not having a plan B, even though they did. English commentators just couldn’t see because they were ignorant to it. Praising tactics wasn’t an excuse to grasp tactics, merely a way to make the analysis sound more sophisticated than it really was.

Football is a beautiful game. Yet too many English people have no desire to understand the intrinsic beauty of the game. The English are too superficial in their footballing taste. How can you build a successful vision for a style of play, when you are only attached to the superficial feature of a particular style? How can you develop your youngsters properly if you don’t understand what you are teaching them? Do you even know what even needs teaching? Can you manage your expectations when you can’t determine how the team is progressing?

Talk of politics, the role of the media, the (lack of) development of talented young players, team ethic, patriotism and ‘tactics’ mean little if you don’t understand what each are for, how they are to interrelate to one another and for what purpose do they serve. It’s all well having motivated players, but to win in the modern game requires intelligence as well. A virtue greatly missing from English football.

Until the English understand the game, we will stay a second-rate footballing nation. England needs to plan, but to plan effectively you need to know what you are talking about. Despite the best efforts of Jonathan Wilson, Michael Cox and Kopology, the English don’t understand the game.

Gareth Mawer
I consider myself a left libertarian committed to promoting the philosophy of liberty, even though I do not always support proposals that are normally considered libertarian. Georgism and mutualism have had profound influences over my beliefs, though I'm not afraid to digress from them were necessary. My mains interests are politics, economics and philosophy.