There was much to admire about the oratory delivered by Greg Dyke on Wednesday as he confronted the looming crisis about to flatten the England football team.
It was forthright, honest and didn’t shy away from the obvious problems that cling to the English game. And while his target of winning the World Cup by 2022 was subject to ridicule, it also made a refreshing change from Sir Trevor Brooking’s mealy-mouthed promise that his grass-roots changes might have an effect in a generation or two.
For all that his speech had me nodding my head in agreement, there was a part that had me arching my eyebrow. This would be the section where Newcastle and Sunderland were highlighted for their part in weakening the England team.
For clarity, we should recap exactly what he said. Halfway through his speech, Dyke explained the paucity of options available to the England manager with three examples.
Here, his words are reproduced exactly: “A second example, Sunderland have signed 14 players during the summer transfer window. They are made up of four Italians, three Frenchmen, one Swiss, one Czech, one American, one Greek, one Swede, one South Korean and a sole Englishman.
“In fact, in Sunderland’s first game of the season against Fulham there were only four players on the pitch at the start of the game who were actually qualified to play for England.
“Mind you, in the Newcastle team beaten 4-0 by Manchester City on that same opening weekend it was even worse – there was only one English player in their starting line-up.”
Unfortunately, these are the arguments of someone who has failed to delve deeper than the merest glance at the two club’s respective team-sheets. Next time he speaks, I hope Dyke has been set straight about the slow corroding of the North East’s relationship with the England football team – and exactly why English talent is failing to break through in this region.
For a start, both clubs had wanted to add English players to their squads over the summer. At Sunderland, Paolo Di Canio had Danny Rose and Tom Huddlestone – both in the England set-ups – on his hit-list but Tottenham did not want to sell their left-back to the Black Cats.
The reason for this was not because they worried that Sunderland’s cosmpolitan revolution might be harming the England team. Far from it: they now believe he is good enough to start games. Even so, they still signed Vlad Chiriches for £8.5m in the full knowledge that the
Romanian can play left-back when required.
So the problem here is not a foreign manager and owner prioritising Italian talent. It is a Premier League elite that can afford to stockpile English talent, thus preventing it from filtering through when it is not being utilised.
Newcastle’s summer scouting saw them look at English talent, too. They were quoted more than £10m for Tom Ince while another, richly-promising 17-year-old is being scouted extensively by the club.
When the lower-league owner spotted a Newcastle official at the club he quietly informed him not to bother taking their interest past the gentle enquiry that had been made. “We don’t need to sell him – and we won’t unless you pay well over the odds,” he chuckled.
Who’s to blame here? Not the selling club, surely. It is the prerogative of Blackpool and the League One club in question to demand a premium for their talent. But are Newcastle to be chided for not bringing in players when even the selling club admits they are charging over the odds?
Solving this poser is Dyke’s biggest challenge. A huge premium is placed on English talent that is just not there when it comes to shopping in France, Italy or Latin America. What does Dyke reasonably suppose the clubs do?
It would be nice for Dyke to challenge the mentality of young English players, too. There have been countless regional examples of rising stars getting far too big for their coloured boots after a sprinkling of first-team appearances.
Nile Ranger is the man who springs most instantly to mind but he is by no means alone. I know that there was a dressing down for James Tavernier when he celebrated his first professional contract by buying an expensive car. He is a decent player but his personalised numberplate was parked in a car-park at League One Shrewsbury Town at the start of this season.
Graham Carr is quoted in Nowhere Men – the wonderful new book by Michael Calvin about scouts – as praising the professionalism and application of the French players he has scouted. It is in stark contrast to the lifestyles led by some English players.
A final point for Dyke is the way the North East has been ignored by England. Fabio Capello didn’t bother to come to St James’ Park or the Stadium of Light once in his tenure – and consistently overlooked thenSunderland striker Darren Bent despite his prolific record.
Roy Hodgson had made noises about changing that but is yet to visit either. What does it say of the England set-up when they can’t even be bothered to pay lip service to such a fine footballing region?
I wish Dyke well in his gargantuan task. I also hope that he is willing to engage with the North East in the future, rather than just listing the problems we face.