Everton starlet Jack Rodwell is currently playing at the U-21 European Championship. Obviously he was a little touchy about being played off the park by Spain the other day (despite earning a draw.) Nevertheless, one does have to live in reality. Unfortunately, Rodwell proved that he does not and came up with this gem:
You look at our senior side, we have some of the best players in the world. . . . Gerrard, Lampard, Terry, Ferdinand, Rooney, the list goes on. If they were in the Barcelona squad I’m sure all of them would start.
This right here encapsulates everything wrong with England’s attitude. It’s this idea that, contrary to reality, they breed world-class players. This goes for the media and fans as well. Rather than take a good look at the serious failings of the English program, the English repeatedly call themselves world-class and take it as a given. Need more proof of this insufferable arrogance? At the beginning of last season, Steven Gerrard infamously declared Joe Cole better than Messi. (Even the English laughed at that one.)
But let’s examine Rodwell’s statement. The starting lineup of Barcelona is Valdes, Alves, Puyol, Pique, Abidal, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Messi, Villa. Which of these would Lampard, Rooney, Gerrard, Ferdinand, and Terry replace? For an instant, let us forget that most of the Barcelona players grew in an academy, were trained to play a certain style, and have elevated that style to an art. Let’s forget that seven of these players started for Spain in a victorious World Cup campaign (and Valdes was on the bench, although not even an Englishman would dare claim a world-class goalkeeper.) Let’s forget that just last month Barcelona thrashed a Manchester United side that Rooney and Ferdinand played on. And let’s forget that Terry, Gerrard, and Lampard are well past their primes and fading faster than LeBron James in the fourth quarter of a big game.
Ferdinand is not even the best center back on his team. Neither he nor Terry would have any chance of breaking up the Puyol/Pique pairing which is right now the world’s strongest. Neither Terry nor Ferdinand is a second coming of Baresi. And John Terry has a history of causing some serious problems, something Guardiola would not put up with (see: Ibrahimovic, Ronaldinho, Deco).
Gerrard and Lampard are (or were) decent midfielders, but which one exactly would start in place of Xavi or Iniesta? I mean we are talking about two of the greatest currently active players–two of the top five. They absolutely dominate the midfield in a way that Lampard and Gerrard could only dream of. (If Rodwell had said Paul Scholes in his prime would fit into Barcelona that would be a completely different story, and he would even be right. One of the reasons England is so abysmal in international competition is because Scholes was pushed out when the team should have been created around him. Instead England preferred the completely unworkable Lampard/Gerrard combination, and Scholes retired all too early.)
And finally Wayne Rooney. Rooney may be the one of these five who could make the Barcelona bench, but he would not get much farther than that. He would have to replace either Messi, Villa, or Pedro. Messi is clearly not going anywhere, and really neither is Villa–at least not for Rooney. Pedro is largely considered the weak link, but that is only because he scored fewer goals than his teammates. The Pedro disparagement does not take into account the space he creates with his runs and the way that he frees up Messi. Pedro is also a big game player. He scored the first goal in the Champions League final last month, and his tying goal near the end of the 2009 World Club Cup was the reason Barcelona won that competition. Pedro is still the only man ever to score goals in six different clubs competitions in the same year. Pedro’s game also fits neatly into the Barcelona pass and press system; Rooney’s does not. Big guys do not do so well at Barcelona. Pedro was the preferred player to both Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season.
This is the curse of the English; they cannot come to grips with their mediocrity (some would say this goes well beyond sport.) The rest of the world sees them yelling into the night that they are still the best in the world, all evidence to the contrary, and despises their arrogance. It’s really a sign of inadequacy. Hence Andy Grey’s now infamous remark in which doubted that Barcelona could bet Stoke City at the Britannia on cold Wednesday evening. This arrogance and willful blindness are probably the main reason why England underachieve.