England is where soccer was created, but somewhere along the way, the country has lost its status as the greatest in the game. Years ago, England was a feared opponent for anybody, but in recent decades that has not been the case. The World Cup semifinal in 2018 has been the exception to the rule, and typically England gets knocked out early in tournaments. So when and how exactly did English soccer lost its glory?
England had an advantage over most other nations when it came to established soccer stars, because that’s where the game was invented. Despite being the pioneers of the sport, England didn’t compete in a World Cup until 1950. By that point, the game had gone global, and other countries were just as strong as the English. It would take England another 16 years after its World Cup debut to finally win one in 1966. England was back at the top of the soccer world, but could it stay there?
While England played strong soccer, there was another country in the world that had changed what the game was. Brazil took the game that had been passed on to the world by England and mastered it. Thanks to their iconic superstar Pele, Brazil were able to dominate the World Cup, and it is now the most successful team with five tournament wins.
Where England was focused on strength and power, Brazil focused on skill and speed. In 1970 England played against Brazil in the World Cup Group Stage and lost the game. It was a huge moment as the world champions lost to the team who would become champs.
Behind the curve
Soccer tends to go in cycles, and the tactics that are used are often copied by many teams. At certain stages, Italian, Brazilian, and German soccer has been seen as the best way to play the sport. It has been a very long time since the traditional ‘English’ style of playing, which is very physically, has been popular.
English teams have often used the tactics of other teams to try and follow the leader, but generally without success. It seems England is always playing catch up, which means it never gets to be in the lead anymore.
A sine of better times?
When England qualified for the World Cup in 2018, it was seen as a new beginning. Expectations were low, and even the notoriously bad UK press was keeping a lid on things. England had adopted a new approach, and put a lot of faith in young players. Typically it was all about picking the older, more experienced players, but now it was about getting young and hungry players onto the pitch.
Young players have more to prove, and the tactic seemed to work. England made it all the way to the semifinals when they were not expected to do well at all. It appears as though a new identity in English soccer has been created, and it could be the key to any future success. Young, technically gifted players were being selected to play rather than bigger, more physical types.
This shift in approach to play was a long time coming but took the former under-21 coach Gareth Southgate to get the senior job for it to happen. English players are beginning to prove they have the technical ability to compete with some of the world’s best, and combined with that aggressive English spirit, good times could be ahead.
For too long English soccer has been following in the footsteps of others. Now the country is focused on playing its own brand of soccer, which could spell success for the first time in over 50 years.