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Captain's Blog: Scapegoats Sunderland The Least Of The Spineless FA's Problems

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The FA recently cited Sunderland as an example of the problems that hold back English football. Here is my rebuttal.


Last week, the Chairman of The FA, Greg Dyke, publicly bemoaned the lack of English players getting regular football in the Premier League, insisting it is the primary reason behind poor performance at international level.

It was, on the surface of things, a rousing and impassioned no-holds-barred speech that promised to lay bare the problem holding us back at International level, root out the culprits, and address the issues leading our nation to a glorious summer of 2022 which will see England once again crowned the champions of the world.

"The issue, quite simply", says Dyke, is "in the future it's quite possible we won't have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. As a result, it could well mean England's teams are unable to compete seriously on the world stage."

Fair enough. I mean, let's set aside the fact that "England competing seriously on the world" stage is about as relevant to footballing history as a fart in the wind is to a biohazard detection system, but he has a point. If England want to transform themselves into a genuine force in international football then there needs to be a significant leap in how we develop English footballers.

In fairness to Dyke, his speech did cover plenty of fine points and there is no questioning the good intentions of it. The FA, just about anyone at the FA, acknowledging the urgent need for change with regard how the England set-up is run is a huge leap forward.

He was quick to insist that it was not "a blame game", which pretty much meant it was, and then reeled off a few examples of clubs that he definitely "wasn't criticising", which he almost certainly was. Given the daring and apparently honest brutality of his words, you'd be forgiven for expecting those examples to begin and end with the real wielders of power in the English game - the richest clubs; the clubs who hold the cards, make the decisions, and from which all else flows down.

No. It was those well-known shameless and selfish scourges of England - Sunderland (and a few other unthreatening and unfashionable clubs). In the interests of clarity, his exact words can be found below.

A second example, Sunderland have signed fourteen 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.

Let's not dress this up as anything other than what it is. Sunderland, with their American owner and Italian staff, are simply easy targets.

True, Sunderland did have just two players who qualify for England in their starting line-up against Fulham. Though it would be fair to point out that one of them is Jack Colback, a local lad and product of the club's academy who at the age of just 23 has almost 100 Premier League games to his name yet has been pretty much ignored by England at all levels.

"Only three of the 23 players who were in the Under-21 England squad for the Scotland game actually started for Premier League teams in the first weekend of the season", rages Dyke. Complaining about such things when the ones who do start for their Premier League clubs are wholly ignored is bad enough, but to do it whilst citing that player's club as part of the problem is a staggering level of selective blame-gaming.

I wonder if Jordan Henderson, another Sunderland academy product who captains the Under-21s and was handed a full England debut at the age of just 20 when plying his trade on Wearside, believes that the club hold back English talent?

Or how about Danny Welbeck, who was given the opportunity to play Premier League football by Sunderland and made his international breakthrough during the loan spell? Or may be 19-year-old Duncan Watmore, who this summer was signed from non-league Altrincham?

Let us also not forget that when Sunderland did invest heavily in an Englishman, Darren Bent, he was cut out of an England world cup squad despite scoring 24 goals that season, before the then coach, Fabio Capello, advised him to leave Wearside for greater international recognition.

Despite turning a healthy profit on the striker, that one stung Sunderland and still stings today, yet how did the club - the one cited as an example of the problem - spend that money? By making a sizeable investment in, and commitment to, Connor Wickham.

Adam Johnson is another Englishman who Sunderland paid the dreaded, and entirely unexplained, premium to bring to the North East. Yet to the best of my recollection Roy Hodgson has not once made the trip to watch the winger in action on his home turf.

So what are we saying here? Pretend Sunderland doesn't exist for having the sheer temerity to not be on London's doorstep until you need someone to blame for the ills of English football? Is that what the FA through their various actions are saying? It very much seems to be.

Look at Sunderland's summer transfer business if you like, but let's not just ignore the fact they would have happily added Danny Rose to it after giving him an opportunity to shine last season. It wasn't ultimately possible. And here lies the real problem at hand.

The richest clubs have the power to stockpile the top English talent without having to commit to their development. The top young talents in the country are sat in the academies when they should be out playing football.

Danny Rose didn't get regular football until he was 22 - FIVE years after joining Tottenham, and even then it wasn't Tottenham who gave him it. In fact, look through the England Under-21 squad and it is mostly made up of players at top clubs who have more junior international games under their belt than senior club games.

These players are developing later and therefore, given the limited window of opportunity, developing less. Flowers need rain to bloom, and footballers need games.

You can attack the easy targets at your leisure, but if you want to really get down to the bare bones of how the money in the English game could be better spent to benefit the England team, then you have to go to those who have it in the greatest abundance. That certainly isn't Sunderland, and nor will it be any time soon given the ludicrous sums of money - most of which the club didn't have - they have spent chasing your precious yet desperately dour English gems out of the most expensive bargain bin in the world.

So blame Sunderland all you want. Cite them as an 'example' of all our national game's ills and shortcomings and you can feel nice and safe and snug in your Ivory Tower, conning the nation that you are tackling the issues with passion.

But the truth is that until someone at the FA musters the stones to stand toe to toe with the biggest and most powerful clubs in the country, there are no solutions. There are just a bunch of sackless suited problems who lack the necessary courage for change.