CRAIG NELSON: A love affair with the ball, and not a fear of it can solve football's ills
8:00pm Saturday 14th September 2013 in Sport
A LOT has been made of Greg Dyke’s vision for the future and the factors holding back English football and the England team.
In my opinion, however, the problem is more mental than practical.
I believe fear – and more importantly the fear of failure – has permeated pretty much every facet of English football, from the boardroom right down to the pitch.
Chairmen fear relegation more than ever because of the money at stake.
Managers, in turn, are being put under added pressure as the speed with which they seem to be shown the door increases.
So it stands to reason they pass that pressure on to the players, who do not want to dwell on the ball long enough for fear of making a mistake.
That fear of making a mistake, which seems to be at its height in the national side, is not a modern phenomenon – it is ingrained over the past 30 years.
British clubs in the 1970s and 80s had no fear when they were playing the best in Europe – they ruled the roost.
But somewhere along the way, things went off the rails.
Most coaches who criticise the English style are talking about the “direct” football adopted by some misguided visionaries in the mid-80s.
Statistics were trotted out to justify this now archaic tactic, arguing the majority of goals came from pumping the ball into the most dangerous area – the box.
But the long-ball game both tapped into and created this fear of failure.
By getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible from defence or midfield, you have less chance of being punished for making a mistake.
The problem is, at the very highest level, the more you give the ball away, the more chance you have of being hurt by the opposition.
Grassroots coaches have long been leading a campaign against this philosophy, encouraging children to be comfortable with the ball at their feet.
The theory is, if they are more confident in their skills they will be more comfortable in possession, allowing us to compete as a nation with teams like Spain, Brazil and Germany.
The problem comes, however, when these youngsters graduate into the professional game and the pressure for success mounts.
Fans, not just young players, have to learn to enjoy and appreciate good football, not just winning, if Dyke’s grand ideas are going to work.
And the powers that be also have to follow suit.
It is maybe too much to expect the British media to lay off and give the revolution time to take hold.
So supporters, as well as the people at the helm of our league clubs, the national side and the FA have to show the courage to rise above the fear of failure if we are ever to move forward again.