Euro 2012: England must learn from familiar failings after exit

By Ben SmithBBC Sport

England have been here before, of course. The same old story, that same familiar sense of deja vu.

The seemingly endless loop of expectation, realisation, recrimination and inquest rumbles on. But while football history repeated itself in Kiev on Sunday night, within the FA's corridors of power there is a quiet determination that this time it will be different.

The age-old fascination with England's failure to convert penalty kicks could not mask the truth. Against Italy, England were outclassed technically and tactically.

Historic flaws were laid bare, just as they had been when England lost 4-1 to Germany at the 2010 World Cup. Lessons have not been learned, according to BBC Radio 5 live summariser Chris Waddle.

"We haven't moved on in the two years since the World Cup," Waddle said.

"We were stronger in South Africa but we didn't perform. We have come out here with a game-plan, we have had an enormous amount of luck and we have gone out on penalties. But the fact remains that we can't pass the ball. We can't pass it from A to B.

"Don't let anyone tell you the future is bright. I don't think we will be any different at the World Cup in Brazil."

If the performances at the World Cup and at Euro 2012 have done anything, they have served as a painful reminder of how far behind the rest of the world England have fallen. The question of how to produce better, more technically adept footballers while maintaining a fantastic, frenetic domestic league, remains.

The FA aspires to follow the example of other nations, such as Germany and Spain, and is keen to recast stereotypes of English football on the twin pillars of progressive, possession football and an ability to play out with comfort from back to front.

Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere has an ease in possession and a talent for distribution that can make England more progressive after Euro 2012. But more are needed.

St George's Park, the national football centre at Burton, may ultimately provide the answers but those will not come for some time yet and it is there to play a role in coaching the coaches, who in turn will influence England's young players.

"We know we are not technically as good as other nations," added former England defender Danny Mills. "The FA is trying to change the whole philosophy, just like the Spanish did, just like the Germans did. But that is going to take 15-20 years. We have to go back to grass roots and reinvent football from the children up."

Former England winger John Barnes believes the strength of the Premier League and lack of young, English talent in the top club sides is holding the national team back. "Roy Hodgson did 100% the right thing in the way he approached Euro 2012, because you have to work with what you have," he said. "We are tactically and technically inferior.

"The strength of the Premier League is in its foreign players. The likes of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are not regulars for their teams, like the young Germans are, so unless our best young players are going to be playing for Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool regularly, it isn't going to matter."

Hodgson undoubtedly made England a more unified, organised and spirited unit but the key question which hangs over him is can he now take England from a cautious, counter-punching team and turn them into a side others will aspire to follow?

England's 4-4-2 was once again exposed as outdated and rigid by the more flexible and vibrant 4-2-3-1 and former England manager Graham Taylor believes Hodgson must become more adventurous, even if it means losing the paranoia about being caught short in defence.

"We will never win anything playing 4-4-2," said Taylor.

"I am not against Roy. Roy has done fine but when you come up against better international teams they will just keep the ball from you. They play through midfield and you have got to be able to handle that. Therefore if you are short in midfield against the better sides you are not going to get the ball."

Talk of tiredness and the need for a winter break, something the Premier League is resistant to, is likely to induce groans from a public who want immediate answers but improvements will take time.

Germany endured their own painful inquest more than a decade ago. Trounced 3-0 by Croatia in the quarter-finals of the 1998 World Cup, beaten by England at Euro 2000 and humiliated 5-1 by the same team on home turf a year later, the Germans moved to address a lack of young talent coming through.

The Deutscher Fussball-Bund (DFB) told all clubs in the top two divisions without an academy that they would not have their licences renewed unless they established one. Those with academies were instructed to improve them and look to those in England as the prototype.

With the league and DFB united in a way unheard of in England, hundreds of millions of euros was invested over a decade. The number of Germans who are younger than 23 and playing regularly in the Bundesliga is 15% - up from 6% 10 years ago.

There are 34,790 coaches in Germany holding Uefa's B, A and Pro badges compared to 23,995 in Spain and 2,769 in England.

There are signs English football is following. The FA has driven through its overhaul of youth football to encourage small-sided games.

Premier League clubs have the new academy system that will allow the construction of residential bases and more training hours, while St George's Park will generate more and better coaches.

England may be forced to endure more nights like Kiev before this long-term approach pays off.

German football is reaping its rewards. Only time will tell for England.

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