The England football team in Brazil. Photo: Getty
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Who's to blame for England's failure at the World Cup? There's only one answer

... and it's not foreign players in the Premier League.

Who is responsible for England’s utter failure at the World Cup this year? For all the disappointment with Wayne Rooney for missing a couple of chances we like to think he’d have buried a couple of years ago, or the mystification with Steven Gerrard’s uncanny ability to pick out Luis Suarez with a defence-splitting pass, an ability that seems to function unhindered by the two players being on opposing sides, the simple answer is that the blame lies with the Football Association.

The Football Association know this and, as you would expect, they have a scapegoat already lined up: the foreign players. You have to give Greg Dyke and his cohorts credit: they lined this scapegoat up ahead of time, with proposals aimed at rectifying what they see as the problem of foreign player proliferation.

To see the FA playing the petty xenophobia card in these day and age, while anti-immigrant rhetoric is blasted out of the mainstream media on a daily basis, is hardly surprising. The government and many of the opposition parties to boot have been laying the groundwork of mistrust and suspicion for the last few years. The FA can push the idea that English football is some sort of delicate native species, likely to be destroyed by interbreeding with horrible alien football styles. In a country where an education minister can talk with a straight face about a need to promote ‘British Values’ and not be laughed at and fired, the idea that ‘English football’ is a thing, a thing that must be nurtured and protected, can look almost normal.

The problem with the FA narrative about the influx of horrible foreigners diluting our precious talent pool is that it is completely and obviously false. It was not so long ago that the English talent pool was teeming with the likes of Paul Scholes, a player who is regarded by the best midfielders of this generation as the best midfielder of the last generation; with great centre backs, with Beckham, Lampard and Gerrard in their pomp, with the likes of Rooney and Owen up front and in form. The obnoxiously named Golden Generation of England players were legitimately brilliant. England never won a trophy with that team, but in that same period Greece won the European cup, a cup England would fail to qualify for in 2008.

We have had great players and we have them now, and even if we didn’t there is no excuse. We can say that the current crop of English players is not up to the standards of earlier sides but that is absolutely no justification whatsoever for the dire state of the England performances. Take the USA for example, there are very, very few players in that side that would get into an England team right now. But there is no doubt which team is playing the better football. The USA was cast into a group of death and they came within 30 seconds of qualification with a game in hand. By opting for a balanced team, with a plan to win matches, even if that meant leaving established players behind, the USA has punched above its weight.

We know the England players are good enough because if they were not good enough they’d be replaced with foreigners at club level. The unfeasibly high standards in the league have meant opportunities for young English players are harder to come by, but it also means that the young players who do fight through to their first teams, the likes of Shaw, Barkley, Wellbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sterling and Wilshere, are extraordinarily good. The English team can call upon young players in nearly every position who would stroll into the vast majority of other national teams, and those other national teams, at the World Cup finals at least, would do better with them than England.

The FA is to blame for this. We can say that Gerrard shouldn’t be captain and we can say that Hodgson shouldn’t be manager, but what point would changing the lower tiers of the organisation serve without a change at the top? Why sack Hodgson when the men who thought he was a good choice in the first place remain in charge to make yet another bad appointment? All the FA has done in recent years is to follow the path of least resistance.

As the desperation to dodge responsibility for their own failures leads the FA to consider measures to undermine the English league itself, we face a very real threat of losing the one thing that England does do brilliantly: its league football. Decades more stultifying lumpball from England on the world stage would be bad enough, but to cripple the league itself would be absolutely unforgivable. And for what? Even if there was some magical way that we could sacrifice our league for a good national side to do such a thing would be absurd.

England has a great football league and it produces great players. Our FA can afford to hire great coaches and managers. There is no excuse for the continual failure of the FA to get results.

Phil Hartup is a freelance journalist with an interest in video gaming and culture

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.