Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Culture
  2. Sport
20 June 2014updated 24 Jun 2021 12:59pm

England second best again: how the lack of a truly world class player took its toll

Despite losing to Uruguay, this England team is one for the future, and viewed as such there is no real disgrace in such an elimination from a tough group.

By jon Holmes

Saturday’s promise fell away, and careless passing and lack of genuine class meant England, always third favourites in the group of death, were second best again. In truth there was little to choose between two workmanlike sides, but as against Italy the lack of a truly world class player took its toll. Suarez, operating at three-quarter capacity after a knee operation, had two superb finishes, classic demonstrations of a striker’s art, and was the real difference between the teams. Poor Rooney may have broken his World Cup finals duck, and was desperately close when he hit the bar and skimmed the goalposts with a well executed free kick, but he is no Suarez, no Ronaldo, no Van Persie. Steven Gerrard, whose slip presaged the demise of Liverpool’s challenge for the title, missed a critical header for Uruguay’s winner – no Pirlo is he. We have no Messi or Muller, not even an ageing Drogba or crazy Ibrahimovic. The last descendants of the “golden generation” have proved in maturity to lack an icon, barely silver or bronze at best.

This is a team for the future, and viewed as such there is no real disgrace in such an elimination from a tough group. In Sterling, Sturridge, Barkley and Welbeck, Roy Hodgson, assuming he stays, and surely he should, has something to build upon. But whether this crop of promising players no less or no more talented than the Lampards, Terrys and Beckhams will develop into players of real world stature we cannot tell. The Premier League is a successful commercial venture, foreign owned, largely managed and coached by foreigners who care little for England and the World Cup, which is seen as an unnecessary intrusion into their cash and ego fest. Of that generation only Beckham became an icon, but not a real football icon, a fashion celebrity now more revered in underwear than in his football kit. Germany does it differently, their league is not so commercial, and they seem to care more for their national team. Their league plays at least on equal footing with the national team.

The tournament so far has had much excitement and skill to recommend it. Neither of these teams looked likely champions, but Uruguay with the smallest population of any of the finalists, will probably stay on, and England travel quietly home. Of the world class players on show in Brazil, most ply their trade in Spain, Italy or Germany. True there are some from the Premier League, but they seem, apart from Van Persie at Arsenal, to have learnt their craft elsewhere.

The World Cup is supposed to be the summit of the game, a collection of the best, and our boys are not collectively or individually the best. Whether anyone cares, and has the will to change what is a national mindset is the crux.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. A handy, three-minute glance at the week ahead in companies, markets, regulation and investment, landing in your inbox every Monday morning. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Content from our partners
How automation can help insurers keep pace with customer demand
How telecoms companies can unlock their growth potential through automation
The pandemic has had a scarring effect on loneliness, but we can do better