England’s contribution to world history – the past 200 years – dwarfs the role played by any other country, as the islanders’ colonial zeal in the later parts of the 19th century and the early 20th ensured a prominent English legacy on almost every part of the atlas.
The Victorian imprint on art, architecture, literature, society and prudery is found in India and large parts of Africa and North America. The other great British export has been sport, with the Asian subcontinent adopting cricket more vigorously while the rest of the world took to football. The English, however, lost their place of dominance in the world order and also in these sports as the globe came out of its yoke. The nation’s only football World Cup triumph came in 1966, while the cricket team had to wait till 2010 to win a world crown, though only the Twenty20 variant.
Despite its relatively modest showing on the international stage, the country, for long, has attracted the brightest talent from both sports with players coming in good numbers to take part in the league and county setup there. English football clubs have regularly set the benchmark since the late 20th century, and 100 players from the English Premier League participated in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The number has gone down by just one in Russia, but the impact of players who are playing or have played in England has been immense.
All but six teams — Russia, Saudi Arabia, Uruguay, Iran, Costa Rica and Panama — in the FIFA World Cup counted EPL players in their final squads. The four semifinalists, too, had a heavy English core, with 38 players from the Premiership making up the squads for: England (22; Jack Butland, plays for Stoke, which was relegated last season to the Championship), Belgium (10; Nacer Chadli’s West Bromwich Albion, too, was relegated), France (five) and Croatia (one). In comparison, the other four top European leagues have contributed 41 — the Spanish La Liga (12), Germany’s Bundesliga (nine), France’s Ligue 1 (12) and the Italian Serie A (eight) — semifinalists.
“We have the best players in our league because we pay the most,” England manager Gareth Southgate said, while harping on the lack of game time this creates for the English youngsters in the EPL, which now attracts the game’s best from every corner of the globe. “The more remarkable thing is that we’re in a semifinal, but we only have 33 per cent of the league to pick from. That’s still a huge problem for us. We are playing some young players who are barely established at their clubs, let alone in their international careers,” the English manager added.
Southgate was the only manager to bring a team of 100 per cent home-based players to Russia — the host came second with 20 — and the young English boys have benefited from the tenacious work of the English Football Association, which has ensured the nation’s dominance in youth football with the England under-20s and under-17s recently winning the world titles in South Korea and India, respectively.
“Our academy at St. George’s Park has done a lot of work, playing its part in producing the current group of players and the footballing identity. We are the under-20 and under-17 champion and that speaks a lot about the work back home,” Southgate said. “We have worked to establish a clear identity and that is showcased across all the age-group teams.”
The manager, however, cannot deny the role of the country’s behemoth clubs as the introduction of a few of Europe’s top coaches in the system has rapidly changed the playing culture, with English club teams opting for a more artistic and modern version of football and moving away from the physically expressive long-ball game of the past. Antonio Conte, Jurgen Klopp, Mauricio Pochettino and Pep Guardiola have moulded their respective clubs to play their own brand of football, with players like Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Dejan Lovren, Trent-Alexander Arnold, Harry Kane, Eric Dier, Raheem Sterling, Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones and many more of the World Cup stars benefiting from the guidance and game reading of these top-notch football brains.
“From an English perspective, we’re very fortunate that our young players are playing for Conte, Klopp, (Jose) Mourinho, Guardiola, Arsene (Wenger), all top foreign coaches,” Southgate said. There's also Pochettino, whose Tottenham Hotspur side has had the maximum impact this World Cup, accounting for four — Kane, Dier, Dele Alli and Kieran Trippier — of England’s starting XI against Sweden. As of now, five more Spurs players are still involved in the World Cup, while Nacer Chadli, Luka Modric, Kyle Walker and Vedran Corluka, too, have benefited from their time in the White Hart Lane locker room in recent years.
“I think it’s very good for the image of Tottenham — it is good experience and good for the future of the club,” Hugo Lloris, the France captain and Spurs goalkeeper, said. “Hopefully, a Tottenham player will become a World Cup winner. Obviously, there is one I wish for the most.”
Taking into account the players’ performances, The Daily Telegraph’s Fantasy Team index summed up the Spurs domination with the team leading the World Cup points chart while Harry Kane led the individual race.
The Premier League — better managed, better marketed and better financed — has surely benefited from a more even-handed distribution of television revenue (in Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona accounted for €286.2 million of the €1.247 billion broadcast deal for 2017-18) that has ensured a tighter race, attracting better players and better managers through the entire spectrum of the league. So, it’s no surprise that England and the Premiership are a home for World Cup-class players.
This re-emergence of its national team and club football with surely leave the English mightily happy, who for long have been trying to find their footing back in the world order that is now led by the United Sates of America, the European Union and the emerging economies of China and India.
And for those looking for World Cup trivia, Guardiola was managing Barcelona when Spain won the 2010 edition, with his move to Bayern Munich, corresponding with Germany’s 2014 title triumph. Perhaps the omens indeed bode well for England.
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