It was perhaps apt that Jesus Navas was last night signing for Manchester City in a £14.5 million transfer from Sevilla only hours before England were losing 1-0 to Israel in their final match of a wretched few days at the European Under-21 Championship.
Navas's arrival at the Etihad Stadium is hardly going to encourage an infusion of home-grown English talent into the City side under incoming head coach Manuel Pellegrini. Jack Rodwell may not be an out-and-out winger, but the addition of Navas will not create extra space for the former Everton kid - a midfielder purchased for £12m a year ago - to shoehorn himself into Pellegrini's thoughts.
It was announced yesterday that City's players earn an average wage of £100,764 per week. They pay more money to players than any other sporting franchise in world sport. More than the Los Angeles Dodgers in baseball. So much for financial fair play.
These are the times we live in, moments reinforcing the final caveat that while the Premier League is played in England, it is not an English league.
The Premier League or the Premier League's clubs have no interest in England or the general health of the English national side. Run mainly by a sickening cabal of wealthy men who view football as their personal playthings, all the Premier League cares about is the performance of itself, the financial health of its club sides and making sure it engineers the best deal possible whenever television rights come up for renewal.
International football is a distraction the Premier League does not need. Unfortunately, it seems to be a mindset shared by a Football Association who are failing to practice what it preaches. The soul is being ripped out of the English national side due to the obscene amounts of money in the club game. English players have grown too rich to care enough about England. In football terms, Bobby Moore and Jules Rimet feels like an era before time began.
How else can you explain the absence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Danny Welbeck and Rodwell while Stuart Pearce's England were losing three matches in the heat and humidity of Israel? Something is rotten somewhere when such figures will appear for their clubs in meaningless but lucrative friendlies a month or so from now.
England's 1-0 loss to Israel followed a 1-0 defeat to Italy and a 3-1 rollicking by Norway. It was a chastening experience in the Holy Land. The most depressing aspect was the groaning predictability of it all against an Israel team of honest triers whose players are mainly docked in their country's domestic league.
It seems bizarre in the extreme that Rodwell, a figure left dramatically undercooked at Manchester City this season, was not included in England's squad for the European Under-21 Championship when he was given only the final seven minutes of a noteworthy but otherwise worthless friendly match against Brazil in Rio de Janeiro nine days ago.
A few parties should be sworn in if guilt is being apportioned for such a wasted opportunity in Israel. It is too simplistic to leave the blame at the door of Pearce's perceived lack of tactical nous, or his initial willingness to overlook Rodwell due to doubts over a hamstring injury.
Rodwell told Pearce he was available for the tournament at the end of April, but was overlooked by Pearce in mid-May because he was deemed to be a risk. Rodwell finished the month strongly, scoring twice against Norwich City.
He was then parachuted into the senior squad when Tom Cleverley departed injured.
What was wrong with Hodgson turning to Pearce before he selected his squad for the friendly matches against Republic of Ireland and Brazil and saying: "You have first choice for the U-21 tournament before me?" Or then encouraging the transfer of Rodwell from the senior squad to the U21s before the trip to Brazil?
Why did the Football Association chairman David Bernstein, seen deep in conversation with Pearce before last night's debacle, not encourage such a motion?
Hodgson and Pearce should surely be in such close contact that such a sequence of unfortunate events cannot happen. But they are given airtime because too many people at the FA are thinking only of where their next meal is coming from at some salubrious hotel rather than the greater good.
If the incoming FA chairman Greg Dyke has anything about him when he succeeds Bernstein, he will look to the models of Spain, Germany and the Netherlands, proud countries where the national team is the be-all and end-all, and look to make sure one lesson is learned from the malady in Israel: namely, the England set-up is more important than any club side at any level, and that players turn up for their country when the call comes. Or they are banned for two years.
The argument that clubs are in the right because they pay the wages does not make much sense if we are looking to protect the very essence and pride of the international scene.
Unless there is a justifiable injury ratified by the FA, it should be a zero tolerance policy with the FA telling the Premier League what is going to happen. But that will need a bravery and a willingness not to be dictated to by a body that does not care for the soul of England's football.
Bernstein's utopian vision of more English players performing in the Premier League will not happen unless there is a mood change. Playing for your country should be regarded as football's greatest honour, but that has been lost somewhere among the new money.
The FA continues to boast of having "three core goals" for the success of English football which they wrap up into a dinky little three-point package on their official website.
- Build winning teams
- Football for everyone
- Govern the game effectively
“It is a plan to focus our work to ensure The FA upholds its responsibility to all of English football," comments Alex Horne, the FA's general secretary.
Witnessing the lamentable performance of England's Under-21s, it is hardly being discourteous to suggest the game's governing body have fallen down on all three points in this latest summer of discontent.
Not that the Premier League cares. With the latest TV rights deal worth an eye-watering £3 billion over three years, the elite league has become a bulging casino. Poverty of performance is the preserve of the country's national side.
English football loses, but the house always wins.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“It is certainly a bad result and an embarrassing one, as a draw with Haiti is an embarrassment. We arrived yesterday and made many changes. We should’ve been different in terms of spirit today. We have to take many aspects into consideration, most importantly we need to find our physical sharpness. We’ve worked towards this and you could see today we lost every single sprint, so we hope in five days the team can begin to deliver.” Italy coach Cesare Prandelli reflects upon a 2-2 draw with football giants Haiti.
We have live coverage of the match between Spain and Netherlands to see who tops Group B at the European Under-21 Championship in Israel from 5pm (BST). Germany and Russia are both out of the tournament, but play for pride in their dead rubber.
- Sports & Recreation
- Jack Rodwell
- Stuart Pearce
- English football