Steven Gerrard has urged the FA to call on former England players to help the latest generation overcome the psychological blockage that saw them underperform at Euro 2016.
“It is a waste on the FA’s behalf if they don’t involve players that have played for England over 100 times, or 50, 60, 70 times,” he said, as per Sky Sports. “It is a waste for England if people don’t tap into that knowledge and experience.
“I put myself in the kids’ shoes. If you are 17, 18, 21 or you’re Ross Barkley, Dele Alli and you turn up and play for England, do you not want to see Frank Lampard or Rio Ferdinand?”
The response to this question should be: no. Inviting these players into the set-up runs the risk of continuing the cycle of underachievement.
England’s youth team have been performing superbly recently and, although the senior team were dreadful in France, Roy Hodgson’s core principles – playing an intelligent, possession-centric game and relying upon youth – should not be abandoned because of 90 woeful minutes against Iceland.
To bring in the likes of Lampard and Ferdinand would be to deliberately revisit memories of previous England failures and help maintain a culture of underachievement at a time when the new generation have a chance to redefine the nation’s identity.
Gerrard’s comments were made days before Sam Allardyce announces his first England squad for the World Cup qualifier against Slovakia on September 4 , with many predicting that he will call upon some older heads. Both John Terry and Jermain Defoe are rumoured to be in with a shot of selection.
And although Gerrard is only recommending that retired professionals are brought onto the training ground, his comments align with the same mentality Allardyce would be indulging in should Terry and Defoe return to the set-up.
The new England manager is perhaps unfairly labelled as a pragmatic and largely defensive coach. He has never been given the opportunity to train top-level footballers and, with entirely unfamiliar expectations, could surprise many by employing a more progressive tactical philosophy than he utilised at Sunderland, West Ham, Newcastle, or Bolton.
But bringing back Terry, or inviting former stars to oversee training, would suggest that he is not hoping to continue with the progressive, youth-focussed strategy begun by his predecessor. Allardyce and the FA would be wise to ignore Gerrard’s comments.
Over the summer, England’s under-19s and under-21s performed admirably. Gareth Southgate’s U21s won the Toulon Tournament and Aidy Boothroyd’s U19s reached the semi-finals of their European Championship by beating France and the Netherlands.
Early signs would suggest that this is the beginning of a new era of elite development in England – who are 20/1 to win World Cup 2018 – spearheaded by intelligent coaches employing methods that mimic those used in mainland Europe; the traditional attributes of pace and power are being replaced by a greater emphasis on technical coaching.
This was also evident in Hodgson’s master plan. John Stones, Ross Barkley, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Marcus Rashford are all extremely gifted footballers that were given plenty of game time, and this forward-thinking mentality must be continued under Allardyce – a manager who has already expressed concerns over Rashford’s lack of opportunities this season.
Bringing ex-players in simply does not fit with this strategy; Ferdinand, Lampard, and Gerrard himself suffered from failures at international tournaments. Their legacies are defined predominantly by underachievement, incoherence, and seizing up under pressure.
Gerrard added, “I do believe the talent is there. I’m not putting it down to talent, the way we went out of that tournament because we haven’t got the talent. I do believe it is psychological.”
It is strange that Gerrard believes these former pros have any advice to give considering their own psychological collapses at major tournaments.
Allardyce must do everything he can to wipe the slate clean and remove the ghosts of former England failures. Let Terry enjoy his retirement and put faith in youth regardless of their Premier League playing time (doing so would provide a great incentive to the current U21s that they can break into the senior team despite their limited chances at club level).
But most of all, he must continue with the refreshingly modern approach installed by Hodgson and company. Inviting old stars to skulk around the training camp can only increase the burden of history and intensify the pressure put upon them.