It's Time We Valued Our Three Lions
By Stephen Tudor, Wed 14 September 2011 10:09
It is hard to determine exactly when but at some point in recent times the British public finally dropped their outmoded misconceptions and general mistrust towards players from overseas. Gone are the doubts that a slender bag of tricks from Costa Rica can cut it away at Stoke on a chilly November evening. Banished now is the fear that the silky ball-playing Frenchman will hide when things get tasty and the studs start showing. Sure the Alf Garnetts are still amongst us on the terraces but they’re a dying breed, silenced by the thundering chants of a Senegalese or Congolese name sung in a broad cockney accent. Twenty years ago talents such as Luka Modric and David Silva would have been considered luxuries and pushed out to the relative haven of the touchline; now they’re employed as their team’s driving force, right in the heart of the action. Indeed three of our biggest clubs – United, Liverpool and Spurs – use Brazilians as their bustling holding midfielders. Brazilians?! Don’t they just do fancy step-overs wearing tights and gloves?
Of course the British being as we are – an island race conquered many times over – it’s in our very DNA to be distrustful of at least someone. So a strange phenomenon has slowly evolved where our faith in foreigners has been superseded by us looking inward, towards our own kind with the beady eyes of prejudice and suspicion.
Who here wanted Scott Parker at the Etihad Stadium this summer as opposed to an unknown quantity from abroad who rates highly on Football Manager? What about the sustained rumour that Gary Cahill was on his way to City; wasn’t there something akin to relief when Mancini plumped instead for a promising, but unproven, Montenegrin?
In the pubs and on the forums the general feeling appeared to be that neither player was first choice amongst City, Liverpool, Spurs or Arsenal fans despite both being England internationals who’d seamlessly integrate and improve with the minimum of risk.
Instead, the preferred names bandied around all carried a distinctly continental stamp – Piazon, Montolivo, Ganso, De Rossi, Gago, Kjaer, Sebastian Coates, amongst many, many more.
Partly the reason for this is precisely because of their unknown quality – we may have become used to overseas players but their exotic mystique remains – whilst another conclusion is far more banal; as well as being a distrustful lot we are also, at heart, a nation of gamblers. Your club buying Cahill or Parker is the equivalent of taking the sensible nine grand offer from the banker in Deal or No Deal – it would improve your current circumstances but not vastly. Holding out for a young unproven Uruguayan is like going on and opening three more boxes. Who knows where that might lead?
Buying British has become the solid, stolid, perhaps even boring option and there is always the nagging feeling that the class is greener in foreign fields.
Currently the three players at City who divide opinions the most are all English and though their shared nationality may be entirely coincidental it is my personal belief that it’s not.
Joleon Lescott is considered by some to be too prone to individual errors. For the first half of last season he appeared awkward, even maladroit, alongside the classy colossus of Kompany and often looked indecisive in possession, as if he was weighing up which option would displease Mancini the least whilst an attacker bore down on him. Recently however, with his inflated fee fading into memory and assured of his manager’s confidence in his abilities, Lescott has flourished, returning once more to the defender we coveted at Everton. Not that you’d know this from some of the persistent carping in certain quarters. There are some blues who would happily see this rejuvenated figure demoted to the bench, undoing all his fine progress in one fell swoop. Lescott and Kompany are potentially a title-winning centre-back pairing but whilst one remains English there will sadly always be an element of discontent amongst the faithful. We could do better. We could sign an Argentinian.
Further forward when David Silva toils and battles it is widely celebrated, whereas when James Milner does likewise it is viewed as compensation for a dearth of flair. Regardless of their admittedly disproportionate abilities there is a noticeable discrepancy here based upon our pigeon-holing of domestic talent. When Jimmy gets stuck in its ‘honest endeavour’, something to be expcted; when Merlin does so it’s a gift from a genius going above and beyond his call of duty. Milner also happens to possess a highly attuned football intelligence – in my view so astute it equates to having a seasoned gaffer on the pitch – but while his chunky pasty physique looks like it should adorn a 1950’s Tiger comic his Ivorian rival for a midfield berth Yaya will always be considered the more savvy and urbane. What with his Nou Camp pedigree and all.
Gareth Barry meanwhile is saddled with our inverted snobbery against home-grown players the most. Stick a ‘Di’ in the middle and he’d be venerated as our very own Pirlo, quietly orchestrating everything with the minimum of fuss. Gaz Baz is Marmite amongst the City faithful, or perhaps more pertinently he is football’s very own Seinfeld – naysayers insist that nothing really happens throughout whilst devotees realise that’s precisely where the greatness lies. It’s extremely difficult to make something complex appear so simple.
The established truism in football is that you don’t win anything without a British backbone – the gnarly grit in the oyster – and whilst that is increasingly becoming a fallacy it’s certainly true to suggest that any club’s chances of success is significantly heightened with the inclusion of the three British players mentioned above. Crucially however this is entirely due to the quality and class they bring to the squad – their nationality is irrelevant – and if we could just drop our preconceptions based upon their places of birth maybe they’d be valued accordingly, as highly as their continental team-mates.