England are one step away from their first final in 55 years. Structural reforms and work with a NATO specialist helped

The founders of foot­ball have come a long way to self-aware­ness.

Europe cham­pi­onship. 1/2 finals

07 Jul, 22:00. Wem­b­ley (Lon­don)




Amaz­ing­ly, today Eng­land can reach the final of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship for the first time in their his­to­ry. Gareth South­gate’s team cool­ly dealt with one oppo­nent after anoth­er, and although the style of their vic­to­ries was uni­ver­sal­ly crit­i­cized (and some even vom­it­ed), it has to be repeat­ed again: the effec­tive­ness of the approach is not yet in doubt. But this road began long before June 11.

Decades of fail­ures, the sta­tus of losers, the fias­co of the “gold­en gen­er­a­tion” of the 2000s — all this put a big mark on the rep­u­ta­tion of the founders of foot­ball, mak­ing them a laugh­ing stock around the world. But the cur­rent suc­cess of the British is not the fruit of a coin­ci­dence of momen­tary cir­cum­stances, but of many years of reform, the search for an answer to the deep ques­tion: “What is it to be an Eng­lish­man?” Let’s see what influ­enced the progress of the Three Lions team.

Football players of the England national team.  Photo by Reuters
Foot­ball play­ers of the Eng­land nation­al team. Pho­to by Reuters

Tuesday.  Podgorica.  Montenegro - England - 1:1.  Wayne ROONEY after the match. Eng­land: what next?

2012 is the starting point

After nine inter­na­tion­al tour­na­ments in a row, in which the team did not even reach the semi-finals, the Eng­lish Foot­ball Asso­ci­a­tion (FA) has approved a new 10-year devel­op­ment plan. The fin­ish line is vic­to­ry at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. The founders of foot­ball need­ed a reform in the approach to cre­at­ing a nation­al team. There­fore, the start­ing point was the def­i­n­i­tion of a val­ue sys­tem. The FA’s head of coach and play­er devel­op­ment, Matt Crock­er, has out­lined 5 key ele­ments of the new devel­op­ment pro­gram:

· Who we are - con­fi­dence that each play­er feels respon­si­bil­i­ty when play­ing for the nation­al team;

· How we play - gen­er­al prin­ci­ples and style of play for all teams, from U-15 to the main team;

· Who rep­re­sents us - selec­tion of play­ers with char­ac­ter­is­tics cor­re­spond­ing to the cho­sen style;

· How we train - estab­lish­ing a sys­tem­at­ic approach to train­ing and devel­op­ing a gen­er­al phi­los­o­phy;

· How we help - ser­vices for the devel­op­ment of sports sci­ence, med­ical analy­sis, and psy­cho­log­i­cal assis­tance, unit­ed by a com­mon cause.

The most impor­tant fac­tor was the con­struc­tion of the Nation­al Foot­ball Cen­ter. The start of the trans­for­ma­tion of St. George’s Park was planned back in 2002. The British were inspired by the exam­ple of the French, who won the 1998 World Cup 10 years after the open­ing of the Nation­al Foot­ball Cen­ter in Claire­fontaine. But then the pri­or­i­ty was the recon­struc­tion of Wem­b­ley. Because of this, con­struc­tion was delayed for a whole decade.

The new Eng­land team DNA devel­op­ment house was only built in Octo­ber 2012. 13 foot­ball fields, one of which is an exact copy of the sur­face at Wem­b­ley, train­ing facil­i­ties, sci­en­tif­ic lab­o­ra­to­ries and a hotel. The open­ing of the Nation­al Foot­ball Cen­ter was a neces­si­ty, says ex-coach of the 1992 cham­pi­on Leeds and for­mer tech­ni­cal direc­tor of the Eng­land nation­al team Howard Wilkin­son:

“We need­ed a house. I want­ed us to build the Oxford and Cam­bridge of Eng­lish foot­ball.”

In 2014, the doc­u­ment “Eng­lish DNA” was pub­lished, in the devel­op­ment of which South­gate also took part. It con­tained the key ele­ments of the nation­al foot­ball devel­op­ment sys­tem at all lev­els. The authors also touched upon the tac­ti­cal com­po­nent, pro­claim­ing such prin­ci­ples as “con­scious dom­i­nance through pos­ses­sion of the ball”, “con­scious return of pos­ses­sion of the ball as ear­ly and effi­cient­ly as pos­si­ble”, “tac­ti­cal flex­i­bil­i­ty”.

“Cre­at­ing a vis­i­ble and dis­tinct Eng­lish cul­ture on the field and off the field, based on clear val­ues, is core to our DNA,” it says.

3 July.  Rome.  Ukraine —  England —  0:4.  Harry Kane scores a brace. “I haven’t seen such a beat­ing since the fight with Klitschko.” How Eng­land react­ed to the defeat of Ukraine

2017 — first successes

Although the British remem­ber the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016 with­out smiles on their faces, nation­al pride vis­it­ed the coun­try in 2017. For the first time in his­to­ry, Eng­land became the U‑17 world cham­pi­on and the U‑20 world cham­pi­on, Euro­pean cham­pi­on U-19, reached the semi-finals of the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onship U-21. Then Phil Foden, Jadon San­cho and Dominic Calvert-Lewin shone at the tour­na­ments.

With South­gate join­ing the nation­al team, the team has changed. He pre­vi­ous­ly man­aged the youth team, so it is not sur­pris­ing that at the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia the Eng­lish had the third youngest squad at the tour­na­ment. Accord­ing to Foot­ball Obser­va­to­ry research CIES, in the peri­od from 2009 to 2017, the per­cent­age of grad­u­ates in Pre­mier League teams was only 14.1 (Ger­many — 15.1, France — 23.2, Spain — 23.6). Although these sta­tis­tics look depress­ing, the adopt­ed devel­op­ment pro­gram has begun to pro­duce results at the adult lev­el. In Rus­sia, the Eng­lish final­ly reached the semi-finals for the first time since the 1990 World Cup.

Three years have passed since that tour­na­ment, many young tal­ents have turned into world stars. But how is this team dif­fer­ent from the “gold­en gen­er­a­tion” of the 2000s?

Gareth Southgate and Harry Kane. Zero degrees South­gate. Why Eng­land are the sad­dest team in the Euro 2020 group stage

Are the England team a primitive tribe?

“There was a smell of hatred there. That’s how it was. I had to pre­tend that we were friends,” said Steven Ger­rard, answer­ing ques­tions from fans in 2017.

The cur­rent squad of the Eng­land nation­al team con­tains enough play­ers from rival clubs: Liv­er­pool and Man­ches­ter Unit­ed, Man­ches­ter City and Man­ches­ter Unit­ed, Tot­ten­ham and Arse­nal. How­ev­er, South­gate said in a press con­fer­ence after the vic­to­ry over Ukraine that Har­ry Kane, Jor­dan Hen­der­son, Har­ry Maguire and Raheem Ster­ling were the “elders of the tribe”.

What does this prim­i­tive theme have to do with it? In 2016, the FA hired Owen East­wood, who had pre­vi­ous­ly worked with the New Zealand rug­by team, the South African crick­et team, the Roy­al Bal­let School and even NATO sol­diers. His main task was to instill in foot­ball play­ers self-aware­ness and a sense of com­mon cause. What lay in the begin­ning of British foot­ball, and what the British lost so long ago.

East­wood spoke with dozens of peo­ple from men’s and wom­en’s nation­al teams of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions. In his book, he recalled an inter­view with Michael Owen. The famous strik­er then told him: “In my entire Eng­land career, no one in the dress­ing room ever men­tioned either the his­to­ry of the club or what it was like to be an Eng­lish­man.”

Among East­wood’s ances­tors are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the indige­nous pop­u­la­tion of New Zealand — the Maori. He pro­motes an idea that is expressed in the Maori lan­guage as whaka­pa­pa, or geneal­o­gy. It means the aware­ness of belong­ing to one’s tribe and the strength that comes from this aware­ness.

East­wood’s work did not go unno­ticed. Even before the start of the Euros, South­gate made the fol­low­ing state­ment: “His­to­ry is more than just us. So we have to be hum­ble about where we are on this jour­ney, but also make the most of the moment and leave the team in a bet­ter place than we found it before.”

The per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of these words can be seen on the field. Each of the world stars is part of a team, and the thoughts of these stars are aimed at bring­ing ben­e­fit to their foot­ball “tribe”. Ster­ling, Kane, San­cho, Foden — they all give them­selves on the field not to light their own fire, but to keep the com­mon one from going out. Per­haps that is why Eng­land will reach the title again after 55 years.