International friendlies are football’s version of elections. There’s a bit of a fuss, they get a lot of attention, but regardless of the outcome, no-one’s happy and very little seems to have changed. Win a friendly and it’s nice, but largely insignificant. Losing isn’t good, but it’s easy to turn a blind eye and concentrate on future competitive matches. More resounding victories or defeats may be harder to ignore, but ultimately it’s the qualifying campaigns for the various international tournaments that are the yardstick for progress.
So despite that inauspicious summary, England’s performance against France is a major cause for concern. With suspiciously timed vague injuries again ruling out many starters and several newcomers in the team, taking the easy option and writing it off is understandable, but a lack of quality in depth was apparent across the team. And a lack of quality in shallow according to some.
The goalkeeping division is a major concern. Ben Foster isn’t yet an international standard goalkeeper. He got beaten at his near post for the first goal and his handling looked untrustworthy a couple of time. He’s young and may yet develop, but for the moment, relying on him isn’t ideal. True enough, England may not have to be should Joe Hart maintain his form and fitness over the long term, but it’s clear England’s well of goalkeepers is remarkably dry. When Hart pulled out through injury, things got so bad that Fabio Capello had to draft in Scott Loach who the day before had been playing for the England U21 side in Germany. We’ve got nothing against Loach, but it illustrates the lack of options available to the Italian.
Elsewhere, other countries don’t have such difficulties. Spain’s goalkeeping ranks are the envy of the world, whilst elsewhere Germany, Italy and France seem to have numerous possibilities should they be denied their first choice. So why the lack of options? Well, in a rare burst of hard-work, we’ve had a look at the respective top flights of Europe’s top 5 leagues to look at the breakdown of goalkeepers eligible for that country’s national team versus those who aren’t – i.e. foreign goalkeepers. It doesn’t look good.
We’ve gone with the squad data available on UEFA.com. Flawed it may be, but at least it’s flawed for everyone. And when it comes to tricky questions regarding nationality or dual nationality, we’re side-stepping any possible controversy by going with what UEFA say. Blame them, it’s their fault.
It shows there are a shockingly low number of opportunities being given to English goalkeepers in the Premier League. There’s a huge over reliance on foreign talent. Although the fact that the stats mean relatively locals such as the Scottish, Welsh, Irish and Northern Irish are included as foreigner, it still paints a grim picture and suggests in the interests of the national side, Premier League sides should be producing far more indigenous talent. Admittedly, just because they’re in the squad doesn’t mean they’re close to first team football, but the fact they’ll be exposed to top class goalkeepers and coaching talent on a daily basis should stand to them and improve them over the course of a career.
Have a look at the more detailed version of the data here, but it’s not for the faint-hearted.
There needs to a serious sea-change in England or else they’ll get a serious kick in the ballots over the next few years.