Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Selling England by the pound

As the four-yearly cycle of hope and disappointment of England failing at the World Cup moves into the unpleasant memory stage it has been time for me to indulge in masochistic readings of why did it all go wrong post-mortems.

At least this time there was no ridiculous hyping of the team's chances so maybe this has made it possible for some more realistic analysis about why England's football team often does so badly in major competitions. So far reasons I have seen include:
  • English players do not have enough basic skills.
  • There are too many foreign players in the Premier League.
  • The style of football in the Premier League does not work in international competitions.
  • The players don't really care about playing for their country as they are paid too much by their clubs.
  • The manager was inadequate (but not too many of those).
  • English people have little sense of national identity.
  • "God save the Queen" is a poor choice of national anthem for a team which only represents a quarter of the Kingdom.
  • Not enough Old Etonians in the national squad.
It is good that various suspects have been arrested, but so far I have not seen much of what I would call 'systemic analysis' of drawing things together in any way. Given that England have  disappointed for many decades now it is time that people really did start to think that there is something systemic going on. Regular changes of managers has not had any real effect apart from making some people very wealthy men with no success to record.

At times like this Soft Systems Methodology calls to me, and I like to try and sketch out a rich picture to try and make some sense of my confused thoughts.

I don't want to go into the detailed process here, but just thought it might be interesting to throw out a few 'worldviews' that came to me as I drew on my whiteboard:
  • The Premier League is a good commodity for rich overseas investors to buy.
  • The Premier League is a good way for foreign players to learn how to beat English players.
  • Temporary immigration of foreign players is a good way to stop decent English players from emerging.
  • Football is mass entertainment, not a matter of life and death (thanks Bill Shankley) to particular communities any more.
The next step would be to draw up formal root definitions and conceptual models to explore these, but to be honest I'm not that desperate (however, if Greg Dyke reads this and is keen to buy some consultancy time from me, I'm available).

But what suddenly stood out to me is how football has just become another English business that can be bought, exploited and traded like anything else (e.g. AstraZeneca, Cadbury's, etc.). The influence of the City is here: who cares what it is as long as there is profit to be made. This is perhaps the fundamental reason why it has all gone wrong; sell kids Xboxes and get them to watch football onTV so they are protected from the dangers out there. More money to be made from that than from watching little kids run around football pitches. No wonder the numbers of people actually playing football is steadily declining, and we need foreign players to make up the numbers. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the people who really run football (Sky, the Premier League, to name a few) know the price of everything but the value of nothing. As long as the money rolls in nobody really cares about the England football team.

This is what I like about systems thinking: after days of trying to deal with the complexities I had a moment of clarity. I can deal with my disappointment: I've had a season ticket with Sheffield Wednesday for 10 years and know all about the systemic pain of football.

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