Heart Of Football

English Premier League? More a game of 'spot the English player or manager'

Tim Howard has not been in good form lately but Everton manager Roberto Martinez says the American goalie still brings experience.
Tim Howard has not been in good form lately but Everton manager Roberto Martinez says the American goalie still brings experience.PHOTO: REUTERS

There are fewer Englishmen who believe in their own superiority now than ever.

There has to be.

After the New Zealanders and the Australians (and South Africans and even Argentinians) put the finishing touches to a magnificent Rugby World Cup this weekend, the best that could be said of the Brits is that we were mighty fine hosts.

As the English Premier League (EPL) takes over, the game of spot the English players, or managers, becomes ever more of a pub quiz game.

Don't misunderstand this message. Seeing those All Blacks move the ball around at the pace and with imagination almost beyond belief is a truly thrilling sight - like watching the Harlem Globetrotters basketball players, with the difference that New Zealand were playing competitive rugby, not exhibition.

 

Look at it another way: How many English goalkeepers do you think occupy the space between the posts right now? The answer is three: Joe Hart (Manchester City), John Ruddy (Norwich) and Jack Butland (Stoke).

And those sleight-of-hand passes of the All Blacks were so often in the nick of time before the opponents tackled them with 100kg-a-man body hits.

But you would have to agree, the home nations gave their antipodean cousins a terrific stage to show how the game should be played.

The Premier League? It is nothing new that two-thirds of the players are foreigners, and 15 out of 20 of the EPL coaches are not from England either.

That doesn't detract from the spectacle, though it obviously severely reduces the prospects of the England national team winning anything like a World Cup for the first time since 1966.

Yes, next year will be the 50th anniversary of that. And as you know, a nation can be built in that time frame.

Cast your eyes beyond yesterday's headline game between Chelsea and Liverpool (a game put into perspective by Juergen Klopp, the new Liverpool manager, spelling it out that it was played between teams occupying ninth and 15th in the league table).

Look down towards the foot of the table, and the inescapable fact is that Englishmen get to manage struggling clubs - Aston Villa's management post is vacant after the sacking of Tim Sherwood and awaiting Remi Garde to take it on.

Sunderland have just been born again under Big Sam Allardyce, Bournemouth have a young English coach, and further up the league Garry Monk and Alan Pardew are doing okay at Swansea City and Crystal Palace respectively.

Look at it another way: How many English goalkeepers do you think occupy the space between the posts right now?

The answer is three: Joe Hart (Manchester City), John Ruddy (Norwich) and Jack Butland (Stoke).

This position, either fall guy or hero most weeks in most teams, is occupying the thoughts of Roberto Martinez this morning as he names his Everton side to face Sunderland.

Martinez, who is Spanish, knows that his No. 1 keeper, the American Tim Howard, is not having his best of seasons. The manager cannot escape it because the Liverpool Echo kindly conducted an online poll asking Evertonians who should be between the sticks for today's game against Sunderland at Goodison Park.

Eighty-six per cent of the voters went for Joel Robles, the back-up keeper.

Evertonians, who are of course Liverpudlians, know their stuff. They have had good reason to trust Howard, who has pulled the team out of the mire many times in his 389 Everton games since 2007.

But Howard is now 36, and even if that is no great age in a keeper, he has made errors of judgment lately. So get him out, put Robles in after his penalty shoot out heroics in the League Cup in midweek.

"I always take the fans' views into consideration,"? responds Martinez. "Everything we do is for the fans. But I work with the players on a daily basis and I know what they bring."?

That's a no then, for today's game?

Not necessarily. "It's not a given that Joel has to be No. 2 and Tim is the No. 1,"? added Martinez who is not normally such an equivocal man.

"I would never manage the squad with a blame culture or sacrifice a player who makes a mistake," he continued. "I know when Joel can come in and do a good job, as he did last Tuesday. In the same way, I know when Howard's experience and know-how are vital for young players in front of him."?

So, we're none the wiser. We wait to see who wears the jersey at kick-off time.

What we do know is that Everton have a fine history of developing young talent, although that often results in the club having to sell the likes of Wayne Rooney to Manchester United.

For native talent spotters, there should be John Stones (still an Evertonian despite Chelsea trying to buy him last summer), Ross Barkley, young left-back Brendan Galloway and not so young Gareth Barry in blue today.

Sunderland, too, have a sprinkling of Englishness - Wes Brown and Billy Jones the old and the new in defence, Lee Cattermole whose tough tackling can be a cross between football and rugby, and perhaps off the bench Jack Rodwell.

Jack was at Everton before Manchester City paid £12 million (S$26 million) for him, never really gave him a chance, and offloaded him to Sunderland where he is trying to relaunch his career.

Back to the goalkeepers. Sunderland have the biggest man in English football, the 2.03m-tall Romanian, Costel Pantilimon, another ex-Man City player - and if Sunderland stay up, Pantilimon will certainly have a big hand in it.

Today's other EPL game, Southampton versus south coast rivals Bournemouth, sustains the foreign goalkeeper theme.

With Fraser Forster, Southampton's No.1 rehabilitating from a broken knee cap, Saints' manager Ronald Koeman persuaded his Dutch compatriot Maarten Stekelenburg to join on loan from Fulham.

Bournemouth have used 13 English-born players in their first season in the EPL. The Cherries' manager, Eddie Howe, is a home-spun fellow but he must decide whether his Polish goalie Artur Boric or his Australian Adam Federici lines up against Southampton.

England, it seems, is a little short on decent handlers, whatever the shape of the ball.

EVERTON V SUNDERLAND

Singtel TV Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, 9.30pm

SOUTHAMPTON V BOURNEMOUTH

Ch102 & StarHub Ch227, midnight

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 01, 2015, with the headline 'English Premier League? More a game of 'spot the English player or manager''. Print Edition | Subscribe