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Andy Carroll, fourth left, is only 21 years of age and has a good future ahead of him. But as the Newcastle striker will quickly discover, playing for your country is nothing like you expect it to be. He will have to contend with cliques in the dressing room.
Andy Carroll, fourth left, is only 21 years of age and has a good future ahead of him. But as the Newcastle striker will quickly discover, playing for your country is nothing like you expect it to be. He will have to contend with cliques in the dressing room.

England are hardly united

England's national team players form camps and keep to themselves, which is why they do not work as a team and continually disappoint.

Players form camps and keep to themselves, which is why they do not work as a team and continually disappoint

I am not surprised that England's national team consistently fail to live up to expectations. There are many reasons why.

One is that the cliques which were in evidence when I played are still as clear as ever. When I played for England, the team was divided into two camps, the United boys and the Liverpool boys. If you played for Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur or Newcastle, then you had to choose which group you wanted to join. The two groups seldom mixed.

Sir Alex Ferguson did not care for the England national team. As a Scot that will not surprise you, but his greatest wish was that you avoided injury. If you played well then he was pleased for you, but it was club first, country second for the gaffer. He cared even less for Liverpool and encouraged an 'us and them' attitude.

Players like Gary Neville were more than happy to go along with that, as were David Beckham, Nicky Butt and myself. Paul Scholes? He barely spoke to his United teammates, so he was hardly likely to become best pals with Liverpool lads like Steve McManaman or Robbie Fowler.

We used to think that the Liverpool players were big-timers who won little, but wore flash white suits before cup finals. I do not think they were too impressed with us either. The divisions affected team spirit because we were never a team. They still do. So much is made of being England captain that players jockey for that position. Captains are undermined. Were the whole team behind John Terry when he spoke out about a few common grievances in the summer? Not at all.

At United, we had a captain that we all respected - Roy Keane. He led and we followed. I honestly think that United would have beaten England purely because we were a team. We fought for each other because we were united. England are not.

The England managers I played under like Kevin Keegan would try to break the cliques. They tried, but failed. Ironically, in later years when I played with Robbie Fowler at Manchester City, we got on fine and realised how juvenile we'd been.

There are other reasons why England continue to fail. The expectations are ridiculously high. England have been ranked an average of eighth in world football over the last 10 years. That's because there are consistently seven better teams than England.

Yet people ignore the facts and many genuinely thought that England had a chance of winning the World Cup in the summer. They didn't. England have very good players, but they're not a good team because too much emphasis is placed on individuals.

There's an arrogance from fans too. England, despite missing seven key players, were booed off after losing at home to France on Wednesday. This was France, a team who have a far better recent pedigree than England. France, who completely outplayed England and could have won 4-0 instead of 2-1. But England fans expect great things.

They are partly fired up by the media, who do not help either. Managers are either heroes or zeroes. One minute the media cannot get enough of Sven-Goran Eriksson or Fabio Capello, the next they absolutely slaughter them.

That atmosphere feeds into the team. I felt far more pressure playing for England than I ever did for United. There are too many agendas and a fear of failure around the national side. I was completely at ease playing against better players in the Champions League than in an international friendly.

And because you spend so little time together, you do not really get to know how the other players work. At United I knew where Ryan Giggs was likely to play a ball or he knew where I was likely to run. Such understandings were rarer in international football.

Spain do so well because the heart of their team is comprised of Barcelona players. They know how to play together because they do it every day. They are also united when they play for their national side. Despite a rivalry at club level, they get on with the Madrid players, they are good mates who put the team first.

England have some excellent players, but they're not a team and it's hard for them to become one when players can go two months without seeing each other. Then, when they meet, everyone is under pressure to click. It's almost impossible.

So I had a degree of sympathy for Andy Carroll on Wednesday night. A Newcastle striker like I was myself when I made my England debut, he did all right against France and works hard for the team. He is only 21 and has a good future ahead of him, but as he will quickly discover, playing for your country is nothing like you expect it to be. And that is a shame.

 

Andrew Cole is the second leading goalscorer in Premier League history. His column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten.

sports@thenational.ae

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