Former France midfielder Patrick Vieira believes England’s failures at international tournaments are attributable to the FA’s inability to appoint a manager capable of persuading players to reach their full potential in an England shirt.
The Three Lions and France are set to face each other in eight days' time in their opening group game of Euro 2012. The two teams go into the tournament in contrasting form. The French side under Laurent Blanc looks rejuvenated and has not lost for 20 games, while England has only just appointed Roy Hodgson and have a raft of injury concerns.
With England’s expectations so low, it would appear that few people are backing them to do much damage in this tournament, and Vieira believes it’s often down to the manager.
“When you look at the kind of midfield that England have had, with [David] Beckham, [Steven] Gerrard, [Frank] Lampard and [Paul] Scholes, these players are as good as anyone else around the world," the former Arsenal skipper told The Mail on Sunday.
“But I don't think England have found the person who can really make a difference with these kind of players; someone who can make them realise how good they are and how important they are.”
However, Vieira also believes the country’s failings are down to the national youth set-up.
“When you look at Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Sylvain Wiltord, we all played together in the French youth team," he said. “But in England I'm amazed the Under-17, 18, 19, 21 teams are not as important as the first team. I'm surprised how many times the players pull out of the national team. They don't want to go to the big tournaments.
“In France, every player will fight because they want to play for the national team, whether it's Under-16, Under-18 or whatever. And it's these kind of players that you find afterwards in the senior team."
He went on to say that playing together at the youth level helps the players understand one another.
“You build team spirit, of course," he said. "It starts there. Even the Zinedine Zidane generation had six or seven players who had played together in the European Championships at Under-21 and Under-18 level. That's how you create the kind of relationships you need.
“In England, I'm surprised when I see so many players pull out because of injuries. I don't understand that. Even when I was at Arsenal and I was injured I still wanted to go to the national team, because it makes you so proud.”
Vieira, now working as the football development executive at Manchester City, believes his rival from his playing days, Paul Scholes, is England’s biggest loss of the past few years.
“He is the best player of his generation," he admitted. "He is a big miss. And when you have one of the best players in the world in that position and he retires so early, it's so sad for the national team.
“Sir Alex Ferguson managed to get him back playing at Manchester United but England cannot have the person who can make him understand how important he is for English football and, because of who he is, the responsibility he has, too.”
France will be hoping for a successful tournament in order to banish the memories of the 2010 World Cup when it went out at the group stage as it self-destructed over the treatment of striker Nicolas Anelka.
However, it would appear a new generation of talent is emerging in the French national side, with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Karim Benzema, Yann M’Villa, Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery all looking to shine at the European Championships.
“This is the next generation," Vieira remarked. "[Hatem] Ben Arfa, Nasri, Benzema and [Jeremy] Menez won the European Under-17 Championship together. They have been playing together for a long time now. We used to call them the golden generation because they were a really, really talented generation but the European Championship is at a different level and they will need more than talent to win.
“I'm really looking forward to see Benzema, because he's been fantastic with Real Madrid. He's the main man and I want to see how he will take this kind of responsibility. It's a big challenge, especially with not having Thierry Henry any more. M'Vila in the midfield has been one of the best talents, too, so I can't wait to see them play."
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