Following the 2014 World Cup, I was speaking with a bunch of my friends from London about our respective teams performances at the tournament. As we discussed how impressive the Americans were, and how predictably poor England were, it became clear. For the first time ever it looked as if the USMNT was in a far better position going forward than England was.
The Englishmen in the conversation agreed. They pointed to the fact that the US had a coach with a long term plan, even if no one knew what exactly that plan was, it was obvious he had one. He was moving the team forward by jettisoning veterans who weren’t part of that long term plan (Landon Donovan) while bringing in new young talent, whereas England were failing to move on from a previous generation (Wayne Rooney) or develop youth talent. Who exactly did they have to look forward to besides Raheem Sterling?
Coming into the World Cup, there weren’t really any players on the US roster that rated highly in Europe. Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley had just played in Europe for years, but the previous January they both chose to move back to MLS. Even after the tournament only one player, DeAndre Yedlin, managed to turn enough heads to get a big transfer to a European club (Fabian Johsnon impressed many that summer, but he had agreed to join Borussia Monchengladbach back in February). Even Jermaine Jones, who had a great tournament, couldn’t get a free transfer to a European club and went back to MLS following the tournament.
Yet Jurgen Klinsmann managed to take that ragtag group of players out of a group that included Germany, Portugal, and Ghana. He came within a six yard miss of going to the quarterfinals. Meanwhile an England team, made up of world famous Premier League stars, failed to get out of their group, finishing behind Costa Rica who the following year didn’t even win a game at the Gold Cup.
Suddenly it’s not so surprising that rumors are swirling around that England are interested in Jurgen Klinsmann for their newly vacant managerial role.
However, the funny thing about international football is that it changes quickly.
Two years later, Klinsmann’s job is always under constant speculation from US fans and the media. They haven’t forgiven him for a fourth place finish at the 2015 Gold Cup, even if he pulled off the same feat the following year at the Copa America. While the US has developed some very good young talent over the past two years, for the most part the core of the team is still made up of veteran players who are, individually, average at best.
Meanwhile, across the pond England all of a sudden have a whole new generation of talent. Up top Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane combined to score 49 goals in the Premier League last year. Eric Dier has emerged as one of the best holding midfielders around. Dele Alli, at just 18 years old, has already proven that not only could he play at the international level but that he’ll be doing it for years to come.
But man oh man is that team a mess. From top to bottom, the manager, the mindset, systematically, the whole thing is a mess.
This begs the question, which team has the brighter future? The team that has a manager with a long term plan but very average players, or the team with a great group of young talent, but lacks depth and can best be described as a complete mess?
After the performance of England at Euro 2016 and the ensuing fallout, it’s easy to immediately think the answer is the US, who just finished fourth at the Copa America. But it may not be that simple.
England have essentially done the hard part, they’ve developed a new crop of players while the US hasn’t. Sure there’s Christian Pulisic, and fans have high hopes for Darlington Nagbe, but the truth is Pulisic is just 17 and can still flame out while Nagbe hasn’t done enough at the club level, or anything at the international level, to displace Michael Bradley or Jermaine Jones in the US team.
If the US were to get rid of Jurgen Klinsmann, the next manager would still have to work with the same group of players, a group that lacks good central midfielders. England on the other hand have the players. Sure they need to improve their depth a bit, but a good manager can get that much extra out of the team if he manages everything correctly.
It’s hard to compare two teams right now as since England don’t have a manager, we don’t know how they’ll look even a month from now. But the bottom line is, England have done the hard part. They have the players, if they get the right manager they could become a major force very quickly.