That sentence effectively sums up the views of Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher. He blames what he calls the Academy generation for England’s dismal exit from yet another international tournament.
The former Liverpool defender describes the Euro 2016 squad as soft physically and soft mentally. This may seem a little rich, given that he was with the so-called golden generation that flopped at the Germany and South Africa World Cups. But he’s surely right to say England should do better when so much money is being spent at the top level of the professional game.
More than £25 million was spent on the national football centre at St George’s Park, Burton, which boasts some of the finest facilities on the planet. Premier League clubs offer similar playing and training environments. And then of course there are the superstar wages.
So why can’t England produce the goods or at least put on a convincing performance? Ever since the Seventies, that dead decade when they failed to qualify for a World or European Nations cup (as it was called then), the FA has come up with report after report looking at what’s wrong and how to put it right. There are has been the occasional spike, but nothing has really worked.
The views of the television experts and newspaper columnists are well known. But what about people in non-league football which, after all, accounts for the vast majority of the game?
Former Stalybridge Celtic boss Keith Briggs complained that many young players lacked desire and determination when he quit Bower Fold last year. Now a coach at League One Sheffield United, he feels it’s not fair to blame the shortcomings of the England team on the academy system.
“There’s definitely a place for academies,” he said. “All the players who did so well for the other national teams in France came through some sort of academy set-up.
“Wales did well and all their players came through academies. So there’s got to be more to it than lacking ability or the will to succeed. Academies aren’t the problem. For the last 15 years, our system has been based on Germany’s and they know how to win trophies.
“We’ve got some very, very talented footballers in England but in international games there’s a fear factor. In tournaments there’s so much pressure, even though it’s so long since we did anything.
“They’re in academies to play football but maybe there’s more to it than that. At Sheffield United we try to get them out doing other things and playing lots of different sports like tennis, racquetball, badminton. They’re kids and we get them enjoying themselves with a bit of clowning around while improving hand-eye co-ordination at the same time.”
Hyde United manager Darren Kelly takes an entirely different view. He broadly agrees with Carragher’s assessment that academies breed players who are not tough enough — and gets quite angry while talking about it.
“There are pros and cons but 100 per cent the young players get treated too well. I wouldn’t be surprised if they get their backsides cleaned. Do they even make their own beds? I doubt there will be many,” he commented.
“Parents have to take a bit of responsibility as well because if they have a son at an academy they’ll want to mollycoddle him because they’re hoping he might be the next big thing.
“Speaking for myself, I learned the hard way. If you got tackled you got up and gave it back, but those days are gone.
“The whole situation baffles me and I think the FA needs a reality check. You’ve got the fantastic facilities at St George’s Park but I bet the England team hardly use them. They almost always play at Wembley so you’re more likely to find them at Spurs, Chelsea or Arsenal.
“I also blame a lot of the overseas players for the fact we’re producing babies rather than leaders. There’s too much diving and children are following suit because they see it done by their idols. If it happened and I was playing I would give them something to dive about.”
As might be expected of someone who came through the ranks at Stockport County in the 1970s, John Flanagan sees the old ways of sweeping stands and cleaning boots as character-building, but also doubts whether they would be legal any longer.
Like his colleagues, the Curzon Ashton manager sees positives and negatives in academies. However, he also feels that while academy products may have all the technical skills, they lack the necessary “shop-floor” experience to shine in a competitive environment.
He explained: “At National League level people find it very difficult to regularly get players through the system and into the first team. I believe the only way for it to work is to send these lads out to experience football at a lower level but then you run the risk of losing them because they’re not on contract.
“Academies are all about technical matters and popping the ball around. There’s nothing at stake. If you want players to develop they’ve got to get experience of competitive football.
“They also need determination and drive — something I’ve found at Curzon in Jordan Wright. Hand-on-heart, five years ago I doubted he had what was needed. But fair play to the lad, he came through.”
Flanagan also feels that England players suffer because they operate in such a sanitised environment.
“I feel the FA must take some responsibility because they want everybody to come across as whiter than white. Wayne Rooney used to be an explosive player but the system has calmed him down and taken away the edge. As England captain he has to do the right thing all the time.
“The honesty’s gone. People at England level are scared of saying or doing anything because of the repercussions. What they’re doing now is putting on a show, a piece of theatre.”
What can be done about it? What could put England back on the pedestal they last mounted 50 years ago in that glorious summer of 1966? The one thing everyone seems to agree on, from Jamie Carragher, to non-league managers, to Henry Winter, author of “Fifty Years of Hurt: The Story of England Football and Why We Never Stop Believing” is that the FA should involve retired players, getting them to pass on their knowledge and experience.
The FA is certain to launch an inquiry into England’s latest failure. It remains to be seen whether it will be anymore successful than its predecessors in sparking a regeneration of the national side.
So far the only thing that has outweighed 50 years of talent and investment has been the oft-quoted 50 years of hurt.