Notoriety over development: The Scott Sinclair problem in English football 0

It’s nearly time for the World Cup, which means it’s nearly time for the traditional post mortem after England’s elimination and the many, many theories which try to explain what’s wrong with English football.

In truth, there’s no single answer to that question and the national team’s failings have been determined by myriad issues which exist from the grassroots level up. Attributing blame to individual factors or picking-on isolated personnel is a futile exercise and rather misses the point of just how much reform is required within the domestic infrastructure.

Scott Sinclair is an example of one of those many surface issues; he’s representative of a mentality amongst a lot of English players which is self-defeating.

At 24 years of age, Sinclair has had eleven different clubs and made twenty or more appearances for just one of them. The only stable period during his career - at Swansea City under Brendan Rodgers - was rashly derailed by a move to Manchester City’s substitutes’ bench and his status within the game has been in free-fall ever since. A loan-move to West Brom at the beginning of the season should, theoretically, have provided him with the game-time to continue his development but after just four starts in six months he’s struggling to regain any of the continuity that he had at The Liberty Stadium.

The point here is not to vilify Scott Sinclair, but to highlight an attitude that he’s associated with. Over the past decade, there have been countless examples of promising English players who have prematurely jumped to clubs for whom they have almost no chance of playing regularly. Shaun Wright-Philips, Scott Parker, Richard Wright, Steve Sidwell, Francis Jeffers, Jack Rodwell, Glen Johnson, and Daniel Sturridge have all at one time or another represented the prioritisation of short-term notoriety and wealth over steady, consistent progression. And, although classified as Nigerian now, Victor Moses is another very good example of someone who has wasted his formative years by allowing ambition to cloud his judgement.

It’s easy to see why this happens: a player is flattered by the interest of a big club and his ego tells him that he has a credible opportunity to be a consistent part of the first team - it’s a ‘fantastic opportunity’ and a chance that he ‘couldn’t turn down’. Maybe, but in almost all of the cases referenced, those British players were purchased as squad-filler and to provide mid-level depth to already strong sides.

Ironically, a player’s ability to recognise his own limitations is highly-conducive to an upward trend in his career.

Daniel Sturridge is a contemporary case that’s really interesting. Think of your perception of him now as opposed to what it was during his time at Chelsea. When Sturridge left Manchester City, he was a worthwhile gamble for Chelsea to take - he was low-cost, he was talented, and he was home-grown. Whilst having him at Stamford Bridge as a squad-player was no doubt beneficial to the various Chelsea managers over that period, it did the player almost no good at all. He would periodically come on and score the last goal in a rout or play the occasional league cup or European game, but his development stagnated because of a lack of consistent playing-time.

Conversely, look at what he’s becoming at Liverpool. He may well have taken a pay-cut and he currently doesn’t have the opportunity of Champions League football, but the recognition of his need to drop slightly down the league has probably given him the opportunity to start for his country in the next World Cup.

There’s no consistent rule here, and there are no guarantees that any of the players mentioned above would have been significantly better had they not made such ill-advised transfers early in their career, but that’s not the point - Steve Sidwell, for example, would not be a world-beater if he hadn’t joined Chelsea, but his career would probably have been more substantial had he not done so. A wasted year might not seem significant, but by factoring-in intangibles and lost momentum it’s apparent that it really is.

There’s nothing that anybody can really do to prevent this, because the hope has to be that future English players understand the pitfalls of being led by their ambition and that agents don’t encourage them to derail themselves for the sake of a quick pay-day. It’s important for the English national team that the squad doesn’t just consist of fourteen or fifteen first-team players, but that the second and third-stringers are also playing consistently within the Premier League.

All the arguments about ‘training with a better standard of player’ are really redundant, because nothing is better for development than minutes on a pitch - and the Scott Sinclairs of this world are a testament to that.

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