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Steven Gerrard Thinks the Problem with Football in England is a Lack of Physicality

Also computer games might be to blame. Well. Okay, then.

Alex Livesey/Getty Images

If you were one of the many, many (many) people who thought the English game was being held back by an over-reliance on physical skill over technical talent, on effort and wanting it over technique and tactics, former Liverpool star and current U18 boss Steven Gerrard would like to set you straight.

Having recently been tasked with taking over Liverpool U18s, Gerrard has come out to say that his academy wards will be tasked with focusing more on the physical side of the game and that he'll be quick to stamp out the fancy showboating that has apparently been keeping English academies from producing top talent.

"There is a showboating mentality through academies," Gerrard said today as he prepares to take over the U18 level next month. "A lot off kids think they have to do 10 lollipops or Cruyff turns to stand out. We all love a bit of skill and talent, but the other side of the game is huge. I have to try and prepare these players for careers in the game.

"Maybe it comes from computer games, I don't know. There are a lot of skilful players that young players try and emulate. They try and model their game on players like Ronaldo. My teams will be physical. You have to prepare them for the top level, and the top level is physical and demanding [but] it is not just about tackles and competing.

"It's about trying to prepare them for when it is hard and your legs are burning and your heart is burning and it is not a nice place to be in as a player. You have to get them to be mentally strong to be prepared for that. I hate watching footballers and football when there is no physical side and you don't compete."

At the youth level, being physical can often just mean being bigger than your opponent, looking to older kids with earlier birthdates who can physically bully the opposition. It can look good if the goal is to have a lot of victories at the U18 level but often serves as a disservice once the kids try to take the next step.

Go up a level, or even all the way up to the first team, and suddenly that physical advantage is gone. Suddenly, players are forced to rely on technique and tactics. And if they've spent all their time focusing on physicality and heart and wanting it more than overmatched youthful opponents, they end up out of their depth.

Perhaps, though, Gerrard is right, and showboating has run amok in the English academies and setting it in opposition to physical play isn't a signal he'll focus on that over technique and tactics. Maybe it just means less showboating and nothing more. It does seem to signal a retrograde approach to the game, though.

Spain and Germany—in the latter's case despite the fact their league is second only to England's in physicality—have doubled down on technique and tactics in recent decades to great success. The South American powers have always focused on it—often to what could be described as a showboating extreme.

England, on the other hand, has been harping on physicality and all that goes along with that since they won the World Cup more than fifty years ago. And that hasn't gone so well for their international prospects while their league is today the most competitive in the world only because of imported foreign skill.

So maybe one never does really know. Perhaps Gerrard is right and a re-focus on physicality at Liverpool will bring on a new era of success. On the surface, though, it seems a pretty major mark in the negative column and speaks to the fears many Liverpool fans had when he joined the coaching ranks at the club.

Namely that for a player who made a career through physicality, working kids who in almost all cases won't have anything like his overwhelming physical skill-set and will need a more rounded technical and tactical side to their games could end up being a recipe for disaster.

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