Why England And Uruguay Should Be As Successful As Brazil And Germany

England and Uruguay only have themselves to blame for underachieving on the World stage, and here's why...
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Well it could have happened, had history taken a different path.

For years I've been ruminating on a theory that had it not been for stubbornness and some amount of hubris, both England and Uruguay may have held the status of today's Germany and Brazil in world football. Just hear me out, it may be a load of drivel but it could also make some sense...maybe.

It is well documented that modern football has its roots in England. The codification (creation of standardised rules and laws) of the game is the most enduring legacy of its development in the British isles, and England, for many decades, was the most powerful footballing nation.

In South America, while Argentina and Brazil had the first football teams and associations, Uruguay was also amongst the pioneers with Central Uruguay Railway Cricket Club being one of their first football teams (yes, I see the irony). That team is now known as Peñarol and is one of the oldest teams in South America.

Now, here is the basis of my theory, and you can determine whether it was worth your 8 minutes and 37 seconds to read this article.

Brazil are the darlings of world football, with fans from all over the world lauding the style and beauty of Samba Futebol. Germany, by contrast, are the well-oiled, dependable machine – currently the most successful team in World Cup history in terms of consistency and final positions. But this could have been different, so very different.

Let's go back almost 100 years (98 to be exact) to 1916 and the first Copa América. Uruguay and Argentina had previously played the first official international friendly outside of Europe and eventually, along with Brazil and Chile, they launched the Copa América championship. Uruguay were the inaugural winners and would go on to win 6 of the first 10 tournaments.

But even more impressively, Uruguay would be crowned champions at the 1924 and 1928 Summer Olympics, the former being the first time they had even entered the competition. With a lack of international tournaments at the time, this came the closest to being recognised as the best in the world despite its restriction to “amateur” players.


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Uruguay then hosted and won the first ever World Cup in 1930, but that's when it all went pear-shaped. That initial competition had 13 participants, with only four from Europe, as the European teams were not inclined to make the weeks-long journey (back then, by sea) to South America. Even a last-minute invitation to the Home Nations was rejected by the English FA (not a member of FIFA at the time – we'll get to that soon). Needless to say, this irked the Uruguayans and they decided to reciprocate for the 1934 tournament, which was held in Italy.

But guess who did attend that tournament - that’s right, humble old Brazil. And they went to the one after that too, hosted by France, despite an initial promise by FIFA to alternate the finals between South America and Europe. Again, Uruguay boycotted, this time on the grounds that FIFA had not kept their word.

So while Brazil were able to gain the experience of playing amongst the elite in international football (and now have the record of attending every World Cup finals), Uruguay sulked and missed out on the opportunity to hone their talents and also improve their standing in what was a fledgling FIFA.

Uruguay did manage to pull off a miracle at the next World Cup (and the first to be held in South America since they played host) but that is simply what it was, a miracle. It also came a generation later, the games having been disrupted by the second World War, and as such could not be viewed as a continuity of its previous dominance.

Then there was jolly old England, who, while they were FIFA affiliates at the outset, withdrew in protest to “international influence” on the game (amongst other canards) and never even participated in a World Cup until the very same 1950 Uruguayan miracle. They were on the wrong end of another miracle themselves, suffering a shock 0-1 defeat to a hastily assembled US team.

England had previously forgone the World Cup, preferring to play tournaments consisting of members of the British Isles, and it would seem, thinking themselves better than condescending to a competition of scamps. Previously, they had one of the best records in international football but perhaps also suffered from a lack of exposure to varying playing styles and opposition, as witnessed by the unimaginable upset by the US team and then two spankings at the hands of a Ferenc Puskas' Hungary (one, a famous 6-3 defeat at Wembley) widely regarded as the best of that era.

I wouldn't dare suggest that mere participation in the World Cup led Brazil and Germany to greatness, or that only lack of involvement oversaw the Uruguayan and English decline. But I can only imagine how different things could have been had these nations experienced a more cordial relationship with the world governing body and their fellow member countries.

Ironically, the two will meet in Group D of this year's tournament, with England looking to exorcise their demons against another CONCACAF team in Belo Horizonte.