Brazil and Argentina are moving effortlessly towards a meeting in the World Cup Final in Johannesburg’s Soccer City on 11 July.
England have just touched down at Heathrow with their tails between their legs after being demolished by Germany.
The difference? Well, according to former England winger John Barnes, South American success and Fabio Capello’s failure in South Africa can be explained by one thing. Socialism.
“Football is a socialist sport,” he explains. “Financially, some may receive more rewards than others but, from a footballing perspective, for 90 minutes, regardless of whether you are Lionel Messi or the substitute right-back for Argentina, you are all working to the same end.
“The teams which embrace the socialist ideology rather than having superstars, are the teams that are successful. Or if there are superstars they don’t perceive themselves to be that. That’s why I use Messi as an example. As much as he’s a superstar he respects his team-mates and their collective efforts.”
It is the same with Brazil, the country against whom the 79-times capped winger scored his most memorable England goal in the Maracana Stadium in 1984.
Dunga’s team moved up a gear last night as they destroyed Chile 3-0 and it is their collective approach that appeals to Barnes.
“Players from other nations when they play for their country are once again a socialist entity, all pulling in the same direction,” he tells me from a dressing room at Supersport’s studios where he is an expert analyst on the World Cup. “The most important thing for every Brazilian player is to play for Brazil.
“It doesn’t matter if he plays for Milan or Manchester United. A Brazilian who puts on that yellow shirt feels the same as the man next to him in that yellow shirt. They have a humility to the shirt. It is not the same for those who wear the Three Lions.”
The problem England have is that the corporate giant that is the Premier League rules all to the detriment of the national team.
“The Premier League has taken over the importance, prestige and kudos of the game,” Barnes says.
“Therefore, these players are superstars regardless of whether they play well for England or not. If England go out in the first round they will go back to their clubs, earn their money and everybody in England will be telling them, ‘You’re great’. An England failure leads to a blame game: Capello and his strictness, the pitch, the ball. Or that we need to get more players in to support Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.
“We’ve had Gerrard, Joe Cole, Lampard and David Beckham for years and years and they’ve not done anything, not gone anywhere. But we still persist with the lament: ‘Why can’t we win with all these individuals?’”
For Barnes, the answer is simple.Whether Capello remains in charge or not, England have to start playing as a team and lose the tag of the Golden Generation.
“How often do we hear that? The Golden Generation comes from the fact that in England the Premier League has created a monster,” he says. “They have produced these players who are fine in club football winning the Champions League. But they have also generated an illusion that we are the best in the world, which we are not. The Premier League is the biggest and the best league in the world, so we think we should win the World Cup. But we shouldn’t.
“We have empowered our players so much that they are superstars at their clubs. Too many have been put on pedestals and treated as untouchable.
“I don’t blame the players. If I was a player now and they were going to treat me as if I was some kind of God, maybe I would act that way. I blame the football fraternity – the media, the fans, everybody who has said, ‘Look how great they are’. The result is that these players now feel subconsciously that they are the biggest part of the solution when we do well. But when we do badly they’re not a part of the problem.
“Look at John Terry after the Algeria match. He comes out and tells you what the problem is. But he doesn’t see himself as part of the problem.”
But isn’t Barnes being unfair? After all, in Mexico in 1986, he was part of the team whose progress in the World Cup had echoes of 2010. England were beaten by Portugal, drew with Morocco and qualified in second place to the north Africans. This resulted in players questioning Bobby Robson’s tactics.
“Yes,” he agrees. “Some of the players met and spoke to him. But, first of all, Bobby was receptive and it became public afterwards. We couldn’t have gone into a press conference and said, ‘Right, I’m going to tell Bobby Robson this is what we have to do, and I don’t care whether he likes it or not’.”
What disappoints 46-year-old Barnes more is that the present England team had the potential to be better than the one he was part of in Italy that reached the semi-finals 20 years ago.
“They are better players than my team in 1990 but football was different in our day because we had a relationship with the fans and we were normal people,” he adds. “Yes, I was happier playing for Liverpool than for England but in terms of my attitude and my commitment and my desire, I was just as keen to play for England.”
Not even Paul Gascoigne was untouchable in the way Barnes feels modern English players have become.
“Gazza had a fantastic humility towards the team and towards the lowest of the low,” he says. “He would mix with kings and eat with paupers.
“Gazza is not a supercilious character whatsoever. He was mad; he still is. In that 1990 team I didn’t feel more important than the substitutes, we did not see ourselves any differently.”
The great lesson Barnes wants England to learn from the 2010 debacle is to stop relying on individuals and develop a system.
“England gets by on the individual ability of a Rooney or a Gerrard or a Lampard, rather than collective method or strategy. Now if that individual either isn’t playing or he doesn’t play well, that means you can’t win.
“Spain has an identity. If you black out the faces and don’t know who’s playing, you can still say this Spain because of the way they play. You can see Brazil because of the way they play. We haven’t got a method. We need to create an identity.”
To make matters worse, according to Barnes, the foreigners have now copied the one thing that set England apart from the rest of the world.
“Even when I played we were not technically better, not even against Tunisia, but we were physical. England was always bigger and stronger than everyone and that was the key to our victory. Now you can’t be overly physical, you see red and yellow cards being dished out.
“The continentals, the Latins and the South Americans have also embraced those physical aspects of our sport, and allied them to their natural technical ability. That is why, if you want to fight Brazil, they can fight you, while in technical football they will always outplay us.
“In England, if we’re not successful, we’re still talking about going back to fighting, instead of concentrating on the technical aspects of football where we have to improve.
“Even when I played for England we had this mentality of ‘up and at them, get stuck in’ and we keep repeating that. We don’t have a right to be stronger than the opposition but that is how we got by in the past.”
Barnes accepts there are wonderful Premier League passing sides but adds: “Where are the English players? The change is because of foreign players and foreign coaches. The national psyche hasn’t changed. England looks at the Premier League and thinks that is who they are. But that is not what English football is.”
Barnes, the son of Jamaican parents, has lived in England since the age of 13 and he worries that English football “is getting an inferiority complex, which it quickly needs to cure”.