West Midlands can only watch England v Brazil
England and Brazil always provide a blue riband moment on the international football stage.
But the 24th collision of these two very different football cultures arrives tonight with yet more despairing signals of the gloom engulfing our own region's quartet of major clubs.
In a season in which Albion's fading but generally-solid Premier League challenge is propping up the falls from grace by their partners along the M6 corridor, an England team will take to the pitch without a representative from Villa, Wolves, Albion or Blues for the 14th international in a row.
You have to go back to the Wembley friendly against Spain in November 2011 to find the last starter from this region – Villa's Darren Bent.
Indeed, the same player's 20-minute cameo as a substitute against Sweden in the match which followed was the last England football played by a man from our prime four clubs.
That Jack Butland, the budding young Birmingham City goalkeeper giving the region a fingernail grip on England representation,
But he's just been sold to Stoke City and loaned back to St Andrew's serves only to heighten the West Midlands' growing sense of insignificance.
Villa and Wolves are locked in survival struggles pushing both clubs into genuine crisis while Blues remain gridlocked by an ownership struggle which carries the threat of administration.
Against such a grim backdrop, the prestige Wembley fixture which throws together the polar opposites of England and Brazilian football.
On the night our game prepares to welcome Ashley Cole to its sacred 100 club, appears as a VIP party to which we have no access.
This all follows the recent selection of three England age-group teams (seniors, Under 21s and 19s) without a single player based on the patch. It is not as if the answers are flooding forward from the youth squads.
It was not always this way. When England last beat the fabled kings of South American football in March 1990, a young Aston Villa midfielder named David Platt featured for 90 minutes and strengthened his claims to go to Italy for that summer's World Cup. Waiting in the wings for an opportunity soon to follow was Wolves' Steve Bull.
Even recently, the portents were not so bleak. Just four years ago, a very different Villa were third in the Premier League on a club record run of seven successive away wins when Fabio Capello selected SEVEN of Martin O'Neill's squad for a friendly against Germany in Berlin.
Perhaps the one-cap breakthrough by Matt Jarvis a couple of years later, following in Bull's footsteps, was the high water mark of Mick McCarthy's Molineux years.
Certainly, the decline since then has been sharp and punishing for both clubs casting a shadow over the region which frankly looks to be getting even darker.
And the permanent presence in the England squad of so many players who have their links to this patch – Joleon Lescott and Daniel Sturridge were born in Birmingham while Messrs Barry, Milner, Downing and Young drifted from Villa like the promise of 2009 – only adds to the image of lost opportunity.
Could Albion not provide some England relief? Sadly no.
Should Ben Foster have a change of heart about playing for England, Roy Hodgson would be delighted to hear from him.
But the Baggies' Premier League advance has been built on an astute and successful plundering of the overseas market.
Not one of their goals this season has been scored by a player qualified to wear the Three Lions. The last to do so was Liam Ridgewell in April.
Putting aside the under-studying that was Scott Carson's occasional role, Albion have no immediate contenders to pick up the mantle of their prize collection of early Eighties stars led by Bryan Robson, Cyrille Regis and Derek Statham.
Of course, since its halcyon days in the post-war years, the region has never been a prolific provider of England players.
Mention of Statham reminds us of the valid view that a move to the northern citadels or the capital was the quickest way for any West Midlands-based player to reach the England team.
From Broadbent to Barlow, from Mortimer to Morley, we can tell a collective story of footballers disgracefully under-rewarded by their country.
But the problems of presence now are nothing to do with favouritism. Our football – still to boast a single Champions League campaign despite population, passion and infrastructure to match any of the competing regions – has drifted into a dangerous period of decay.
England v Brazil? Enjoy. It will be a brief distraction before grim reality returns for fans this weekend.
By Martin Swain
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