I said to anyone that would listen that England wouldn’t go through the group, 2 defeats GregDykeand a draw were my predictions and sadly they came to pass. We just aren’t that good anymore. Johnson, Jagielka, Cahill and Baines playing in the same side in the Premier league would probably manage around eighth to tenth, why do we think they can keep the world at bay?

So what is the problem here? I remember at the start of last season Fashion and Media Executive (and part time footballer) Rio Ferdinand decided to have a go at Newcastle and Man City for fielding too few Englishman, and that we were playing sub standard imports. Funny that some of those ‘sub standard’ imports are still at the World Cup while England have already arrived home. Clubs don’t owe any debt to the national team. They pay a lot of cash to have these players and receive the bare minimum if a player gets injured on international duty – not to mention the loss of an important player. I, like most English fans, would love to see more home grown players play in the Prem, but would we want it at the expense of quality? Less English players are playing in the Premier league, and that is a worry, but why isn’t the quality coming through?

It isn’t as simple as England and the UK don’t have any talented youngsters. Talent can come from any nationality or background, there are 2 Scottish brothers playing youth football in Spain, Ray and Jack Harper. Jack in particular is very highly thought of by his Real Madrid coaches – it will be interesting to see how he develops as he could be a real boost to the Scottish game. Eric Dier is an English Under 21 international currently plying his trade at Lisbon’s Sporting Club – another player well worth keeping tabs on as his career progresses. So having talented youngsters is not the issue.

What of coaching? At UEFA ‘A’ level, England have 1,162 qualified coaches, at the ‘Pro License’ level we have 203. When we compare these figures to Germany and Spain, you start to see the beginning of a problem. Germany has roughly 5,500 ‘A’ Level, and over 1,000 at ‘Pro’, the gulf between England and Spain is even greater. Spain has 12,720 coaches at ‘A’ and 2,140 at ‘Pro’. So, Germany has roughly 5 times as many in both and Spain has more than 10 times as many in both. Even more worrying then these bare figures is the disparity between coaches to players shown on the table.

Coaching isn’t the only problem here though but it is a start. Some blame should also be apportioned to the Premier league – ironic that the introduction of the Prem was originally aimed at helping the national team – and money, media pressure, grassroots pressure and the attitude in grassroots football.

In my opinion it is the grass roots area of the problem that needs to be addressed primarily. If Greg Dyke really wants to improve the standard of English football long term, rather than just his tenure in charge, then he should have a chat with the Belgium former technical director, Michael Sablon. Sablon travelled round Europe’s top youth academies with La Masia, Jong Ajax, Clarefontaine and the Sporting Club amongst those visited

He went back to Belgium and drew up a charter of how he wanted football to be coached and played in Belgium. This included detailed information on the tactics, formations, style of play and training methods that he had viewed as most effective in developing young players. He took this document to every youth club and school that played football in Belgium to discuss the ideas and to help people understand it. Once done, he told every youth side in the country that they were to play a fluid, flexible and progressive 4-3-3. At the same time, huge investment was put into improving the level of coaching, starting with the coaches in schools and youth sides. Each year, the best players and coaches were taken to one of eight government funded academy facilities where they would stay for a month. This allowed both the coaches and the players to further learn from their counterparts and develop and improve on their methods and ideas. When they returned to their local sides or schools, they could then take the new ideas with them and in turn help to improve others in the area. The national team are only really now seeing the results of this strategy, with a number of the players in the squad still in their teens or early 20’s. Sablon has said that when they put this in place, the furthest thing from their mind was making the national team a force. The entire focus was developing young players, not targeting the next World Cup or Euros as is always the case with England. The idea was that once you have managed to learn how to develop players, and are managing to do so then results will naturally follow.
Now, I’m not saying Dyke should copy this method – there are far more schools and youth teams playing football in the UK then there were in Belgium at the time which makes it much more difficult. But they could certainly take the key ideas and philosophies to adapt to their own agenda. The Premier League is a multi billion pound industry if an extra £50 million a year was taken from the TV revenue to help fund grassroots and coaching at that level we would be making a good start. Granted, there are probably far better things to spend that money on outside of football, but better the grassroots where money is scarce then the financial behemoths of the Premier league getting the cash, right?
One thing that will be more difficult for the FA to influence is the English mentality at grass roots. Go down to watch a kids match any Satuday or Sunday morning and you will see unnecessary pressure being put on them. I was lucky as a kid, I was a good player in a good team, but I was never under pressure from parents or managers. I’ve seen games, where you have a parent standing on the side line raging and shouting abuse at their son for misplacing a simple pass, or getting tackled. That sort of mentality will always hold kids back. They would prefer not to make an error and get shouted at so they just do the least possible to ensure they aren’t at fault. Not only does this hold back any form of expressive play, or skills, but it isn’t enjoyable for them. Football, especially at that age but throughout your life, should above all else be enjoyable. If it isn’t kids aren’t going to want to play.

The other thing wrong at that level is the desire to win above all else, including helping kids develop their play. So often at junior football you will see one kid who is bigger, stronger and quicker than the others. When this happens you will also find a manager whose only tactic is to get the others to give the big kid the ball as quickly as possible and then he does the rest. At this sort of age we should focus more on possession, positioning and skills rather than winning. Football under the age of 14 should be small sided, with small goals where you have to make a number of passes before a goal can be scored. This method is used in coaching in the UK, but not enough importance and attention is given to it. This negates the physical differences that can be prevalent at that age, and teaches them the basic skills of football.

So, to sum up the problems; coaching, business and finance, media pressure, parental pressure, mentality and junior football structure. None of these are quick fixes. Greg Dyke has a lot of work to do if he is to fulfil his promise of fixing English football. Only when we give the youngest players an improved start in football, can we hope to improve the players that come through. Structural changes at junior level, increasing the number, and improving the quality of coaches at that level comes first, then coaches into academies and finally the senior game. Sadly, it is probably too long term for the FA to be truly prepared to follow it through, and we will end up with another botched attempt at a quick fix, such as a ‘B’ team structure with an extra division.



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