I said to anyone that would listen that England wouldn’t go through the group, 2 defeats and 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?
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
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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