Beaten at the World Cup
The final whistle blew in Bloemfontein; the scoreboard read Germany 4 – 1 England. The Three Lions well and truly beaten, embarrassed even, by a vibrant and youthful German side. The so-called ‘golden generation’ demolished at the hands of a new look arch-nemesis. The humiliating exit from the 2010 World Cup was a new low in the modern era for the English national side – an incredible feat considering the shortcomings of the ‘wally with the brolly’ in the previous campaign. But somehow, failing to even qualify for the 2008 European Championships seemed more forgivable than the team’s whimpering, but unsurprising elimination in South Africa.
England’s inability to meet expectations at major tournaments has almost become synonymous with its football in the past two decades. The Brazilians will provide flair; the Germans will be efficient if not remarkable; the Italians will be defensively organized; and England will underachieve. In the aftermath of last summer’s events Fabio Capello became the latest England manager subjected to intense criticism from the press and fans. Before Capello, it was Steve McLaren and Sven Goran Eriksson, and even earlier Kevin Keegan and Glenn Hoddle, but to suggest that the England national side’s failure rests upon the foibles of the coach would be unfair and unforgivably naive.
Whom to Blame?
Throughout the footballing world the English have a reputation of ignoring the elephant in the room. The failings of the team are blamed on managers’ tactics, fatigue or just plain old bad luck when perhaps, the real reasons can be found a little closer to home. The FA, the governing body for football in England, has had its problems well documented over recent years, and if the issues facing the national side are to be addressed, the FA must first tackle its own deficiencies, and make much-needed changes to the way the game is run in England.
The constant battles for power in the FA boardroom between members with conflicting interests, coupled with the continual departures of senior figures have made it impossible for long-term strategies to be implemented for the good of the English game. As a result the national side has suffered. A recent parliamentary report reiterated the need for reform at the FA and a select committee has urged the restructuring process to begin promptly or risk government intervention.
The report identified concerns regarding the standard of youth development and coaching in England, highlighting a lack of strategic planning and insufficient funding. The committee concluded –
“We recommend that the FA review expenditure at the grass roots. It should benchmark spending on the grassroots against the leading European countries, comparing both absolute funding and funding as a proportion of generated income, to help form a view as to whether English football should be spending more on this important component of the game, with a particular emphasis on coaching education.”
A rethink of how wealth is distributed between the professional game and the national game may be required. Currently there is a fifty-fifty split, but suggestions have been made that the professional game needs the funding less than the national game. Increasing finances for the latter would hugely benefit youth development, and in particular, help improve the quality of coaching, which has been the subject of staunch criticism.
Germany’s relative success at last year’s World Cup was the result of an overhaul of the German coaching and youth systems – a decision that was triggered by a dreadful performance at Euro 2000, finishing bottom of their group. England fared only slightly better in the tournament, finishing only one place above Germany and were eliminated before the knockout stage. While the German football association recognized the need for change, the FA buried their collective heads in the sand. A decade on and Germany’s new generation is reaping the rewards, as England continue to falter on the world stage. A radical shake-up of the system may be the only answer.
Dearth of UEFA Qualified Coaches
A shortage of qualified coaches in England has led to the development of players that simply aren’t good enough to compete at the highest level of international football. With just under 3,000 UEFA qualified coaches, England has fallen far behind some of its European competitors. Compared with Germany’s 32,000, Spain’s 29,000 and Italy’s 27,000 it is clear why England have failed to produce the players capable of impressing on the international stage.
To cope with the physical rigors of the Premier League, far too much focus in England is placed upon a player’s physicality (size, strength, speed) while technique and intelligence has been, and still is, neglected. Smaller, more technically gifted players are overlooked at a young age and ultimately slip through the net. According to the FA’s director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, attitudes towards coaching must change and improvements must be made to the current, flawed system if the national side is to be successful at major tournaments.
“Creativity and subtlety in the final third is probably something neglected in all the age groups. That is something we have to transform in academies. You have to be doing those things at 12-13 and one of the key areas is playing in-between opposing players, looking forward or diagonally. I think we look at the safety pass too early.”
In the last decade, England have been starved of small, technically gifted ball players, with the exception of Paul Scholes, but Jack Wilshere’s development over the past year has propelled him to the forefront of the England-setup. To experience sustained periods of success though, one Jack Wilshere is not enough; England must be able to produce three, four, even five players with similar ability, and at the same time. England’s lack of such a player was extremely evident during this summer’s under-21 European Championships. The Young Lions failed to advance past the group stage, and despite earning a credible draw against Spain – the champions-in-waiting, the gulf in class between the two sides was frighteningly obvious, particularly while in possession of the football.
In England, teams start playing 11-a-side from Under-11 onwards. Children are playing on pitches far too big, so the game becomes more about physical superiority. Compare that with other major European countries. Spain, Italy and France do not move to full-sized pitches until Under-14, allowing for a greater number of touches and lengthier spells of possession for individual players at a young age.
FA Licensed Coaches’ Club
Gareth Southgate, the FA’s head of elite development, has admitted there is a need to develop a higher standard of player and coach, but is adamant that the necessary steps are being taken and that attitudes towards the game are changing.
“The objective is to produce technically gifted players who are able to make decisions. We have always been able to produce some technically gifted players – Paul Scholes is a classic example – but we need more of them and more quality coaches to come through the system. We need to encourage parents to encourage their kids to develop skills rather than focus on winning at the very earliest age. If we don’t start implementing some of these long-term changes, then we will never have an opportunity of winning things and never progress to be as good as we could possibly be.”
Since Southgate’s appointment earlier this year the former Middlesbrough manager has introduced a new trade association for coaches. The FA Licensed Coaches’ Club (FALCC) will take precedence over the current FA Coaches Association, which has around 10,000 members – less than ten per cent of coaches qualified to level one or above. The aim is to have up to 75 per cent of coaches associated with the FALCC. In order to retain membership coaches will have to undergo continual professional development every year in an attempt to drastically improve the quality of coaching.
It is apparent that the FA have finally recognized the need for drastic changes to the system, albeit belatedly. When England failed to qualify for back-to-back World Cups in 74 and 78, questions were raised regarding the technical ability of the players. It was accepted that improvements had to made, but they never were. It may be too late for the next generation of England internationals, and there is no guarantee that changes implemented now will result in major trophies ‘coming home’, but they almost certainly never will if nothing is done.
Written by Guest Author – Nicholas Godden. Follow Nicholas Godden on Twitter @nicholasgodden.