So… where does English football go from here?

Now the dust has settled on England’s World Cup debacle, Club Website editor Dan Pope looks at where the national game goes from here and asks what can be done at all levels of the game to help turn things around.

England shirtSo that’s that.  Another World Cup is over.

Sunday night’s scrappy – some would say x-rated – final in Soccer City drew to a close a tournament that began in a sea of colour and noise one month earlier and continued in the same vein as the world’s best football teams battled it out over a memorable and historic 31 days for South Africa.

At least some of them lasted the month. England’s humbling at the hands of Germany in Bloemfontein feels like a lifetime ago already and, after a shambles of a tournament, it seems everyone has been feasting on the carcass of England’s World Cup ever since.

Supporters, pundits and sports journos alike have all taken their turn to point out what’s wrong with the game in England, with nothing exempt from criticism.

The key factors suggested over a fortnight of introspection: an over-paid manager, over-hyped players, a fascination with 4-4-2, a professional structure that favours entertaining club football over a strong national side and a Football Association with little leadership, even less money and an inability to properly develop young talent.

Chris Waddle’s impassioned rant on BBC Radio 5 Live in the immediate aftermath of the Germany game struck a chord with many supporters, perhaps because he showed more passion than many of the England players had on the pitch.

The former England winger accused the FA of “sitting on their backsides doing nothing” before lamenting the lack of creative players coming through and asking of the FA: “Why don’t they look at other countries and say ‘how do they keep producing talent?’”

Of those “other countries” referred to, one has stood out above all others: Germany, Die Mannschaft, England’s World Cup nemesis and the team whose pace, movement and intelligent football made the Three Lions’ rigid 4-4-2 approach in South Africa look like something out of the Dark Ages.

Who would have thought, when Alan Shearer’s goal gave England a 1-0 win over Germany in Euro 2000, that, just one decade later, English football supporters, writers and pundits would be citing the German model as a beacon of best practice?

Fußball Fußball FußballBut, having left that tournament at the group stage – along with England, it must be said – and concerned about a lack of young talent coming through their ranks, the German FA, working alongside the Bundesliga, invested €500m in an overhaul of their youth development system.

Fast forward 10 years and Germany have won the European Championships at Under 17, Under 19 and Under 21 level in the space of two years and their entire World Cup squad is made up entirely of Bundesliga or Bundesliga B academy graduates.

What’s more, five members of last year’s Under 21 champion side – Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil – were all regulars in a Germany side that finished third, beating England’s ageing team along the way by playing bright, positive football.

Unfortunately, for those of you hoping the English FA might take a similarly drastic approach, there are a number of factors suggesting this is unlikely to happen.

With the collapse of Setanta, the repayment of Wembley loans and Mr Capello’s salary among other things, the FA aren’t likely to have half a billion euros to throw at anything any time soon and, even if they did, they’d no doubt have more difficulty dictating to Premier League clubs just how they should coach their young talent.

The whole system in Germany – from their academy setup to the winter break – is geared to aid the national team. The same cannot be said in England, where club football is king. The Premier League is the world’s most popular domestic league but, with so many foreign players on the books – only four in 10 players are English – opportunities for talented English youngsters are limited.

The link between the professional game and the England team is always one that causes much debate, but it’s a debate best left to other columns on other websites, while here at Club Website we take a look a bit closer to home and the game’s grassroots.

As ever, a failure for the national team has led the media to focus on grassroots development more than at any other time in the four-year tournament cycle, with familiar cries to rip up the whole coaching system and start again from scratch in a bid to produce technically better footballers to match our continental cousins.

Sir Trevor BrookingBut are things quite as bad as has been made out?

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development, admits that the problems facing the FA will not be solved overnight.

“I am acutely aware there are no quick fixes and easy answers,” he told the Sunday Times. “My priority is on ensuring that, into the future, the England Manager has the very best talent at his disposal.”

But, whilst a long way off, Brooking believes the stepping stones to achieving this scenario are steadily being put in place.

One of these, the long-awaited National Football Centre at St George’s Park has finally been given the green light and is expected to open by summer 2012.

The centre, which Brooking sees as “vitally important for English football”, will provide a home for English coaches at all levels from the national side manager to local youth team coaches – an estimated 50,000 coaching courses a year will take place there – and will provide “a symbol of national pride and hope for the future.”

Another cause for optimism is the FA’s new coaching blueprint, The Future Game, which was published this summer and distributed to academies at every single Premier League and Football League club.

According to Brooking, the “vital and long overdue” document provides a “technical guide for youth coaches showing how we need to develop players to contest at the highest level of world football.”

The FA's Future GameThe 275-page document – which Sir Trevor discusses in detail with FC Business in the July edition of The Club House – has also been sent to all FA coaching staff and UEFA Pro Licence coaches.

It could be argued that this isn’t delivering the document “as widely as possible,” as Brooking believes the FA must, but it is at least a step in the right direction, as is the planned grassroots version of the document, due for publication later this year.

The impressive new blueprint should help improve the quality of coaching to those who have time to study it, but a bigger problem for the FA is having qualified coaches there in the first place to implement the new standards – something that Brooking sees as vital.

“I am convinced,” he says, “that, put simply, the key [to future success] is that we must have more and better coaches with access to more kids at an earlier age,” but a look at coaching numbers gives evidence of why England are playing catch-up.

Since England’s World Cup exit, there have been many people quick to highlight the disparity between the number of UEFA-licensed coaches in Germany (34,970), Spain (23,995) and Italy (29,240) with those in England (2,769).

In fact, these figures date from a UEFA audit over two years old. The latest FA figures reveal there are 4,349 UEFA-licensed coaches in England, while our turnover rate for new coaches is, according to Brooking, “now on a par with all of Europe’s leading nations.”

Whilst still a long way behind the competition, this suggests a significant step in the right direction, as do more than 22,000 other people currently undertaking an FA course for a UEFA-licenced qualification.

But it’s not all about numbers. The quality of training that these coaches receive is also crucial, which is why the FA has also introduced the FA Youth Award, which trains coaches specifically on how to work with players as young as five, using age-appropriate techniques.

Over 3,500 coaches have already taken this course and the FA have plans to introduce an age-appropriate elite UEFA ‘A’ Licence for the 5-11, 12-16 and over-17 age groups, something that is yet to be introduced elsewhere in Europe.

FA logoWith some decent plans on the table, let’s hope that the FA’s current financial predicament doesn’t prevent them from getting off the ground. It’s debatable whether or not a supermarket chain should hold such sway on the future development of young English players, but the FA will be very pleased that Tesco have extended their sponsorship deal for another four years.

Some 1.5 million 5-11 year-olds have already passed through the Tesco Skills programme and, with funding guaranteed until the next World Cup, more coaches can be directed towards such a crucial area.

“This 5-11 age group is key,” says Brooking. “These youngsters must have mastered the basics skills of controlling the ball in their mini-soccer games so they can pass and dribble the ball with confidence. If not, they will struggle to cope with the tactical demands of 11-a-side football once they get into their teens.

“We have to encourage flair and technique so that as players get older we can teach tactical awareness and good decision-making if we are to stand a chance of competing with other flourishing nations.”

Brooking’s aims should be music to the ears of fans and pundits alike – they may even placate Chris Waddle – but everyone knows that talk is cheap. Actions speak louder than words.

But we’re all in this together. The FA has a responsibility to ensure that funding isn’t diverted away from youth coaching to plug the gaps elsewhere in their budget, Premier League clubs must work with the FA wherever they can – the release of players for this week’s Under 19 European Championship is a positive step – and those of us involved in kids’ football on parks up and down the country must also do our part.

If we want players at the 2018 World Cup and beyond who can unlock defences with a dribble or feint, then the playing fields of this country – and this applies right across the UK – are where they will start to develop those skills.

I know that there is army of fantastic football volunteers out in force every weekend and the vast majority have nothing but the best intentions but, as I walk through my local park on a Sunday morning, it still alarms me how often the shouts from the mini-soccer touchlines praise safety-first football: a great clearance here, a hoof downfield there.

Some kids playing footballIt is this culture that Brooking is hoping to change, and he knows that the FA can’t do it on their own: “We need the public’s support to drive a sea change away from the outdated image of kids’ football in this country – one driven by results with scant regard for developing future players.

“At The FA there are dedicated people working very hard for the good of our game but we alone cannot provide all the solutions – we need everyone who cares about football to play their part and help us implement our new playing philosophy at all levels.”

It’s hard to disagree with this last point. As we move on from South Africa 2010, the FA must take the lead and produce top quality coaches who, in turn, can produce the players to bridge the ‘skills gap’ between England and other nations, but we’ve all got to buy into their strategy if we are to get anywhere.

If we want to produce footballers like Spain or Germany, we have to make sure that kids are comforable on the ball and are free to express themselves as they learn the game.

So, with this in mind, here’s a plea to all those dedicated volunteers and parents involved in kids’ football for the season ahead:

Suggest the odd stepover or dribble, reward playing the ball out from the back, encourage that defender to stride out with the ball at his feet. Let that player express themself and, if it goes wrong, keep their head up and get them to try it again.

And remember… does it really matter what the scoreline is?

Dan Pope, Club Website editor. Follow Dan on Twitter at @danpope.

Tell us what you think!

Are you confident for the future of English football? What do you think of coaching in kids football? Is the FA doing enough to nuture the stars of the future? Or are they fighting a losing battle against an outdated results-driven culture?

Whatever you think, have your say in our comments section below!

Dan Pope on LinkedinDan Pope on Twitter
Dan Pope
Writer at Teamer
Freelance writer, editor and copywriter, with a passion for grassroots sport. A right back turned football writer, Dan is the former editor of Club Website and has been lucky enough to work in the field of grassroots and community sport for the last 10 years.

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  1. nick bell on July 14, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    In this country we are producing a lot of talented footballers and don’t forget we have progressed a lot in the last ten years we have brought in small sided games which are not based on winning leagues for 8,9,10, yrs. It is disappointing that a lot of the talent disappears after they move on to club acadamys which throw them on the scrap heap if they have not got that so called x factor!!!!!

    If you work at the grass roots level it is evident that it is enjoyment from, supporter all on shoestring budget, facilities in this country from junior club to open – age are often a disgrace.

    It is over 15 seasons now that SKY have changed our sport from a viewing point and all the money has created a product which might please the Eastern or worldwide audience who cant get to matches but on the other hand its created enormous debts to clubs and the only ones to benefit are the players salaries.

    If you have a player on 100k a week and the man on the street lucky to earn a fifth of that in a year you can see where the problems lie. Premier lge across to Football Lge has to restructure earnings and make it affordable to supporters, restrict overseas players to maybe four or five per club and give the up coming youth chance to emerge.

    One final point how often does are press make out that USA football is a second rate football their university and college facilitys are well above are standard and they dont have an open-age league which shows what playing talent they constantly produce!!!!!!!!

  2. Spencer Courtis on July 14, 2010 at 8:38 pm

    The National team of England is about as dead as the national team of South Africa – the only difference between the two is their rankings.

    As our quest, our lust for victory at local club level in England grew over the decades, we extended the boundaries of local belonging, of honour and integrity at this level and bought in players from our rivals and neighbours. It didn’t matter anymore that James lived in, played for and represented the opposition camp, ‘we bought him to win our matches and he now plays and wins for us’ . With that we discovered that we no longer had to play to win the league, but that the highest bidder now PAYED to win the league! And so, we imported players from all over the world to do this for us, win the league, and even nationalised these players to play in the national team.

    Need I say more?

    I think that in terms of the diabolical financial proportion the whole game has grown into, England, has reached the point of no return – money rules and national pride and its team does not generate it!

  3. Umberto Righetti on July 15, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Great article Dan. As someone who’s coached kids for 12 years and run the largest grassroots club in Australia I share your views. One of the KPIs we introduced was how many coaches in our club held coaching certificates. The club would pay for coaches to get their certificates as we saw this as wise investment for the future.

    We also encourage players from our top Premier league team with coaching qualifications to coach our A and B graded teams at all age levels from U6 to U18. As well as ensuring our most talented children are getting the best quality coaching it creates a bond between the kids and our top team who will support their heroes when they play on a Saturday afternoon.

    Football Federation Australia have also recently produced their blueprint for the future development of the game and are to be applauded for this.

    I truly believe the single biggest factor that will lead to Australia competing to be World Champions in football, as we’ve done in many other sports, will be the shouts that come from the sidelines by grassroots coaches of teams aged U6 to U11.

    If coaches encourage dribbling, tricks, passing and don’t bother about the score or making mistakes, we will produce better players. When they are older they will have the skills to apply advanced tactics and learn how to win.

  4. Alisdair Ross on July 16, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    There are so many reasons why the English failed at the world cup and why we have not talent coming through the system.

    Fabio Cappello is an Italian, why cannot the FA find a suitable Englishman from the 50+million people that live in this country, did they not learn from the mistake of Eriksson, where we had the same, and England team with no passion, and inept ability of a coach to make changes when things are going wrong on a football pitch.

    I run a football club that struggles to survive each year, we have Managers that turn up every week to training, and every match for nothing, England reportedly pay Cappello £6,000,000 a year to preside over 10 or 11 games a year, that’s over £500,000 a game, that kind of money would run our club until 2060, the FA should be disgusted with this.

    The players look tired, and not motivated when they play for the national team, do they play too much club football, do they get paid too much, do we have to many foreign players in our game, do all the premier youth teams have too many foreign players, yes to all of them I think, and the FA need to look at it, why do you get paid to play for your country when it should be an honour, why should they get paid more in a week they the people watching earn in a year, all the rules on what clubs spend on wages and players should be looked at, this would leave more money to be spent where it should be, and that’s in schools, colleges and grass roots, as the facilities compared to other countries is just not up to scratch. On tours to Holland and Belgium they had better facilities than we do now, and that was 10 years ago.

    But brining youth through has many of its own problems, we don’t see kids in the street or down the park playing as much football these days, we over coach our youth to playing systems instead of enjoying the game and allowing natural talent, Cryuff who taught him the Cryuff turn, no one it was natural.
    All these academies that were supposed to produce all our talent has not worked, kids go into them and are discarded at a young age and chose not to play anymore, thus why we have a lack of players at Grass roots. In the 80’s and 90’s teams used to look at the lower leagues and buy players with the view of playing them in the first teams, not they buy the players and put them in the reserves never to be seen again, or club get youth players from all over the world so the youth systems are full of foreign players.

    We play at step 6 in the football league where some players get paid a small amount, and in the league above it has been report that some are on £200 plus a game, and this is all due to higher wages in leagues above, as most are not worth being paid anything let alone that kind of money.

    I think it was Terry Butcher that had it right, The FA keep changing the manager when possibly it should be a lot of the FA that is changed, as in the past 10 years has the overall game in this country improved, a lot of money has been wasted on academies a various other projects to produce results and improved the state of the game, the question is has it improved, all that I know is that we have less money available to grass roots, and some of the stories about facilities in the country make us feel lucky to have changing rooms and a decent pitch.

    Will anything improve, I doubt it until the game is played and run by people that play the love of it, instead of the money rewards from it, bring back fun and individual talent, as you won’t see talents like Gascoigne, Hoddle and many other from the past.

  5. Kelly Timms on July 20, 2010 at 4:00 pm

    I am the coach of an under 8’s team, currently playing 6-a-side games on a mini soccer pitch. We are soon to go to 7-a-side in September.

    This way of coaching & playing the game (small-sided on a small pitch) is fantastic – it gives all the players lots of touches of the ball in a relatively small space which in turn allows the players to get accustomed to being put under pressure by the other team which in turn promotes pass/move in tight areas.

    This format will continue with this amount of players for a couple of years until they reach school year 7 (I believe) when the players will then end up on a much larger playing surface, with much larger goals, 10 other team mates & the offside rule to contend with!

    If you want to help the kids i suggest adding another player each year (after school year 4) this will allow them to continue to play on mini-soccer pitches, with smaller goals (not all about winning/losing) whilst continuing their footballing education (see reasons above).

    School Year – 3 Mini soccer 6 a-side
    School Year – 4 Mini soccer 7 a-side
    School Year – 5 Mini soccer 8 a-side
    School Year – 6 Mini soccer 9 a-side
    School Year – 7 Mini soccer 10 a-side
    School Year – 8 Mini soccer 11 a-side
    School Year – 9 Intermediate pitch with no offsides
    School Year – 10 Intermediate pitch with offsides

    Finally, at schools, Sports Day must return to being made competetive!

  6. Dot Eason on July 20, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    What do you expect? When we had our greatest teams young and old ENJOYED football and it didn’t matter if it was “jumpers for goal posts”. You could kick a tin round the streets like Dennis Law and love the game.

    So many teams are closing down now. Ground-grading is a farce where facilities are more important than a team. Kids are shouted at by parents and managers who are trying to live their failed lives through their kids.

    Teams which have about 20 supporters have to have massive stands and floodlights. Fines are too big. Players want money to play – even some on Sunday mornings. It will be interesting to see what happens with the credit crunch??

    All those teams ground-sharing, paying players and paying thousands a season with no income and only sponsors will need to look very carefully at their finances. We could end up with very small leagues and few teams and grounds.

    The trouble with English football is the Premier League – which I predicted as soon as it was mooted – and the culture of money. Non-league players don’t even want to buy a drink in the bar after the match and act as if they are some England player – but that might change after this world cup!! They don’t want to pay thier fines or membership money.

  7. msb on July 21, 2010 at 10:11 pm

    My son was “lucky” enough to be selected for an under 8’s academy squad, he went twice a week for training and had all the natural skills he was selected for trained out of him and played a total of 40 mins football during the 10 weeks he was there – he hated it, he wanted to play football and enjoy himself.

    He is now an under 12 playing for a local club he trains once a week plays most Saturdays for the whole game and is really enjoying his football. During the season in the local league he played against at least 10 of the same squad that were at the academy, who, when i spoke to their parents, had all left for the same reason, they didn’t play football and enjoy themselves.

    In contrast my daughter plays for the local centre of excellence run by the FA, chalk and cheese, the coaches strengthen their existing skills, encourage them to try things and let them make mistakes and help them learn from them, the ethos is to play to the best of your ability, improve the skills you’ve got, try new skills but most importantly to enjoy the game of football.

    We need to get this same level of coaching across the board for grassroots football and the players will naturally come through the system – until they get caught up in the money dominated leagues of professional football – when it will all be led by greed at the top.

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