Mills: English football needed Barca wake-up call

Former Leeds and England player tells Simon Lansley that Barcelona’s Wembley triumph could be a blessing in disguise for English football.

Mills: "We should be looking at the bigger picture"

Barcelona’s humiliation of Manchester United in the Champions League final was the wake-up call English football needed, according to former Leeds defender Danny Mills.

The Spanish club recorded an astonishing 67% possession of the ball as they beat the recently-crowned Premier League champions 3-1 at Wembley.

And Mills, speaking at the FA’s Your Kids Your Say roadshow, believes everyone involved in the game in this country should aspire to the standard set by Pep Guardiola’s team who put ball retention above all else.

“Barcelona beating Manchester United the way they did, was possibly the best thing which could have happened for us,” he said.

“Barcelona are without doubt the best passing side on the planet. They don’t play with an out-and-out centre-forward – but they play with belief, they pass the ball and they play with lots of homegrown players.

“They won the competition with a midfielder playing at centre-half, they didn’t concede a corner, the goalkeeper kicked the ball once out of his hands, they played beautiful football. So not only are they technically the best, they are winners too – and everybody should want to emulate Barcelona.”

Mills was helping another former England defender Gareth Southgate showcase radical FA proposals for the youth game to coaches and league administrators from Yorkshire’s grassroots football community.

Southgate is now Head of Elite Development at the FA and has overseen the proposals, which entail scrapping league tables for children below secondary-school age, the introduction of five-a-side and nine-a-side football, summer football and a change in the date that determines which age-group children play in.

The changes are seen as the long-term answer to improving technique, preventing kids dropping out of the game and ultimately raising the standard of English football.

Mills in England action against Brazil

Mills said: “The fact that Barcelona played that well and won, I think everybody now wants their kid to learn to play like that.

“I played against Xavi when I was at Leeds and he was just a young lad, and he has stayed at the same club because they are such a great club. The players are brought up in the right way, and the majority of them are Spanish players which bodes well for the national team.

“English football is very exciting; the Premier League is watched by millions and has great atmosphere, but technically we are well behind.

“Until we address that, kids will see Premier League football on the TV and just want to emulate that. Unfortunately that’s not great for development and it’s not great for winning.

“So Barcelona winning in the manner and style they did, was phenomenal – for English football and world football.”

Mills believes it is time for some serious messages to sink in with parents who think their child has a chance of playing professional football, and subsequently put too much pressure on kids.

“All the people involved in kids football and grassroots football almost have to disassociate themselves from the Premier League. The percentage of kids making it into professional football is so small that you can almost say it’s not going to happen to anyone you know.

“So people should be looking at the bigger picture – football should be about enjoyment for kids, it’s about them having a good time.”

The 34-year-old has been actively involved in grassroots football for the last eight years because of his own children.

He said: “I recently saw a seven-year-old goalkeeper score by kicking the ball down the pitch and everyone was cheering. I don’t want to see that.

“I would much rather see 10 passes between team-mates and see them miss the target at the end of a great move. That is what we have to teach kids, and they will embrace it.

“There are so many volunteers – dads, teachers, mums – who do a fantastic job with all they do for kids’ football, but they all have to realise that change is needed. If you stand still, you get left behind – and I think the FA have realised that and want to push things in a different direction.

“But change takes time. German football took 12 years to put these changes in place, Spanish football has been doing this for 20 years; I’ve just come back from Brazil and they have been doing it for forever! So to change the whole ethos and mentality of English football is going to take time.

“I am a strong believer that if you play the game the right way for long enough and coach kids properly – then yes, you may lose a few games to begin with but eventually, just like Barcelona, Spain or Brazil, it will pay off and it will come good.

“The professional game and grassroots football are almost completely separate. There’s no correlation between a game of seven-year-olds on a Saturday morning and a Premier League match later in the day.”

With thanks to Simon Lansley of Connect Sport.

Danny Mills joined BBC Radio 5 Live’s Monday Night Club last night for a debate on the FA’s proposals for youth football. You can listen to the show here (go to 1:37.15).

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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. Rob Bailey on June 7, 2011 at 2:25 pm

    Danny is spot on – but we have had more than one ‘wake – up call’ but dont seem very good at heeding them.It is not exactly breaking news that Spain,Germany and Holland are light years in front of us in terms of player development and they have achieved this by investing in grassroots football – not just talking about it.Just look at the amount of UEFA’B’,’A’ or ‘Pro’ licence coaches that coach in their youth teams – thousands – compared to Britain.
    Its good Danny et al are talking – but are the FA’s REALLY listening?And more importantly – are they prepared to help fund it?

  2. Finlason on June 15, 2011 at 3:57 pm

    Number one: passing the ball without drawing at least one player first or without someone being in a better position than you are is fundamentally wrong in all team sports. If you’re not challenged, go it alone!
    Number two: the reason why Barcelona were able to dominate is obvious; the marking was dreadful (as it generally is these days) and the backs are far too big and cumbersome to cope with more agile forwards. In addition, they often tackle with the wrong leg, which is unforgivable in a professional footballer (who’s coaches them how to tackle properly?).
    Number three: the game has now been so far biased towards forwards, that it’s almost impossible to hit someone hard in the tackle and intimidate them without conceding a free kick. Not England’s fault, simply a change to the whole ethic of the sport which is extremely undesirable. Speed, aggression, stamina and sheer doggedness are equally, and some would say even more important, than being able to pass a ball 30 yards or bounce the ball on your head 30 times!
    Remedies: Smaller, faster backs, who should be able to outrun any forward; lessons in how to time a tackle properly for maximum effect; much more aggression in the midfield; NEVER pass the ball unless under the circumstances described above; NEVER concede ground in your own half or leave only one player upfield.

  3. Andy W on July 18, 2011 at 9:51 pm

    Hey Finlason, you make it sound so easy – could put Jose Mourinho and the managers of the international teams that failed to stop Spain out of a job. Except, Mourinho did have an effective way of closing the game down against Barca with Inter (not even with the sort of defender you talk about). Actaully, you have misread the type of passing game Barca play… I don’t know what level you’ve played at, but if it is a good one you should know how hard it is to play against a team full of one touch players.
    Hope you’ve save Barca’s brilliant win against Arsenal – that first half was easy the best play I have ever seen from any team.

  4. Michael on July 26, 2011 at 1:11 pm

    wow its the first time I’ve heard a pro footballer talking like this ‘I’d rather see 10 passes and miss goal scoring opportunity’ than see ‘keeper kick the ball down the field and score’,

    I’ve been trying to get this message across for years, quality not quantity, however; all the local youth leagues and county fa’s are concerned with are numbers, how many team, players etc do we have in our league etc.

    which they think means they are doing a good job by getting kids out of the armchairs, also parents are driving the incessant need to win at all costs, results are everything and all games result driven,

    I see so many small technically gifted kids drop out of football, because they cant compete with the bigh athletic kids, who have less ability,

    what you end up with is playing football in straight lines with everyone running after the ball,

    neither have the academies got it right, have a look at there stats on umbers breaking through, again so many released too early because of lack of physical strength …. at ages far to young to be assessed ….. irrespective of all the sports science

    also those that are released, where do they go .. back into poor quality youth football …… and there arent many youth teams where the coach insists on playing short passing from side to side to go forward

    or into the semi pro system where most managers and coaches aint even qualified and play even worse football …. players being encouraged to haf kill each other

    lol, I’ll eat my words when the blazer brigade at county and national fa ever get their act together!!!!

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