Tuesday, 6 July 2010
Seek and Lilleshall Find (part 2 of 2)
Continued from our piece yesterday so scroll down to read in order...
So if ever there were a time for centralisation, it is now. Trevor Brooking understands this and as the FA collectively back-slapped after hiring Capello, a lone voice could scarcely be heard above the din. Brooking asserted: "We must not let the debate on coaching and player development drop. We must invest and transform what we do." The coaches (in the main) understand this too. The problem is that the FA has ceded power to the Premier League, whose chairmen’s eyes glint with ever-growing dollar signs, presiding over clubs that specialise in self-interest. Until this overarching desire for Premier League clubs to make as much money as humanly possible in the short term is subordinated by the English game dire need for high-quality youngsters in the long term, the inevitable result is going to be a poor England team – with the odd high spot only arising due to home advantage (1966, 1996) or a rare confluence of good players and good fortune (1990).
Underlining the task at hand most drastically was the startling fact that between the 2002-03 season and Capello taking over as England boss, just 53 English players had made Premier League debuts and gone on to start four or more matches. When you consider that this equates to a mere 10 English players coming through a season, this is a truly staggering indictment on the state of home-grown youth development in the Premier League. Especially when 76% of the starting XIs on the opening day of the first-ever Premier League season back in 1992 were English. Of course, a larger pool is not always a better pool but it would be nice to have that luxury all the same. Power therefore has to be wrested from the clubs. If they are unprepared to cooperate – their academy systems are patently not helping the national side any – then the FA must fight its corner and prove that the Lilleshall model from over a decade ago worked for the clubs as well as the national side. Michael Owen, Joe Cole, Jermaine Defoe, Sol Campbell, Jamie Carragher, Scott Parker, Andy Cole, Wes Brown… quite a production line.
The overhaul of the youth development programme in this country should be dramatic. All kids under the age of 15 should not be allowed near an 11-aside pitch. Their touch and ball retention will be better honed playing five and seven-aside games. Playing it out from the back and being able to work the ball from tight areas would be integral. To compete at the very highest level, virtues that the Brazilians, Dutch and Spanish take for granted must be instilled into young English players from the very start of their development. If an 11-year-old is playing on a full size pitch, the only ones that are rewarded are those who can kick hard, run a lot and tackle. And so sat there watching England consistently play three or four passes and then launch it 40/50 yards out of play in South Africa was just evidence of a 20-year habit these players just cannot refine. As if to emphasise the point, England’s futsal side (an indoor, five-aside version of the game that places an onus on first touch and short passing) lost twice to Cyprus on consecutive days back in February, lost 4-2 and 6-3 in a double-header against Andorra in October 2007 and lost 16-0 against Poland in 2006.
And so back to the French. Ignore the ignominy of their World Cup exit if you can for the time being. As far as progressive youth development plans go, it is the French who are leading the pack in Europe. The academy director at Lille, Frédéric Paquet, makes a fair point when he states: “At Lille we have 60 players between the age of 16 and 19 and of that group we think only 10 have the ability to make it as professionals. Why, as a sport, are we spending €80m for a 70% failure rate?" Why indeed. It is because the clubs, be it Manchester United or Monaco, are playing a percentages game. If a David Beckham or Thierry Henry is brought through the ranks, then his success negates the detrimental financial effects of dumping a host of 16 year olds on the scrapheap after investing in them for 6 years. And the effect on the player? An afterthought at best.
Paquet’s proposal is to have Lilleshall-style super academies serving the best interests of the players, with the clubs having to take a back seat in this department. The obvious benefit from this model is that the very best players will grow accustomed to playing with each other on a daily basis; improvement in player development would therefore be exponential. And whereas in France, former Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier has been vested with complete control over youth development in his role as technical director at the FFF, Brooking must watch from the sidelines with his hands tied. His role in England should mirror Houllier’s in France. But the clubs remain as obdurate as ever.
Lilleshall was closed due to Howard Wilkinson’s assertion that although a success, the “sample of boys is too small”, which presumably, in part, is code for “it’s too expensive”. Well, with the TV money flooding into the FA coffers in biblical proportions, a tried and tested system, happily aped by Europe’s superpowers is surely the starkest option available at the present time. A corner has to be turned, that much is clear. But the FA must move now or forever wait to be pushed. Adam Bushby