Is this the biggest small step forward for English football?
In the run up to the European Championships and with the naming of a new manager and his squad dominating the news agenda, the FA have been quietly treading a route of reinvigoration. A path that will hopefully at long last, put paid to decades of underachievement.
This summer will see the completion of the FA’s new national football centre (NFC) at St George’s Park. Heralded as England’s answer to France’s famed Clairefontaine academy, there will now be a centre of excellence for our national game, not seen but desperately needed, since the demise of Lilleshall in 1999. As top clubs created their own academies to train young players, Lilleshall became redundant, with the task they performed so admirably in bringing through the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Owen and Scott Parker to name but a few, being taken in house by professional clubs. With the enormous resources of the Premier League era clubs, the training of top young players could scarcely be improved upon by a Lilleshall replacement and the NFC seems primed to address this, by investing far more time and resources, into the development of young, skilled English coaches.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson highlighted this aspect of the FA’s plans in several ways. As FA Chair Sir David Bernstein alluded to in his introductory press conference alongside his new manager, Hodgson “can walk into any training ground across the world and commands respect wherever he goes”. Hodgson looks set to become far more of a figurehead for English football, than his predecessor ever was, being heavily involved in all levels of the National game. As a coach with decades of experience and numerous invitations to sit on FIFA and UEFA technical committees, Hodgson is well placed to detail exactly what direction and training a young coach needs in order to continue in the professional game once his playing career is over.
His appointment and the saga of the replacement for Fabio Capello also served to show that the FA is right in putting such stock in this area. As Germany, Croatia and France have shown with the appointments of Joachim Low, Slaven Bilic and Laurent Blanc, there is much to be gained in the appointment of young aspiring managers at international level. Contrast their appointments with the advocated candidates for the England manager’s role being two sixty somethings, and it is clear there is a dearth of young coaching talent, which needs addressing.
Finally, yesterday saw the biggest small step forward of them all, with official recognition of the need for a shift in the English perception of what makes a good young footballer. With the FA announcing that eleven-a-side football will not come into play for children’s matches, until under-13 level, encouraging a more technical approach to the game, and discouraging a reliance on youthful physique and strength, the stepping stones appear to have rolled into place for a quiet, but pronounced change in how our children are introduced to the game.
With better and younger coaches, more technically able youngsters entering the professional system and a Football Association which appears to have heeded the successes of Spain and Germany – nations who of course embraced such grass-roots changes many years ago – perhaps we can hope for, in decades to come, a team of actual world beaters.
The quiet revolution that has now started, may produce unimaginably loud results in the years to come.