The FA Fiddles as the Three Lions Burn

June 27, 2010 - 06096781 date 27 06 2010 Copyright imago dejected England supporter After England Lost 4 1 FIFA World Cup 2010 Round of 16 Germany v England 27th June 2010 PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxUK men Football World Cup DFB National team international match Bloemfontein Mangaung supporters Spectators Single Vdig xsk 2010 vertical Highlight premiumd.

With a few weeks perspective after another predictable and disappointing quad-annual collapse by the latest version of England’s best-team-in-a-generation, the FA is starting to weigh in.  In article published yesterday in the Mirror, the FA revealed its new strategy – groom an English coach to take over for Fabio Capello in two years, bring a few more youngsters into the team and look at the way the Spanish national team trains.

Sorry, but that just won’t do the trick.  The sad truth is that England is a long way from producing a team that approaches its fans’ overinflated expectations.  Without a radically different approach, the FA is dooming the Three Lions to a permanent position as one of the middling European squads – closer to Denmark or Switzerland than to Spain or Germany.

So, where to start?  First, let’s dispense with the easy quick fixes that will have no real impact.  Whether Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren or the reincarnated ghost of Brian Clough, the name of the current coach has a modest impact on the result.  National team coaches are not like club team coaches whose job is to spot, develop and nurture talent.  Great club coaches excel at making their meal from scratch.  National team coaches must reheat a dinner that has already been prepared by others.

Similarly, other insta-cures will also mean little.  Winter breaks, different formations, and more/less access to the WAGs during the tournament may make for good copy but do not really change the results.  None of these actions will lead to a significant improvement for the Euro 2012 or World Cup 2014.  Instead, what is needed is a complete revolution in English soccer training from the youth on up that can yield a better result in 8-10 years.

First and foremost, increasing the number of skilled, trained coaches in England is vital.  These numbers have been bandied about over the past few weeks, but they need repeating:

Number of coaches by country possessing UEFA’s top coaching qualification:

Germany – 34,970

Italy – 29,420

Spain – 23,995

England – 2,769

Of those smattering of top-qualified English coaches, the majority work with senior players meaning that only a small handful are even available to work with England’s next generation.  With their major rivals having 10 times or more the amount of top coaches, that means that ten times the young players from those nation can receive quality training and develop and hone critical ball skills.  If the FA has any role to play, this would seem to be the most obvious and critical – to commit to increasing the quantity of qualified coaches.

Once those coaches are in place, what should they teach?  Ball control, interior passing and possession retention.  Watching Spain, Holland and Germany move the ball down the pitch like they are PlayStation athletes should be a revelation to every English fan that wants their team to do better.  Who is England’s best dribbler and passer?  Damned if I know.  I do know that watching the English team move the ball around as if it was filled with mashed potatoes rather than air is simply painful.

In a recent interview with The Times, Real Madrid’s Xabi Alonso had a fascinating observation.  He said that when he played for Liverpool, he would occasionally go to their youth academy for meetings with their future players.  He would ask the young midfielders what their greatest skill is, and more often then not, they would be most proud of their ability to tackle.

Alonso believed that tackling is a useful skill, but it is the skill you employ to make up for a failure of position or possession.  If a midfielder is positioned well and dribbles and possesses to affect, they never need to leave their feet.  These new, better-skilled coaches need to train the upcoming generation on smaller, tighter fields where hoofing it forward will have no benefit and where maneuvering the ball is the only path to success.

This entire enterprise will require the most precious commodity that exists in soccer and one that is in short supply in England – patience.  If England had all the good coaches it needed today, the benefit would not be felt for years.  I strongly doubt that the FA has the stomach for such an effort and seems more comfortable devoting resources on white elephants like a national training center and inflated salaries for celebrity managers.

What will it take for the FA to seriously plan for the future?

It may take another Euro/World Cup of despair before the FA really gets serious.  The current generation of Terry, Lampard, Gerrard and Cole are considering retirement rather than going through another cycle of scorn playing against teams they fully realize are their superiors.  The next generation, with the odd exception of Jack Wilshire or James Milner, hardly look like the equals of the current one.

I fear that the English fans will have to demand this change after an even  greater humiliation than South Africa 2010.  At some point, England is in danger of losing its top seed for tournament draws and may miss out qualifying for a significant tournament.  Perhaps at that point, the FA will be willing to concede that the problem with their house will not be solved with a new coat of paint – nothing less than a restructuring of the foundation will suffice.

11 thoughts on “The FA Fiddles as the Three Lions Burn”

  1. All those people with coaching badges didn’t do Italy much good, as it could be argued that they performed worse than England did.
    The problem in England is not just the coaches and it is not just the youth. The U17’s have just beat Spain U 17’s in the final of the Euro’s, The England U21’s were Euro finalists last year in the U 21’s
    There is nothing wrong with the youth set up now, the Acadamies in England at clubs like Man Utd and Chelsea are amongst the best in the world.
    Finally those coaching numbers are off anyway, it has been reported that England has as many people qualifying per year for the top badges as any other country. The reason those numbers are the way they are is that this wasn’t always the case.

    I’ll give you one reason why i think England has failed over the past 20 years and it comes from my own time playing.
    Going back 20 years, I played for an under 11 side, we used a full size mens ball and we played on a full size pitch. All you heard from the side lines was ‘get the ball up the field’, ‘don’t mess about, boot it’. Can you imagine 10 year old kids playing with a full size ball on a full size pitch?
    Now that maybe a simplistic insight but I think it goes a long way to seeing the way we were and the mentality parents and coaches had. No short passing,no focus on first touch or skill, just get the ball up the field as quickly as possible.
    It made kids who were taller and more physical and could hit the ball further look better than they were and it was these kids who went further in the game.
    Thank god times have changed, now kids use small pitches and small size balls, games are often 7 a-side on small pitches to improve passing, first touch, and skill levels, coaches are no longer just someone’s dad, they are people who actually have coaching badges. The England U 17’s are probably one of the first generations to see the benefit of these changes in facilities and mentality but the results are already showing.

    It has probably only been the size of our population and the huge numbers of kids that play the sport in this country that has enabled us to still reach the QF’s over the last 20 years because if that wasn’t the case we would have been like Wales or Scotland, where we can’t even qualify for these competitions.

  2. Eric and Poker Rakeback — I totally agree with your respective analyses of England’s problems — poor youth coaching and too little emphasis on skills. So why the hand wringing ?? A major part of solving any problem is identifying it and no matter what other failings the English FA may have, they have at least stepped up to that !!!! Now I admit that organizational inertia may present a major problem but that is where the soccer columnists and pundits come in — you need to continue to hold their feet to the fire to get them to actually follow through with their announced plans. However, look at the awful state of US Soccer! We still think that everything is going just fine despite the fact that every one of the criticisms that you laid at the feet of English soccer could equally be attributed to US soccer !!! Because of the umbilical linkage between English and US soccer, I am hoping that we might make the jump that the FA did by openly stating that we need to change our coaching and developmental emphasis toward skill building and away from speed and physicality. Unfortunately, the US situation is even more bogged down with organizational inertia because of the inordinate weight that the college coaching fraternity wields in the US Soccer organization. At least England has had the guts to go outside of its own coaching fraternity to look for answers. Whether Capello has the answers or not at least the English FA is asking the questions !!!!

  3. Where you said “These numbers have been bandied about over the past few weeks, but they need repeating”, I think you meant to say:

    “This whole effing article has been bandied about dozens of times on this same website over the last few weeks, but I’m going to repeat it AGAIN”.

    Seriously, is there some kind of generic EPL-Talk template for this kind of article? I imagine it would look something like this:

    “Blah blah….England failed dismally at the World Cup….blah blah….England fans expected to win the World Cup….blah blah….England players aren’t good enough….England players are over-hyped…it’s nothing to do with tactics…blah blah…England are going downhill…blah blah…the US is now better than England…English coaching focuses too much on strength, not skill….blah blah…we need to play on smaller pitches…etc” [Fill in the gaps as appropriate]

    It’s obviously not just national managers who are “reheating their meals”. It feels like this article has been in the microwave way too long.

  4. The point I was trying to make was that the facilities, the lack of coaches and the general mentality of people was a world away from what it was in Spain, Holland and Germany.
    But that has been changing for a long time now, people seem to think that because England have performed bad in this World Cup we suddenly need to change things, sorry but your about 5-10 years too late, things have been changing for a while now.

    This generation, certainly the likes of Lampard and Gerrard and Heskey are my generation and they probably grew up like I did playing on full size pitches when they were 10 years old. Is it any wonder that even the best players in the country at that age group are not as good on the ball as they should be?

    When I played under 11 football 20 yrs ago the youth system was a joke and it is no wonder we are still seeing a result of that today.

    As I have already said though, things have changed, especially in the last 5 years and The england team in 5-10 years time will see the benefit of this.

    As for America, I have no idea what their youth football is like but I would hope for the sake of the kids out there that it is not like the youth football I had to grow up with.

  5. “At some point, England is in danger of losing its top seed for tournament draws and may miss out qualifying for a significant tournament…”

    What beats me is how England managed to get top seed for this World Cup. How on earth they ended up higher than France or Portugal for example. Some heavy lobbying behind the scenes I guess. If this is the case than no matter had badly England does they will be in the top seed bucket. All they need is to qualify. Which, I agree, doesn’t look automatic anymore even if they are top seed.

    1. @ Andrei
      They got seeded by finishing top of their group and winning 9 games out of 10. They were also in a group with Croatia and at that time they were also ranked in the top 10 in the world.
      Maybe you should look into things a bit more before posting stupid shit like that comment

  6. And you should probably be aware that FIFA changed the seeding rules right before the World Cup draw. In contrast to previous World Cups seeding criteria which used past World Cup performances these new rules were based solely on the FIFA world rankings. This decision dropped France from the pot #1 and elevated England to be top seeded. In the same stroke of pen FIFA introduced seeding for the play-off draw for the European qualifying groups.

  7. No complaints here, coaching is key and England has a good U-17 team so perhaps something is happening down below.
    Still, it needs to be less expensive to get these coaching courses completed – Radio 5 did a great piece on how expensive it was to get a coaching cert and how the early levels are basically fluff designed to get coaches to hoof it long and penetrate. Worrying.
    More decent coaches – cheaper and definitely smaller pitches.

  8. The FA cannot organize a piss up in a brewery let alone come up with a masterplan for English football. After the debacle of this world cup, what are they prepared to do to stop us being the laughing stock of world football? Giving Capello another 2 years is hardly a plan. The FA needs to decide what is more important – the premier league or the national team. For me, it is the latter all day long. The world cup is THE tournament, not the champions league or anything else. But the FA seems to be more interested in selling the premier league to the highest bidder. There is NO incentive right now for the clubs to produce players for the national team. The FA must start putting England first and enforce a quota for non-English players in the EPL. A quota would have minimal impact on the top clubs as Europe’s top talent will still end up there. But it pains me to see clubs like Bolton, Fulham, Wigan, West Ham etc full of no-name foreigners taking up slots that could be filled by England U-17’s or U-21’s. They need to be playing at the top level for England to have any hope. Its not right when England’s best goalkeeper Joe Hart has to go on a season long loan to get a game, and talent like Micah Richards and Michael Johnson at Man City are frozen out by the latest overpaid waste of space. A quota of 5 non-English players will fix this. The EPL needs to be a breeding ground for top English talent, not a payday for second tier foreigners.

    As for the coaching, just get the best coaches from wherever. I don’t care if they are English or not. But lets have mostly English players on the pitch. Otherwise all the best coaching available is only making our international competitors stronger at England’s expense.

    As for the grass roots, I agree with all the comments about smaller pitches. Kids should not be running around playing kick & rush on full size pitches. Even there the FA could be doing something. How hard would it be to organize a national schools 5-a-side competition? Oh wait, its the FA. It would be mission impossible. There is more chance of them winning the 2018 bid and another payday.

    These are dark days for English football. A line in the sand needs to be drawn and some real leadership taken. Otherwise we are f*cked.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *