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stevegrant

The Post Mortem that never ends

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So England are out of another international tournament having promised much and delivered very little, which of course must mean that the media knives are being sharpened. Unsurprisingly, Fabio Capello, he of a reported £6m annual salary (that's £120,000 a week, for those who prefer that metric), is the prime target having failed to top quite possibly the easiest-looking group we've ever had.

Certainly the group stage was little short of a tedious disaster, having scored just two goals in three games and barely looking like adding to that tally, and as a result the punishment was an early encounter with a youthful and uncharacteristically attack-minded German side, and we're all well aware of how that ended. The defending in Bloemfontein was so abject that you'd be annoyed if your Sunday League team gifted the opposition four goals in such a manner, and the four "defenders" (a term I use in the loosest sense here) selected for the second round match are reported to earn a combined £350,000 per week.

The money is a great stick to beat the players with, it's very convenient but ultimately nobody holds a gun to their respective club chairmen's head - or at least I'm not aware of that particular tactic being employed by the nation's top agents. I'd rather look at the relative ability of those players. Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney are arguably the only two players in the England squad who could genuinely be categorised as "world class" (although Rooney is yet to really live up to that billing on the international stage), so why the media storm about our failure in South Africa?

Ultimately, the Premier League itself has a burden to bear here. The hype, perpetuated by Sky Sports and the other media outlets, has led to English players being placed on a level where their respective abilities don't actually merit. It seems strange to be querying the level of ability of players who have vast amounts of Champions League and international experience, but our continued failure to live up to the hype can only lead to question the players themselves.

We've tried changing the manager, changing the tactics, changing the playing style, and then changing the manager again. Every single time, we fall some way short when it comes to the crunch. In recent times, we've employed two of the top European club managers, to much hand-wringing from Ian Wright and the Daily Mail. Neither of them have managed to deliver better than a quarter-final defeat on penalties. In the end, you have to come to the conclusion that you simply cannot polish a turd.

Certainly, Capello shares a large portion of the blame this time around for some very strange tactical and line-up selections, particularly his choice of substitutions, and his ignorance of his own pledge that he would only pick players who were both fit and in-form for the World Cup has grated somewhat. How, for example, does Shaun Wright-Phillips - a player who has never done anything at any level since he chased the roubles at Chelsea - get into the squad ahead of his Manchester City team-mate Adam Johnson? Since signing from Middlesbrough in January, Johnson has been keeping Wright-Phillips out of the team, and also offers the option of a left-sided midfielder. Unless you shoe-horn Gareth Barry into a position he's not played for years, the 2010 England squad contained precisely zero left-sided midfielders. Joe Cole wasn't fit and wasn't getting a game for Chelsea, Barry wasn't fit and Ledley King was, and always is, an injury waiting to happen. Emile Heskey has been third-choice striker for Villa this season (yet Gabby Agbonlahor didn't get a look-in), scoring just six goals in all competitions, and yet gets in the squad ahead of Darren Bent with 24 Premier League goals to his name.

Still, we're used to bizarre squad selections, Glenn Hoddle selected Paul Merson and the half-fit Darren Anderton ahead of the in-form Matt Le Tissier in 1998, and Hoddle's karma came back to haunt him as we were eliminated on penalties.

Anyway, I digress. It doesn't seem to matter whether we employ the Wally with the Brolly or one of the best club managers in world football, the same problems exist. The team still lacks pace, tactical nous, technique and cohesion. With the influx of foreign players and managers to the English game in the last 15 years or so, it amazes me that the English players don't appear to have learned anything from them, and this then links into the grass roots of the game in this country.

The Football Association pride themselves on their investment in grass roots football, and yet the vast majority of junior teams do not have qualified coaches. They are instead managed and coached by a volunteer parent on the premise that it's better than nobody, which is true to an extent. Unfortunately, while these volunteers should be applauded for putting themselves forward to do the job, the problem is that they have all been brought up on a diet of 70s and 80s football where English club football was head and shoulders above the rest of Europe, and the physical and direct game served clubs in this country very well indeed. As a result, the extent of their tactical coaching extends to encouraging defenders and midfielders to get the ball up to the big front man at the first opportunity.

Technique doesn't seem to be coached into the majority of young players in this country, there is no national grass roots infrastructure to speak of - most of the money for the long-awaited Burton-on-Trent was diverted to cover the massively over-budget reconstruction of Wembley - and as a result we're lagging a long way behind the other leading nations. France have been a laughing stock at this World Cup but will recover because they have the conveyor belt that is Clairefontaine. After their failure at Euro 2000, Germany invested in a similar setup and are now reaping the benefits with the likes of Mesut Oezil, 21 years of age, running riot yesterday.

The key with those two setups is that they were jointly funded by the national associations and the top-flight clubs. Therein lies a key problem for the FA, as they already have such little power as far as the domestic game is concerned, the chances of them going cap in hand to debt-ridden Premier League clubs and getting anything other than a two-fingered salute are about as high as me winning the lottery on Saturday without buying a ticket.

As a result, the Premier League clubs (and the more infrastructure-savvy Football League clubs, like ourselves) will need to pick up the baton and sort out the mess that is youth football development in this country. Encourage local coaches to progress through the qualifications ladder which will earn them jobs at football clubs, and make the courses affordable. I did the lowest FA qualification a number of years ago and it was pretty cheap (about £100, I think), but the next levels up are pushing four figures, which just makes them inaccessible for most people. We still have an "old-boys club" mentality in this country, in no other country would an unqualified coach get a manager's job in the top flight just because he used to be a half-decent player, it's absolutely insane.

If ex-players knew they had to do the qualifications before getting a coaching or managing job, they'd put in the hours while they're still playing, and as a result can give something back to the local community as part of their course. Instead, you get the likes of Alan Shearer and Gareth Southgate - not exactly the most inspiring of characters, as we've seen from the World Cup coverage on TV - getting Premier League jobs with no experience and no qualifications, with the Premier League themselves being too weak to actually enforce their own rules. Why spend a few grand and a few hundred hours getting coaching badges when you can just use your name to get yourself a job, after all?

Perhaps clubs should be encouraged to write it into players' contracts that they must conduct a certain number of hours of community coaching? I'm just throwing ideas around now, let's face it, none of them will actually be put into action because the FA have absolutely no power and even less money, and there is too much self-interest within the Premier League and its member clubs. Why should they be forced into spending money on the nation's youth development when it could end up benefiting one of their rivals, and when that money could be spent on a player's over-inflated wages who could make a difference to the team right now, rather than in 5-10 years' time? There's no incentive for clubs to invest in this nation's footballing future, so I can only envisage a future where the England team stagnates (if we're lucky), and looking back we'll be thinking how good we had it when Sven-Goran Eriksson took us to three successive tournament quarter-finals...

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Comments

  1. Billy Shite's Avatar
    An excellent read, nice one.

    The lack of the homegrown quota in the Premier League has always got to me. As soon as the employment law changed and every EU citizen had to be treated the same way as eachother (and this includes South American's with Spanish passports or whatever) then it went haywire as no rule could be introduced to ensure an amount on English players were in the match day squad. if I had my way then at least half of the match day squad and 6 out of the staring 11 would be homegrown and by that, I mean qualified to play for England. As soon as you declare for Ireland, Wales or Jamaica or another other country to play internationally then you are part of the non-English quota. Won't hapen though as the horse has bolted and can you imagine Arsene Wenger authorising a gentlemans agreement to force him to have a load of English players.

    taly is in the same mess as us, Inter Milan win the champions league with a team of South Americans - meanwhile, Italy can't beat New Zealand and do even worse than England in a comparable group.
  2. Fowllyd's Avatar
    A very good piece, Steve. Some observations:

    First, it's not just since the inception of the Premier League that there's been unrealistic hype about the England team and English players, though the PL has certainly upped this no little. Take a look at England's record since our only international tournament win - two semi-finals, one of those coming at home. Failure to qualify for three World Cups (1974, 1978, 1994) and several European Championships (not sure of the number there!). This hardly suggests a nation of perennial world-beaters, but that's what much of the media seems to expect - and this has grown and intensified over the years. Our record suggests a team capable of regularly qualifying for the final stages of international tournaments and, once there, getting through the group stage and maybe one or two more matches after that - and that's about it. So why the ridiculous levels of expectation?

    Regarding Billy's post above, bear in mind here that a large proportion of English failures occurred at a time when there were very few foreign players in the English game (though there was always a fair smattering of Scottish, Welsh and Irish players). If the number of foreign players were to be limited, why would this improve the standard of English youngsters? There's no shortage of foreign players in La Liga, but the Spanish team doesn't appear to suffer as a result. I'd say that the problems in the English game go far deeper than this.

    A statistic of far more relevance, I'd say, is this: prior to this World Cup, there were 23,995 coaches holding Uefa's top qualification in Spain, 29,420 in Italy, 34,970 in Germany and 17,588 in France. In England there were just 2,769. To me that speaks volumes. On a more anecdotal level, this quote from Paul Wilson, writing in the Observer in November 2007, puts it nicely:

    Like it or not, the archetypical English manager is Sam Allardyce. A friend with a child involved in youth football at the moment reports that week in, week out, on park pitches all over the country, the players of tomorrow are being supervised by morose, shouty types with big coats and a gruff manner who play big lads at the back and at the front and like to keep things as simple as possible in between. Grassroots football in England produces Allardyce clones by the dozen. We seem genetically incapable of even imitating anything more stylish or original.
    While it's true that Italy and France have had even worse World Cups than England, these failures can easily be seen as the exception rather than the rule - you wouldn't bet against either of them coming back stronger in pretty quick time. Where England are concerned I certainly wouldn't hold my breath.
  3. stevegrant's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Fowllyd
    A statistic of far more relevance, I'd say, is this: prior to this World Cup, there were 23,995 coaches holding Uefa's top qualification in Spain, 29,420 in Italy, 34,970 in Germany and 17,588 in France. In England there were just 2,769. To me that speaks volumes.
    Good stats

    Interestingly, some more respected writers than myself seem to have started picking up on the English coaching system issue. Paul Hayward in the Guardian adds some more figures to yours, specifically relating to the UEFA "A" Licence:
    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Hayward
    This might be the point to throw in the revelation that Spain, the European champions, have 750 Grade A Uefa-trained coaches, compared to under 150 in England. All those English tutors instruct fully-grown men while in Spain 640 of the 750 teach five-year-olds and up. A Spanish cultural revolution 15 years ago has transformed the national team and Sir Trevor Brooking, the Football Association's director of football development, has spoken glowingly of Germany's huge investment in coaching and talent cultivation. The results: Peter [sic] Müller and Mesut Ozil, who tormented England in Bloemfontein.
    Unfortunately, it's going to take years of effort and a truckload of money (money I would suggest the FA simply don't have to throw at the problem because of the cost of Wembley) to get us anywhere near the Spanish or German models, and the co-operation of the top clubs. Self-interest rules, so Brooking's going to have a problem convincing people it's a worthwhile investment.

    Quote Originally Posted by Fowllyd
    While it's true that Italy and France have had even worse World Cups than England, these failures can easily be seen as the exception rather than the rule - you wouldn't bet against either of them coming back stronger in pretty quick time. Where England are concerned I certainly wouldn't hold my breath.
    France, certainly, should recover once they've got a competent manager in charge - it seems incredible that Raymond Domenech kept his job after their epic failure in Euro 2008. I'm not quite so sure about the Italians, they used the calciopoli scandal as a motivational tool when they won in 2006 and had a number of players at the top of their game, but I'm not sure there's a new Cannavaro coming through any time soon. Football in Italy seems to be going through something of a cultural adjustment, there's nowhere near as much money involved anymore, so you would imagine the youth development has taken a hit from that.

    As for England, it baffles me how the under-21s seem to do pretty well in tournaments but then those same players struggle to make the step up. Perhaps the senior side is actually the problem - the under-21s have been brought up in a better way than their predecessors (relatively speaking), so perhaps the senior players "pollute" them, for want of a better word, and they slip back into the bad old ways just to fit in.
  4. Smirking_Saint's Avatar
    Good read Steve, was the point i was 'badly and slightly tipsy' trying to make.

    All in all i completely agree it is at grass roots and at youth level that we fall back so far behind the rest of the continent and so we suffer to produce players of any real technical qualities as a result.

    The problem is you get a group of kids anywere and they just what to smash a ball in the back of a net, you watch many so called team 'coaches' and they just practice shooting etc, back when i was coaching i did a lot of research into how other countries etc coached youth players as even back then i was of the opinion that as a nation our coaching techniques were below par.

    The main thing that caught my attention was that many top level coaches in europe were of the opinion that you had developed your main technique by the age of 14(ish) and if you had not developed it effectively by then it would be almost impossible to coach it into you. Another thing was many of them used to train balance, without even touching a ball for large amounts of time. I used to ask my group of kids (under 6's) to go home and see how many keepy ups they could do next week and if they could learn any new tricks from the PL. Unfortunately i was told that my ideas would never work and was made to work with some old fool more content in the former, ball in the back of the net routine, and so i got bored and my coaching days came to an end.

    All in all the FA are not concerned about the national team IMO or else we would have seen the completion of Burton, and more concern in forcing in new rules etc for young player development. Unfortunately as was said the money was spent on an overpriced Wembley, i believe the Millenium Stadium was far far cheaper and i remember being so impressed with that.

    All in all i fear for the future of england.
  5. St_Tel49's Avatar
    Spot on Steve. If you keep trying different managers, everyone of whom was highly rated before they took the job, and the result is always the same then the problem is not the manager, its the players. The problem is that they ALL are hyped to be something beyond what they really are until they get brutally exposed on the international stage. They no longer have top foreigners around them as they have in their clubs - they have English players, and they are simply not good enough. THERE ARE NO WORLD CLASS PLAYERS IN THE ENGLAND SQUAD. English fans need to stop kidding themselves that there are then they will have more realistic aspirations for their team.
  6. Bucks Saint's Avatar
    I agree with pretty much all of the comments written above. But another key factor is that the current crop of England players, with precious few exceptions, simply dont care enough about the performance/ lack of performance. The interviews given by Lampard, Cole, Gerrard and Terry just a few hours after the game - when they all acted as if their league club had just suffered a defeat mid season and were looking forward to next Saturday to out it right - spoke volumes. The pictures of Cole and King plastered over the tabloids this morning reinforce that. You could lay exactly that at the French door too. Without a robust and ruthless manager who will (as Capello promised, but then singularly failed to do) pick players at the top of their game AND who would give their all for England and drop - for good if needed - those living off of past reputations, then these pampered millionaires dont have anything to lose.

    We need major surgery at the grass roots level I completely agree. And in the meantime, while waiting for those changes to bear fruit, we need some majory surgery on the current team. Of those who played, I would say only Rooney, Cole (sadly) and Gerrard should be retained and the rest, well that might be it. Bold decisions needed
  7. Give it to Ron's Avatar
    Great post Steve, although the focus has switched to grass roots and coaching we must not forget where the real problem is IMO. I believe there are far too many games in the Premiership, Carling, FA and Champions League games for anyone to care about playing for England.
    The financial rewards they get are far more important for many than pulling on the shirt now and loyalty to clubs is now number one.
    How many players pul out injured then are miraculously fit for the next game?

    I know of several coaches that are highly qualified even Eufa B level that shouldnt be anywhere near coaching kids. I have witnessed training sessions with kids in tears.
    I watch a lot of Tyro games and its horrific win at all costs - no skill, tactics, enjoyment just win.
    Parents, managers and coaches at grassroots are ruining it for the kids - a mate of mine had 6 players tapped up during a season by other sides - how can leagues let that happen.
    How can decent coaches bring on kids to good levels if as soon as they start to play well they get poached.
  8. Smirking_Saint's Avatar
    Give it to Ron - As per poaching players that is up to the parents, unless my kid was 'poached' by a team that was coached better or at least on equal terms i would not let them go.

    When i was younger i changed teams to a much much better side, and ended up sitting on the bench bored next to another 3 strikers.

    So all in all it's not the league but the parents that need to resist this.
  9. Billy Shite's Avatar
  10. Give it to Ron's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Smirking_Saint
    Give it to Ron - As per poaching players that is up to the parents, unless my kid was 'poached' by a team that was coached better or at least on equal terms i would not let them go.

    When i was younger i changed teams to a much much better side, and ended up sitting on the bench bored next to another 3 strikers.

    So all in all it's not the league but the parents that need to resist this.
    Totally agree...but some are very medal hungry....I have seen this happen loads and I have even tried talking parents out of it.
    I took my nipper away from one team even though he was one of the better players - the coach bellowed at them - he was Eufa B level!!
    I think it has to be a concerted effort from all - we now play in a different league the Testway and the culture amongst players, fans and league is so different and how it should be.
  11. Smirking_Saint's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Give it to Ron
    Totally agree...but some are very medal hungry....I have seen this happen loads and I have even tried talking parents out of it.
    I took my nipper away from one team even though he was one of the better players - the coach bellowed at them - he was Eufa B level!!
    I think it has to be a concerted effort from all - we now play in a different league the Testway and the culture amongst players, fans and league is so different and how it should be.
    Its difficult and always will be to find that balance.

    You need to help players develop and evolve into better versions but more importantly you need to try to make them fall in love and stay in love with the game, pushing and shouting at kids just won't do it.

    I used to try really hard to get them to engage with things and try harder, teach them to be more creative but i never ever let it become too competetive etc. And if i split the teams in two and one was being trounced i tried to even it up.

    People like that don't deserve to hold the licence IMO, shame you couldn't report them to the FA as i would hedge my bets most of his kids would eventually grow to hate football if that was how he was treating them.

    Are you the parent that asked some advice for their kid a while back ? He was moved from up front to midfield or something ?
  12. Give it to Ron's Avatar
    No that was SoccerMum I think he has settled down now.
    Funnily enough I have just received ths email from the FA as I am still registered as a coach. Sounds like someone has heard about the outcry and doing a bit of arse protecting.

    Grassroots developing well

    Latest figures show participation in the game is on the up but that there is plenty more work to be done Participation in grassroots football across England is building again, following the implementation of The FA's National Game Strategy, aimed at halting a one-time decline in numbers taking part in the nation's favourite game.

    Furthermore, involvement in The FA Tesco Skills programme has also grown exponentially in the last year, with over 1.5m aspiring young football players enjoying the high quality youth coaching on offer from the network of FA Tesco Skills coaches.

    Overall participation in 11 v 11 football in England has stabilised since the start of The FA's National Game Strategy in 2008, with a year-on-year decline now in reverse with 30,701 adult male teams in existence compared to the baseline number of 30,689.

    The target for 2012 is for The FA to have retained 32,000 teams in this area of the game. In the women's game numbers have risen 12% in the first two years of the Strategy exceeding initial targets, with 1,408 adult female teams playing eleven-a-side football in England, leading to higher revised aims for the final two years of the plan.
  13. chrisobee's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by Fowllyd
    A very good piece, Steve. Some observations:

    First, it's not just since the inception of the Premier League that there's been unrealistic hype about the England team and English players, though the PL has certainly upped this no little. Take a look at England's record since our only international tournament win - two semi-finals, one of those coming at home. Failure to qualify for three World Cups (1974, 1978, 1994) and several European Championships (not sure of the number there!). This hardly suggests a nation of perennial world-beaters, but that's what much of the media seems to expect - and this has grown and intensified over the years. Our record suggests a team capable of regularly qualifying for the final stages of international tournaments and, once there, getting through the group stage and maybe one or two more matches after that - and that's about it. So why the ridiculous levels of expectation?

    Regarding Billy's post above, bear in mind here that a large proportion of English failures occurred at a time when there were very few foreign players in the English game (though there was always a fair smattering of Scottish, Welsh and Irish players). If the number of foreign players were to be limited, why would this improve the standard of English youngsters? There's no shortage of foreign players in La Liga, but the Spanish team doesn't appear to suffer as a result. I'd say that the problems in the English game go far deeper than this.

    A statistic of far more relevance, I'd say, is this: prior to this World Cup, there were 23,995 coaches holding Uefa's top qualification in Spain, 29,420 in Italy, 34,970 in Germany and 17,588 in France. In England there were just 2,769. To me that speaks volumes. On a more anecdotal level, this quote from Paul Wilson, writing in the Observer in November 2007, puts it nicely:



    While it's true that Italy and France have had even worse World Cups than England, these failures can easily be seen as the exception rather than the rule - you wouldn't bet against either of them coming back stronger in pretty quick time. Where England are concerned I certainly wouldn't hold my breath.
    Fair and good points though failing to qualify for the 1978 finals is somewhat of a red herring I feel as we were in a group of 4 with Finland, Luxembourg and Italy. No suprise England and Italy won all 4 games v the other 2, in Rome we lost 2-0 but at Wembley in the return won 2-0 but lost out on goal difference, Italy + 14, England + 11 I think. But really could hardly be classed as a failure since Italy invariably do well in WC's aside from a few awful ones you mention and there really was nothing between the teams.
    Sorry digressing, we will never win the WC under the current system and I agree with the OP it wouldn't matter who was in charge though the selections of Hoddle in 1998 were slighly bizarre to say the least.
    Things need to change, they will but for the worse I'm sure.