Ten ways to take English football forward (World Cup Braindump #10)

by Steve

England limp out of yet another tournament, and as much as I hate to say it, I’m glad. In particular I’m glad that it was a rout, rather than an ‘unlucky’ exit, Lampard’s phantom goal notwithstanding. Now we can begin to actually focus on the shortcomings of English football, rather than blame chance (or penalties) for us not being more successful.

So, what is there to hope for, what could/should we learn, and how can we take English football forward – in the short-term, and the long-term?

  1. Fabio Capello, if he stays, will hopefully realise the size of the task ahead, and build for the future. He has four years to build a side – so he should, and hopefully will, change the balance of the side from the old ‘golden’ generation to younger players pushing for a place in the team. If Euro 2012 goes wrong, so be it. Rome wasn’t built in a day and all that. Brazil 2014 should be the aim. Everything should be designed as a stepping stone for that tournament, if not 2018.
  2. Fabio Capello, if he goes, will hopefully provide an important lesson to the FA. You shouldn’t firm up a manager’s contract right before a major tournament. If they have to pay him off it will be a colossal waste of money, and heads should roll in the FA. The FA also needs to realise that a good manager alone will not win you a major tournament.
  3. The FA needs to properly build for the future. There needs to be the infrastructure from the youth systems and grassroots upwards to ensure that England start producing more quality players and more quality coaches. If the FA can afford a £6 million contract for Capello, it can afford to invest properly in grassroots football.
  4. This means the FA needs to realise there is life beyond the Premier League. It may be the cash cow, but it was the national side in 1990 that arguably paved the way for the Premier League to be a success. If the England side is successful, the Premier League will be too.
  5. So, the Premier League and FA need to be more supportive of the national side. Scrap the match ball contracts, so that players are able to play competitive games with the World Cup ball prior to the event itself. Scrap the League Cup, or restrict it to under 23s, so players get more rest, or young up-and-comers get more games. Institute a winter break, so players can either rest up, or can meet for an England training camp.
  6. Get the clubs on board, either by agreement or by decree. Stop the pressure from clubs to cut down the length of international duty. Find a way to ensure every club has to field a least a handful of home-born players. Ultimately, convince the clubs of the long-term financial benefit to all of a strong England side, and they will co-operate.
  7. Assess the work of club’s academies, bring them closer together and learn from the best examples (and worst). Bring in stiffer penalties for clubs poaching young players developed at other clubs, in order to encourage clubs to continue investing in youth.
  8. Here’s the big one. Change England’s footballing culture. Amongst youngsters, foster creativity and experimentation, rather than win-at-all-costs and 12 year-olds on full-size pitches. Stop the habit in youth football of focusing on big, strong, athletic players, and overlooking the smaller, more talented ones. Train more coaches, and to a higher level, so good practice can permeate the game at every level and in every age group. Educate fans and players of the value of retaining the ball, rather than lumping the ball forward in desperation, or shooting from 35 yards out. Value skill, discipline and fair play over ‘grit’ and ‘English spirit’, whatever they mean.
  9. Manage our expectations – England do not have the right to consider themselves a footballing power. We are not good enough to win the World Cup, not by any stretch. We, as supporters, have no right to expect success. The press should know better too.
  10. We also need to realise that building a side will take time – a new manager, or a raft of new players, will not solve things overnight. We need to breed patience – in terms of how we play the game, and how we see the game developing in England in the long-term.

The FA, and English football in general, has a fantastic opportunity to change things for the better. Will they take it? I’m not holding my breath.