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Rafael Benitez: England sure have the talent – but are lacking the right philosophy


Finding top players is not a problem. The point is how to develop the potential that is all around

That was a very good experience for the young English players, however disheartened they may have been as they came home yesterday. Going into extra time and penalties in a tournament quarter-final like that will serve them well. But the Italians had more quality – we can't ignore that – and though the Football Association is trying to change things, we cannot disguise that it is still a long way off creating a system which enables England's players to compete with the very best in Europe, or the world.

I think Italy really did demonstrate the technical distance between the two nations. There are many changes needed in the way this country develops its young players. To make them more competitive, England above all need the clubs to decide on the style of football they want to play, from academy through to first team. They must then coach the coaches in that style and then coach the players.

For me, there is a very big weakness in the system when the players reach 18. At that age, a player in England who is not quite at the level to play in the Premier League has to go off on loan to a League One or Two team, where it is hard for him to develop the basic skills in the way he would at his club. The style and standard of coaching may just not be the same.

Those players who are of a better standard but still not quite up to Premier standard will end up sitting on the first-team bench, and could be stuck there for years – as was Scott Carson, the best player at Leeds when he came to Liverpool.

When I arrived at Liverpool, this problem struck me and I said that our reserve team should play in the Football League pyramid, as when I was manager of the Real Madrid reserve team, which played in the Spanish second division. I was told that I was going against an English tradition by suggesting this.

The only other way to create matches for these young players is by making the Reserve League a proper Under-21 national competition, which allows teams to select a limited number of first-team players to help them recover from injury or keep match-fit. I know the Premier League is working on this for next season.

But it is the introduction of the same style of play throughout a club – and seriously investing in the coaching system to make that happen – which underpins the creation of more technically equipped players.

You must decide on a system; deciding, for instance, that you want to play the ball on the floor, not in the air, and then you need to create a philosophy at your club where everyone has the same one. You stick to it, no matter who is manager, and you appoint a manager with that vision.

It is a question of what you want to do when you are in possession and what you want to do when you are not in possession. It is about people having more ambition, more confidence in their game to try things out.

England have to look forward. Finding top players is not the problem. It is how to develop the potential that is all around that we should be talking about now.