Matt Le Tissier always did do things a bit differently. Why look for a pass when you can just smash it into the top corner from 35 yards out? The scorer of 102 Premier League goals for Southampton, and a player who won only eight England caps – the last of which was picked up against England's opponents tonight, Italy – now wants to break with coaching convention.
He is sick of hearing that English lads are not as good as their counterparts on the continent. He is disenchanted by the way top professionals are patronised by boring coaching courses and sceptical about how smaller pitches and fewer players will really change anything if the attitudes of those training youngsters stay the same. Next week he launches his own "Natural Coaching" school in Southampton with trials for young players to take part in a season-long football education.
"There are talented boys out there. They can go on for ever about how the lads on the continent are more talented than ours but if you coach them properly there is natural ability in this country. I just don't think it is harnessed properly," Le Tissier says.
"They are trying to change things with smaller pitches and fewer players and hopefully it will make a difference but it's all very well to say 'right we are going to play on smaller pitches and with fewer players but I'm still going to pick the biggest boys so I can win the game', then nothing will change. Take out the winning and stick in the enjoyment and you will end up with far better players at the age of 15."
Twenty or so boys will be picked from each age bracket and train once a week throughout the season alongside Le Tissier. The Natural Coaching players will not make up teams or enter a league. Instead, they will be encouraged to express themselves, and experiment while continuing to play for their school or youth teams. Le Tissier says: "Kids have to be encouraged to learn how to play all over the pitch so that they improve their understanding of football. If you do that in youth football then later on you can play a formation that looks like a 4-6-0 on paper but dominates a game. If someone had said in England 20 years ago that you could win a tournament the way Spain did without a No 9 they would have been called crazy but their players are comfortable in lots of different positions, making it possible."
Le Tissier believes the current set-up not only fails to properly harness talented players but also deters a certain type of former pro becoming a coach – flair players don't usually end up as managers. "The biggest obstacles are the coaching badges. You have to go through so much rubbish to get qualified," he adds.
"It's boring. I did level two and got halfway through it but I was so bored that I had to give it up. And there are four levels before you reach Uefa level A. It was so basic – like teaching someone to pass the ball 10 yards. I just thought: 'What am I doing here?' To be honest, I felt it was a bit patronising."
And there is another problem with the current set-up: "If all coaches are taught the same things then they are going to end up coaching the same way. For me, the great coaches are the ones that do things a little bit differently. That's why with Roy [Hodgson] England will do all right, we'll get through qualifying but because we never do anything different we'll keep getting knocked out in the quarter-finals."
Tonight, England play Italy and Le Tissier will be reminded of his biggest regret in football. "That header I had against Italy at Wembley in 1997; I'd just like for that to go the other side of the post. We lost 1-0. That might have made a difference to my England career."
It was the last of his eight caps. Playing his part in coaching the next generation, he could still make a difference to the future of the national game.
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