Football: Coaching revolution the name of the game

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The Independent Online
The coaching aristocracy, including Glenn Hoddle and Alex Ferguson, were wheeled out yesterday in Birmingham to launch an initiative aimed at improving the game in this country. Guy Hodgson reports.

If nothing else the Football Association is learning the art of presentation. Ten years ago the launch of a coach's association would have merited a small note in a newsletter if it was trumpeted at all.

Yesterday, at Birmingham's International Conference Centre, it got the full monty.

A screen at least 20ft high and quadraphonic sound boomed out the message; football teaching in England is going to be revolutionised. But what impressed was the speakers the FA had got to mouth the words. Not just anyone but Alex Ferguson, Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson and France's Gerard Houllier. The most blueblooded of the coaching aristocracy had been wheeled out.

The evidence suggested they needed to be. Wilkinson, the FA's technical director and author of "Charter For Quality" in which the newly created Football Association's Coaches Association is an integral part, showed the findings of a report by Lancaster Gate's International Committee in big Odeon-sized letters. Standards must improve, the gist said.

These were not the outcome of Wilkinson's investigations, however, but of Walter Winterbottom in the aftermath of England's first major football fiasco, losing to the United States in the 1950 World Cup.

The fact that yesterday's inaugural meeting of the FACA was held at all showed how much notice had been taken.

Hoddle, the England coach and one of the finest natural talents this country has produced in the last 30 years, plucked a personal example of what had gone wrong in the past. "I remember when I was young" he told a audience of 1,500. "I did something and was told `you don't do that son'. It was about playing off the front foot, using the outside of the foot. It's something that stayed with me and something I took into coaching. If a lad can play with the outside of his foot he should be encouraged.

"We have underestimated our achievements at club and international level for the last 30 years. I say that because of the structure we have had to work under. We need to be with boys of a younger age. We need to change."

In Hoddle's perfect world young boys would play on smaller pitches in games of less than 11-a-side in an atmosphere that places more emphasis on learning than winning.

"We need to take the competitive edge from young players, coaches and parents," he said, "it's not win at all costs at that age.

"The important thing is to get quality time with these players. Time to practice and time to develop techniques.

"Competitiveness is there anyway. It's natural. You can see that when kids play conkers in the schoolyard."

Time, it was a recurring theme in Birmingham. Houllier, the former coach of Paris St-Germain and the French national side and now Wilkinson's equivalent over the channel, spelled out how a coaching revolution had turned his country from an international joke into one of the powerhouses of Europe.

France's football structure was reorganised in the 70s and 80s to produce players like Eric Cantona, Didier, Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane.

In turn, French clubs have turned a hopeless record of four European finals and no cups between 1955 and 1989 into two titles and five finalists in the last seven seasons. This despite currently exporting 17 top players to leading foreign clubs. A figure that far outweighs England's negligible sum.

Houllier also revealed how each club's youth schemes had been graded with the better ones being rewarded by having extra rights when it came to signing and retaining young players.

He said: "The ones which are not so good are only allowed to sign players for one year. This is because we want our best young players learning at the best centres with the best teachers.''

Wilkinson said: "To change the saying of the Jesuits," he said. "Give me a boy when he's seven and I will give you a player. If we do that properly we won't go far wrong.

"There are people, friends overseas, who dread our potential if we achieve what has been set out in the charter... In 1950 Walter Winterbottom's recommendations never came to fruition. Fifty years from now I think will regard 1997-98 as a pivotal moment in English football."