Football: The numbers game: Quantity not quality

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The Independent Online
Technically speaking, the newsletter of Howard Wilkinson's FA department carries a revealing survey which shows the percentage of males taking part in the game in England has increased over the last 30 years, with almost 50 per cent playing in the 16-19 age group.

Indeed, it says, male participation in England is probably the highest in the world, since the figure for the top nation, Germany, with 6.5 per cent of population playing compared to England's 6.25, contains a greater proportion of women. In Brazil, only 0.3 per cent of the population play football.

All this is testament, says the newsletter, to "the hundreds of development schemes throughout the country". Participation, it adds, also leads to more watching the professional game. It looks like good news, assuming English clubs are still taking on English players in a few years. Unfortunately the argument there, as with the coaching of these young players, is about quality rather than quantity. For all the joy of mass participation, when it comes to raising competitive standards, it is not just about creating an interest in the game then filling expensive seats with that interest.

Rather than "hundreds of development schemes" run by disparate bodies, a streamlined system with more expertise is the need. Howard Wilkinson is due in the next few weeks to present a report about development of players. We await its contents with almost as much interest as the action it prompts.

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