Football: Wilkinson leads FA into next century

Mark Burton finds technology is working for England's future
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The Independent Online
IF IT is good enough for the world champions... England have finally stepped into the modern world with the 21st century only a microchip away.

Never mind dusty old folders holding a jumble of information on a few English and foreign players, the way ahead, signalled by the French and given the ultimate stamp of approval when they lifted the World Cup, lies with computers, is to log on, call up the files and win.

Where the French led, Howard Wilkinson has followed with the Football Association's director of coaching spearheading a move to ensure that the England coach, whoever it is, will have all the information he needs on computer or video. Wilkinson, whose friendship with Gerard Houllier alerted him to the French way of doing things, called on Les Reed, the FA's director of technical development, to develop the system that Kevin Keegan is now using.

Reed, formerly a coach at Charlton Athletic, said: "We have added a few things to what Gerard started in France. It is popular with the players because half the current squad have been brought up with video technology and computer games. Stick a lap-top in front of them and they are not frightened because it is the way they are used to seeing things.

"Part of the Charter for Quality is to create a new national football centre containing the elements of Bisham Abbey, Burnham Beeches, Lilleshall, all the video technology and all the medical facilities, hopefully ready within three years."

Reed helped with briefing Keegan about Poland for yesterday's qualifier. "He identified what he wanted in terms of strengths, weaknesses, formation, and I devised a format which would provide that information with nothing else clouding the issue," Reed said.

He said he watched the Poles live and viewed videos of them, and then set his team of helpers on to surfing the internet to find out which players were in form. "I compiled pen-pictures of every Polish player, showing his picture, position, strengths and weaknesses," Reed said. "I did a 20-minute presentation for our players, projected on to a big screen. Then there was a short video clip of each Polish player showing some of their strengths and a lot of their weaknesses. There were also clips of their set plays."

The plan seemed to work for yesterday's match so the next step is to commit all the information to databases.

It seems if it is on the net, it is in the net, and England's place in the Euro 2000 finals could be in the bag.