Child's play to make England great

Brooking says national team will only rule world if quality coaching helps Under-11s to master basic skills
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The Independent Football

He is a man in a suit and an office these days, but for one morning last week the Football Association's director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, was where all old pros most like to be: out on the pitch. Even better, given his self-confessed "obsession" with the quality of coaching for the youngest age groups, it was boys and girls aged under 11 that he was overseeing on a splendid new floodlit all-weather surface at the Blessed Robert Sutton Catholic Sports College in Burton on Trent that all the local community can use.

If the 1966 World Cup was won on England's back streets and playgrounds, from the Charlton brothers in Ashington to Bobby Moore in Barking, any future success will be traced back to facilities like these. As Brooking put it after inspecting the eight new changing rooms, coach education room and refurbished sports hall: "In the old days, we'd get home after school, eight or 10 of us, and be out in the street putting the jumpers down and playing until it got dark. But when you got on a proper pitch at this time of year it would be a mud-heap and could then be unavailable for a month. The artificial surface is now key."

What street football, sometimes played with a small ball, helped implant was the skill that Brooking often finds lacking these days. "I have this little obsession with the five to 11-year-olds," he admits. "When I left primary school at 11, I'd like to think I had most of my basic technique. It's pretty evident to me even going to some of the centres of excellence there are some 12, 13 and 14-year-olds still concentrating on bringing the ball under control whereas by that age you should be thinking, as [former West Ham manager] Ron Greenwood was always telling us, about what you are going to do when you get it. We have to really focus on getting the 11-year-olds doing that."

That in turn requires coaches adept at working with a particular age group. "At the moment age-specialist coaching hasn't been very evident in this country," says Brooking. "We've got big clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea doing really well at it because they can afford specialist coaches for the various age groups. But we've got 92 clubs and we want more support going out there."

Hence the conflict with many of those clubs, who are reluctant to allow the FA the sort of quality control that Brooking wants, prompting a recent outburst by Lord Mawhinney, chairman of the Football League.

Brooking's other great bugbear is the "shouting and hollering" that tends to be aimed at young players, whether from "well-meaning mums and dads" or coaches who don't understand their charges. "We've now got 90 full-time five-to-11 coaches in 18 counties. Ideally we want up to 400 across the country. When we were assessing people for these jobs, some of our top A licence coaches were terrible with the five to 11s. That hammered it home that you must have somebody who really understands how to get the best out of that age group."

The Burton facilities cost £1.5m in all, more than half of it provided by the Football Foundation. Coincidentally, the college is a couple of miles from the National Football Centre, which the ambitious discussion document produced by Brooking's department this autumn insists should be fully operational at last by 2011. "Taking the current FA coaching system from good to great" is the overall aim; the hope being that England teams at all levels will follow.