England can have no more excuses for international failure

 

England skipper Steven Gerrard has admitted there will be no more excuses for national failure following the move into St George's Park.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially opened the £105million state-of-the-art complex near Burton today.

Now all the ceremonies are over, work can now begin on the long-term plan of improving coaching standards from grassroots level, right to the highest echelons of the game.

As St George's Park chairman David Sheepshanks outlined, it will be a decade or more before the fruits of those labours start to be realised.

Before that, England's 24 different teams will use it as a base, with Roy Hodgson and his senior squad moving in for the first time ahead of their World Cup qualifier with San Marino at Wembley on Friday.

And, as he surveyed the awesome 330 acre site in Staffordshire, Gerrard believes any reasons for continued failure are now being removed.

"The place has blown me away. All the lads are buzzing to be here. We're lucky to have facilities like this. It's a long-term plan and hopefully it can bring success to the national teams," he said.

"This place has blown me away.

"Now we've got the best stadium in the world and the best facilities.

"We're taking away all the excuses the players might use in the future."

The presence of William and Kate added a touch of glamour to an occasion the Football Association rightly feel proud of.

A concept that was the brainchild of Howard Wilkinson in 2001 may have taken far too long to set up for some, while others believe it is too far away from the national stadium at Wembley.

No-one can doubt the magnificent facilities though.

"It gives me great pride we have created in this country facilities that are beyond compare anywhere else," said William, in a speech to assorted guests of the FA.

"St George's Park is a concept totally new. It will provide more than just world class facilities for our national team and more than a university from which hundreds of coaches will graduate.

"It will provide employment and a social hub for local people and will foster community spirit and purpose and hope throughout England."

The Royal couple watched England train before meeting the players, with William exchanging a joke with under-fire Ashley Cole before posing for official pictures.

As FA president, William takes a keen interest in the on-going fortunes of the national team, although he couldn't resist a little humour as his part in proceedings came to an end.

"I feel tempted to cry 'God for Harry, England and St George' but I really don't want to lower the tone by bringing my brother into it," he said.

Now it is down to the professionals, and Hodgson accepts a challenge has been laid down that needs to be accepted.

"Facilities, in themselves, don't make you a better football team," he said. "What makes you better is the work you do within them.

"The players will be really happy to do their work here.

"We have to forget the past. We can't win a World Cup yesterday. As soon as we start working towards a World Cup we can win, the better - and I'm rather hoping the amount of effort and work we'll put in will lead us to that World Cup victory."

Much as with Wembley, there will be some who feel an immense amount of money has been wasted, and that the great players of yesteryear turned out perfectly fine by honing their skills on England's streets.

Both Gerrard and Hodgson had an answer for that.

"I have heard that argument," said Hodgson. "When I started coaching many people thought coaching was totally unnecessary. That you played in the school playground, you either could play or you couldn't and that decided whether you were going to become a top player or not.

"I would like to think we have grown up a little bit and we recognise even the good players can benefit from some coaching."

As one of those good players, Gerrard agrees.

And he knows where he would prefer to be learning.

"You can still play on the street," he said. "No-one's stopping you do that.

"But this is England, where all the main teams play, and I'd much rather come here and play football than play on the street."

PA

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