It has been through more new dawns and false prophets than its leaders would care to remember and today the Football Association launched its latest plan to produce England footballers capable of conquering the world.
Presented at St George’s Park, a sign of the shift of influence from Wembley to the FA’s national football centre in east Staffordshire, “England DNA” is the manifesto of Dan Ashworth, the director of elite development, and the new power in the organisation. Ashworth and head of performance, Dave Reddin, have seized the initiative at the governing body in the fallout from the dreadful World Cup finals in the summer and have chairman Greg Dyke’s blessing to set the direction.
In time it is likely that Ashworth will be a key figure in deciding Roy Hodgson’s successor but for now he has been the driving force behind this latest document aimed at developing elite international players through the age groups from Under-15s up to the senior level.
The FA’s last attempt to formulate a playing and coaching strategy was only in 2010, the low-profile “The Future Game” document, but with the emergence of every new power at the governing body, especially since the opening of St George’s Park in 2012, so a new vision must be laid out.
The “England DNA” vision, to be presented this weekend to 1,500 coaches throughout the game, lays out prescribed values on everything from playing style to players’ awareness of the England team’s history as, ideally, they move up the age levels towards the seniors. Ashworth’s promise was that everything around the age-group England teams, from travel arrangements to warm-ups drills, will be the same “and only the size of the shirt will change”.
Given that the FA concedes that 90 per cent of young players’ time is spent at their clubs, the FA admits it will have to cram as much of the “England DNA” vision into the players every time they join up. All players will be issued with interactive wristbands on which they can download video clips and key messages even when they are not on international duty.
It was only in September last year that Dyke set out a target of reaching the semi-finals of the European Championships in 2020 and winning the 2022 World Cup finals. Ashworth said he was reluctant to set any firm targets for the senior side, preferring instead to create an identity for all England teams.
Although the development of the leading young footballers is dominated by Premier League academies and the Elite Player Performance Plan that was launched more than two years ago, the FA rightly feels that it cannot stand by and do nothing, especially given the declining number of young players at the top clubs.
The “England DNA” document itself is little more than 11 pages of common sense and good intentions, the key will be how well it is implemented across the country at junior level. The FA has nothing like the power, nor the level of consensus across clubs, to oversee the kind of revolution that was famously affected by Germany over the past 14 years to produce their World Cup winning team
Ashworth pointed out that research had showed players in leading football countries had represented their nation at junior level 50-60 times before they were capped for the seniors. With England it is more likely to be around 35, hence the addition of new age group teams, the Under-15s and Under-18s, and games against a higher standard of opposition.
The “England DNA” aims to answer for coaches the broader questions of “Who we are” and “How we play” and encourage players to analyse such things as the team badge and national anthem and “create personal meanings for both”.
“As a football nation we have long been characterised by our passion, fighting spirit and effort,” it said. “Although there are aspects of these characteristics we wish to retain, we do not wish to be solely defined by them.”Reuse content