English youth teams show it's not doom and gloom


The superior technique and decision-making of Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder may have been a chastening experience for England at Wembley, but the Football Association remains optimistic that the future is bright.

Shortly before the seniors were outclassed on Wednesday, the under-21s defeated Belgium, a country which in recent years has produced a lot of young talent, 4-0 at the Riverside. The previous night the under-19s beat the Czechs 2-1 at Brisbane Road. Both teams are strong contenders to qualify for their European Championship finals. That, in itself, is an achievement open to only eight countries, and until recently England were rarely among them.

There was further reason for encouragement before kick-off at Wembley when the pitch was occupied by participants from the FA Tesco Skills scheme to mark the passing of three million child places since its 2007 launch. That does not mean three million children (aged five to 11) have taken part as there is much duplication, but many thousands have experienced the courses, which initially concentrate on ball mastery before moving on to decision-making scenarios.

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, said: "If you want to aspire to the elite game you have got to have a great skill base. Even the goalkeeper has got to be good with his feet. We need 11 players who can keep the ball and play through the thirds.

"By the time youngsters move into playing 11 v 11, the mental thought when the ball is on its way must be 'What am I going to do with it?' not 'Can I control it?' All too often, even watching 13- to 14-year-olds in academies, they are worrying about their control – by the time they look up they are tackled."

The FA is seeking, said Brooking, to expand from 106 coaches to 150 to extend the scheme nationwide and to establish stronger links with clubs following the adoption of the Elite Player Performance Plan [EPPP].

Courses are low-cost and their impact is widened as the FA coaches pass on their skills to teachers and club coaches. The hope is EPPP's mandatory coach qualification will drive up salaries so a good coach of five- to 11-year-olds can make a living teaching those "golden years", as is the case in the Netherlands.

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