Gareth Southgate: 'England suffer as the big clubs hold all the power'

Former FA director Gareth Southgate tells Jack Pitt-Brooke he walked away as youth development is so hard to control

Click to follow
The Independent Football

It is one of the many mysteries of English football's governing body: why Gareth Southgate, after 18 months' good work, would walk away from the Football Association and the technical director's role. That job will now not even be filled. Dan Ashworth from West Bromwich Albion will instead become director of elite development at the end of the season. Clearly the role would have been perfect for Southgate, given what he did when he was head of elite development to change the structures of youth football.

But Southgate said no. "I just felt at this moment in time, this wasn't what I wanted to do," he insists. "It would have meant committing myself to that role for at least three years. But I think when you've got a career decision to make, you've got to decide what works for you and for your family, and the longer it was left the more I felt maybe this wasn't the time for me to do this sort of a role. You've got to be 100 per cent certain."

Southgate evidently was not. But he admits that the great frustration of development in England – the power of the clubs – weighed on him too. "Clearly I'm uncomfortable with the fact that the FA don't control youth development. And as technical director you would be accountable for something that perhaps you don't control. But other than that it was a personal, career decision.

"In most countries the actual federation controls youth development. They don't here. Really, the clubs and the Premier League are in charge of the academy system. In Germany, for instance, the two work closely together."

Decisions made 20 years ago have made the FA's task so much harder, according to Southgate: "That's a historical situation, when the Premier League was formed and when control of the academies went to the leagues. Unfortunately that power was lost under previous leadership of the FA and under previous technical leadership. And that's not the fault of people that are there now. Unfortunately that's the landscape as it is."

One hindrance, Southgate believes, is the structure of English football is built around the needs of the clubs, not the national team. He adds: "Really, are we serious about international football? Or is our football geared towards the clubs? Because in the end it's very difficult always to get the release of players for international junior tournaments, and sometimes that's because clubs want their players to play in friendlies or go on friendly tours. So at some point we've got to decide are we really serious about our international team or is it just an add-on?"

Despite these frustrations, it is clear that Southgate's work as head of elite development was rewarding. "I really enjoyed the work I did with the FA, it was a great educational experience for me," he says at an event promoting Phones4U's Upgrade Your Team campaign for club football teams. "I enjoyed working with the people there.

"My remit there was to help the implementation of some of the Youth Development Review. But that role was always an 18-month role and the work will be continually on-going."

As well as the new academy structure, graded by category, other changes made by Southgate involve smaller teams and pitches for youth football, starting with four against four. "We've got to create better players in our country," says Southgate, pinning down the heart of his role. "There is no use us complaining about better players coming in. But for every youth coach working out there who sees European football and wants his team to play a possession game and to develop kids to make decisions for themselves, there is another youth coach who thinks the old way is the best and to get it forward and just win matches."

The story is well-known. Backwards methods mean worse players which means fewer in the Premier League and a weaker national team. "The talent pool that he's picking from is limited in terms of the first-team football that they're getting," Southgate says of Roy Hodgson's problems. "If you've got a bigger pool of players to pick from then inevitably the quality of the player will be better as well."

With fewer players to pick from than is ideal, transition into the national team must be well managed from above. "It is important the coaches of the [Under-19, Under-21 and senior] teams interact and have the same philosophies, which then lead into the seniors.

"It will be interesting now with Raheem Sterling, because I think he should stay with the Under-19s where possible and develop gradually and slightly out of the spotlight. There will be a lot of public clamour for him to be promoted to the Under-21s very quickly and that might not in the long-term be the best thing for his development."

The Phones4U Upgrade Your Team campaign is giving away £2,000 to 10 amateur football teams to upgrade their squad, plus the opportunity for Gareth Southgate to play for one.