The Football Association was still basking in the warm glow of royal benediction yesterday, but a man who was produced by one of the world's best youth development programmes, and is now an architect of one of its most ambitious, yesterday warned it would take at least a decade for St George's Park to bear fruition.
More alarmingly, Patrick Vieira also suggested that young English footballers no longer dream of playing for their national team. "When I grew up in France, I wanted to play for the French team," he said. "That was my target, my dream, and I don't think this is the same for young players in England.
"I don't understand how come so many young players from the age of 16 to 21 pull out of the national teams through injury. Maybe this is a lack of love for the national team.
"I don't think the young players are dreaming of playing for England, I believe in England they are not as proud as they used to be."
Michael Owen rejected Vieira's suggestion, and said: "I think international football still means as much to the players, but has lost a bit of sparkle to the general public because the Premier League is so big." But the Stoke striker did admit that an international career was not always attractive. "The man in the street may think it is all rosy but it isn't easy playing for England. There is the pressure, and the time spent away from your family sat in your hotel room staring at four white walls 10 hours a day. It is mentally draining.
"I've heard many players talking before games about what the papers will say about them, or whether they are going to be booed. At club level you feel loved, you feel the fans are on your side. You go away with England and there is fear. That is a reason players don't play as well for their country as they do for their clubs. They don't feel they can express themselves."
Vieira praised the FA for "finally doing something" and said the National Football Centre was "better late than never", but he cautioned: "With Clairefontaine, producing someone like Thierry Henry, it took about 10 years. Everyone is talking about Spain now, but Barcelona have been working on this for the last 30 years. You have to be patient."
Clairefontaine, France's equivalent of SGP, opened in 1988. Ten years later Vieira was part of the team that lifted the World Cup, going on to win the European Championship two years later. Vieira is now the Football Development Executive at Manchester City's multi-million-pound academy.
"It's taken the FA a long time to realise they need a place – if you look at all the big nations, they all have their own 'house'," he said. "The people running the English game realised they are far behind other countries, that something is wrong in the system, and they are trying to make it work. It doesn't guarantee success, but you need a plan and the facilities to bring you success. It's as important as having the right coach."
Vieira, whose interest in learning extends to supporting Western Union's PASS initiative aimed at increasing young people's access to education globally, added: "For a big country like England, with the number of kids who love the game, you don't produce enough talent. I strongly believe one of the reasons is the coaches. They need to review how to coach the kids from eight years old to 21.
"When Clairefontaine opened, the coaches went away and saw what they were doing in Spain, Holland and Italy. They tried to get the best and do it in France with the French culture.England will never try to do what Spain and France are doing because the culture is quite different. I believe in this country there is a passion and a love of the game – that is a strength in this country. England should base the training on that.
"Perhaps more work needs to be done on the technical side to try to improve that gap because the heart of the English players is, I would say, double or triple that of Spanish or French players. But there is a difference today, be it in tactics, technique or the understanding of the game, between a young 16-year-old from Spain, France or Holland and the English one."
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