PFA chief: 'It's changing deckchairs on Titanic'

PFA chief executive says panic measure to appoint Italian highlights serious problems with game in this country
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The Independent Football

A glorious new dawn? Or a continuing of the dark age? While the appointment of Fabio Capello has been widely welcomed, there are also those in the football community concerned that whoever succeeded Steve McClaren would be on a hiding to not much, given the inherent weaknesses and contradictions of the game's structure in this country.

Among them is Gordon Taylor, who as chief executive of the Professional Footballers' Association for the past 26 years is experienced enough to focus on a wider picture than the traditional trade union leader, and does so with eloquence.

"It isn't my job to jump up and down," he says, though he is happy to pace up and down his spacious Manchester office with an old footballer's gait, while pointing out the great paradox of the Premier League, an organisation set up by the Football Association in 1991 with the stated promise that "the prospects of success for the England team would at once be enhanced". In an act hugely symbolic of the governing body's loss of influence, the initials "FA" in "FA Premier League" have now been quietly dropped.

Meanwhile, as Taylor says: "We've got without doubt the strongest football economy in the whole world; the game has never attracted as much money in television fees and sponsorship fees. If you were doing a boardroom report, you'd be saying everything in the garden was rosy until somebody said, 'What about our international team?' It's a circle that can't be squared."

The FA, he argues, have now rushed down the same path as a panicking club desperate for short-term success: "In a way what they've done is part of the problem with the game, with Premier League clubs who straightaway look abroad for a ready-made player rather than take a riskier route of looking to introduce youngsters.

"There's no squad of trained coaches here used to international football. Everybody's looking for instant solutions. You can't criticise the appointment, in that nobody could challenge Capello's CV, but the reason why they've appointed him is one of the reasons why we've failed to qualify. It's ironic that we've got Capello from Italy, a country wherethey manage to do well in the Champions' League but still win the World Cup.

"Here, as club football has increased, the international side has gone the other way. Are we bothered, and if we are, is the appointment of a new manager, albeit a top-quality one, going to make a difference?"

Taylor's solutions, all backed up by impressive statistics, include bringing through a higher proportion of English players and stopping wastage at the age of 18; granting more authority to Sir Trevor Brooking and his desire for a nationalfootball centre; and a winter break. "One of the surveys we did showed that countries with a midwinter break had 50 per cent less injuries in January, February and March, then four times less in April and May. We've put a lot of money into youth development but the failure rate is very bad; if it was a school looking at exam results they'd consider closing it down. We're still losing five out of six young players, dropping out in this black hole between the ages of 18 and 21. Instead we're becoming a finishing school for the rest of the world, whose players love to play here and take that experience into international football."

Another report commissioned by the PFA, who celebrated their centenary two weeks ago, claimed that the percentage of English players appearing in the Premier League has almost halved, from 71 per cent in 1992 to 38 per cent last season. "They say the cream comes to the top, but the actual amount of milk is shrinking alarmingly," Taylor says. "It's not anti-Arsenal or anti-foreigners, it's a matter of encouraging clubs to develop their own young players irrespective of nationality. Then they'd get some value from their academies, on which millions have been spent. But of course it's not Arsne Wenger's job or Rafa Benitez's to look after the England team, and neither is it the owners of those clubs now. That's the FA's job, and they've got to decide whether we just want one of the best club systems in the world, which we have, or is it not important to get some sort of balance, like Italy?"

As for the Italian now leaving the world of club football, which is all that he has ever known in management: "It's going to be a big job for him to adjust to the culture and the whole set-up and he'll have to be a very strong individual to shift the direction towards international success. A manager with excellent credentials has been appointed, but unless they sort out the whole structure and gear it to a proper Team England, it's like changing the deckchairs on the Titanic.

"We're not even qualifying among the top 16 of Europe. If this is not going to be a catalyst for change then it's going to be very embarrassing to be thinking about staging the World Cup in the future if we've not got a team to do us justice."