Brooking - 'British players not good enough'

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The Independent Football

Trevor Brooking has launched a scathing attack on the standards of English football, claiming that it could take another 10 years to repair the damage wreaked in the 1980s.

Trevor Brooking has launched a scathing attack on the standards of English football, claiming that it could take another 10 years to repair the damage wreaked in the 1980s.

The respected former England international spends his weekends assessing the talents of the Premiership in his pundit's role for the BBC, and his weekdays trying to rejuvenate the game at grass-roots level as chairman of the Government-backed agency Sport England.

Brooking remained at West Ham United for his entire career. Not only has that kind of loyalty almost vanished from the English game, so has the depth of talent, swamped by a mass of foreign imports which the Professional Footballers' Association is trying to restrict.

Brooking can see why the PFA is taking that stance, but feels it is a misguided solution to a problem which can only be solved by addressing the lack of sports coaching and facilities in primary schools.

"Euro 2000 was proof that we are not as good as some people would have us believe," Brooking said. "The Premier League is an excellent product but only because the quality of overseas players is lifting it to a higher level.

"Technically, we are not good enough and people are starting to realise that. I can understand why people want a restriction on the number of foreign players but I don't think that is going to happen. Foreign players have come in because we do not have sufficient players of that quality. If they left, the standard of the Premier League would collapse.

"The harsh fact is that there is no short-term solution. We have ignored the grass-roots for 20 years, and the work we are doing now will take five years for the first signs to show and 10 before the real benefits are felt."

Brooking is critical of the coaching methods advanced by the Football Association more than a decade ago. The "Charles Hughes theory" argued that most goals were scored in moves of three passes or fewer. This developed into the long-ball game, characterised during the 1980s by the playing styles of teams such as Wimbledon and Watford. It was only after English clubs returned to European competition in 1990 following the Heysel tragedy that the gulf between the domestic game and that played on the Continent became apparent.

"Defenders were allowed three touches at the most and the forwards were encouraged to feed off knock-downs from set-pieces," Brooking said. "The standard of football it produced was dire and it was awful to watch. That idea spread down to the grass-roots and scouts were told to look for big, hulking youngsters. Anyone who was small was ignored, yet ability and technique more than make up for a lack of inches.

"Gianfranco Zola is only 5ft 5in but I would pay to watch him and would encourage anyone else to do the same."

Brooking hopes the launch of the Football Foundation initiative last week will help to broaden the base of young people currently taking up the game. The almost complete abandonment of sport within the primary school system is not only costing England valuable playing resources, it also means that youngsters who do take up the game have missed out on the most crucial years of their development.

Brooking wants to introduce free coaching for teachers within inner city areas, plus the creation of sporting facilities within certain schools.

"We have to put something back into the primary schools because the ages between five and seven are the most impressionable for any youngster," Brooking said. "Unfortunately, there are some primary teachers taking sports classes who have only had six hours' training themselves.

"One of the biggest shocks I have had working for Sport England is the lack of awareness in local and central government about the positive impact sport has in a social sense. The argument for this is so compelling and I just assumed everyone thought the same way. Thankfully, the message is starting to get through."

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