The Football Association yesterday unveiled its £100m plan to bring English managers up to the standard of their foreign counterparts with the second launch of the eagerly-anticipated National Football Centre (NFC) outside Burton-upon-Trent in the space of nine years.
Stuart Pearce, the England Under-21s coach, visited the 330-acre site in east Staffordshire and said that he believed the project – to be known as St George's Park – would be the catalyst for a sea-change in English football. "I have seen change at the top level of football and this will be a major part of us striving towards that," he said. "Just as Wembley is an inspiration for young players I hope the NFC will be just as important."
St George's Park will be built on the land acquired in 2001 for the doomed original version of the Burton project but this time will be a much less expensive undertaking for the FA ,who abandoned it in 2004 when £25m has been invested in buying the land and initial work; finance will also come from a privately-operated on-site hotel, further FA funding and a private housing project.
The chairman of the NFC board, David Sheepshanks, said that the country urgently needed a centre that would encompass the training of coaches, referees and administrators at all levels of the game. The site will also be England's base before Wembley home games and would be the team's centre should the bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals be successful.
Sheepshanks said that there was a "robust" business plan in place that would ensure there would be no repeat of the debacle six years ago when the Burton project was suspended indefinitely. "This will create a legacy for future generations of football; this is a legacy for English football," Sheepshanks added. "This is a project that will trigger long-term success for the game."
As with the first vision for Burton, St George's Park will not be a full-time residential academy for coaching young footballers, like the FA's former Lilleshall school of excellence. Instead Sheepshanks said it would be English football's "centre for education, learning and career development for the whole country". All junior England teams, women's teams and disability teams under the FA's control would prepare for games there.
Above all, the FA want St George's Park to be an "epicentre" for coaching in the hope that further generations will not have to resort to appointing foreign managers to take charge of the England team. The FA also envisages that St George's Park will be used by clubs travelling within England to play games
The application for planning permission was lodged this week and from there the FA hopes to bring together their finance. Sheepshanks admitted there was a "manageable gap" in the funding. He said that "in a perfect world" the FA would rather not have to give up part of the site, once the location of the Bass brewers' family seat, to housing.
The St George's Park plans include 12 pitches – one indoor – sports science facilities, gyms, medical department, hydrotherapy pool and a coaches' library. Sheepshanks and his team said they have consulted 323 different stakeholders in football in designing the project and have the backing of all English football – including the quarrelsome Premier League and Football League.
"This is emphatically not a symbol of FA grandeur or opulence," Sheepshanks said. "It will be world-class but that does not mean extravagant. But we won't compromise." He did add that St George's Park would be at least as good, if not better, than Real Madrid's newly-built training ground – regarded as the world leader.
The League Managers' Association has already decided to move its headquarters to St George's Park when it is completed, the FA hopes, by April 2012. Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, said that the new Burton project would address the standard of coaching for children between the ages of five and 11, one of the biggest factors holding back the English game.