By George, I think we've got it!

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Football Association's national football centre, at St George's Park near Burton, is a state-of-the-art development which it is hoped will transform the English game when it opens in September. Richard Rae enjoys a sneak preview

The best part of 40 years after it was first mooted, the country in which the game was born finally has a national football centre.

Where Spain has long had the Ciudad del Futbol near Madrid, France Clairefontaine on the outskirts of Paris and Italy Coverciano in Florence, England now has St George's Park, near Burton. And let no cynical eyebrow be raised – not yet, anyway – because St George's can stand the comparison. The question of course is whether, like its European counterparts, it will produce players of the requisite technique, intelligence and vision to win European Championships and World Cups. Or even win the occasional penalty shoot-out.

It is a question which David Sheepshanks, the man chosen by the Football Association to make the project happen, is accustomed to hearing. The simple answer is that it is going to take at least 10 years before the impact can begin to be judged.

Of more immediate interest is how the FA intend St George's to raise the standard of English international football. Given that the buildings have been completed on time and just under the £80 million budget, Sheepshanks is entitled to a moment in the sun. But, as he explains, the real work has yet to begin.

In material terms, it is hard to argue the FA haven't got a bang for their bucks. There is a superb full-size indoor pitch, a huge sports hall, sports medicine, rehabilitation and science centres, educational areas, 11 outdoor pitches – including an exact replica of Wembley – and two large hotels that are open to the public.

Everything is state of the art, from the anti-gravity running machines to the altitude chamber, the hydrotherapy pools with underwater treadmills, the athletics track with built-in pressure pads, the six-lane, 30-degree running hill and the ECG machines.

Like the country's other 23 representative teams, the senior side will train here. Perhaps, as Sheepshanks puts it, there will be a short-term bounce, a beneficial effect on their fortunes. Any of the current crop of multimillionaire players who consider such support to be only what is due to individuals of their importance should, however, think again.

St George's Park is not for them. Who the place is really about, says Sheepshanks, is the generations of England footballers to come, and those who will coach them.

"Whatever the sport, the coach has a defining influence," said the former Ipswich Town chairman this week. "Take the Olympics: there won't be a champion who doesn't have a world-class coach behind them. We have some great coaches in this country, but we need lots more."

The FA's point is that seven million people regularly play football in England and there are 103,000 qualified coaches, a ratio of about 1:69. The intention is not simply to produce more coaches – 250,000 by 2018 is the number mentioned by Sheepshanks, reducing the ratio to 1:25 – but for those coaches to be better: better educated, better trained, better motivated – and more likely to produce players who are not only technically more adept, but who as the FA's director of football development, Trevor Brooking, puts it, are more able to take decisions on and off the field.

The key appointment then will be that of technical director, the individual who will impart the vision, who will oversee the breadth and direction of coach education. It is due to be made "very soon", said Sheepshanks. And yes, it may be an overseas candidate.

"The technical director will run the football side, absolutely. He or she will appoint the staff, the coach educators, and we will certainly cast the net wide because we have the opportunity to bring the best in the world here to assist our cause. We have some outstanding coach educators in this country; however, if we want to be best in class, we should not necessarily think all our coach educators have to be home-grown.

"At the same time you shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water – we have great strengths in English football as well and we should look to combine both."

Little Englanders disturbed by the number of foreign managers in the country may not react well if, as seems likely, an overseas supremo is appointed – oh that Pep Guardiola might be persuaded to spend a few years in the rolling Staffordshire countryside – but there is consolation.

"Increasing the standard and number of qualified English coaches should lead to more home-grown managers managing our Premier League teams and available to coach our international teams," said Sheepshanks.

"If we get this right, by definition we should never need to appoint overseas coaches – so that would be a success measure."

He points out that other countries – and successful football and sports coaching centres worldwide have been visited – have been helpful in providing access and information.

"I think English football has the respect of other countries and they're excited we're building St George's Park, but we clearly have lots to learn.

"A very good definition of winning is achieving a personal best, and our aim is that people leave here with a relentless commitment to being better every day – and that will be a massive culture change for English football."

The England manager, Roy Hodgson, who will play a consultative role in the appointment of the technical director, visited before Euro 2012 and was "very excited", said Sheepshanks.

"We all saw how the Euros played out and the superior technique of Spanish, which was a joy to behold in many ways.

"So we've reached a milestone here but it's unfinished business. We're not saying, 'Look at us' – we have a long way to go and an awful lot more hard work to achieve the success we crave. It's a statement of intent by English football, but made in all humility."

It is, in short, a start. An expensive one, to be sure – but a start.

The numbers game

12 full-size pitches, including one indoors.

5 pitches with under-soil heating and floodlighting.

60m x 40m multi-purpose indoor sports hall.

5 gymnasiums (Hilton, Hampton, Biomechanical, Rehabilitation, Strength & Conditioning).

330 acres of land.

24 England teams to have their home at St George's Park.

£3m technology budget.

132 miles to Wembley Stadium.

1975 when the idea of a national football centre was first discussed.

800 new coaches to be trained and qualified every year at SGP.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
News
Russia's President Vladimir Putin gives his annual televised question-and-answer session
peopleBizarre TV claim
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'
tv
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit