Fabio Capello has won championships in Italy and Spain, and breathed life into a moribund England team, but he would have to adapt his style to pass a coaching course run by the men who pay him £6m a year. Capello is understood to conduct training sessions by shouting at players, "Do this!", "Don't do that!"
Results are beginning to suggest this it is what our elite players need but when it comes to grooming future generations of international footballers the sergeant-major approach is out. With England's failure to win a major tournament stretching towards half a century, the Football Association has again overhauled its coaching system. Concerned that English players lack imagination on the big stage and have a tendency to freeze, traits which were evident again against Kazakhstan at Wembley on Saturday despite the eventual result, they have gone all touchy-feely. The new generation of courses encourage coaches to work with young players rather than dictate to them.
The change is driven by Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development. "In my era we developed with our mates playing on the street," he said. "Now kids' football is all structured with an adult in charge. If that adult is dictatorial he can do massive damage. We have tended to be coach-dominated and our youngsters are frightened of their own shadows. Coaches should encourage players to express themselves, to take chances and not worry about making mistakes."
The idea is to develop players capable of taking decisions under pressure, and who possess the courage and imagination to try things. The fear of failure which Capello said has afflicted England players at Wembley starts with coaches and parents hammering the errors of children. Thus the old-fashioned "command" style is out of fashion. In its place is "guided discovery".
In short this means instead of telling a player what they should be doing the coach leads them into working it out for themselves. Coaches are being taught how to coach rather than what to coach. "We want to encourage coaches to think about what is relevant to the player – we even encourage them to ask the player," added Brooking. "We were producing youngsters who were like robots, especially in an environment where mum and dad are on the touchline shouting, 'Do this, do that'.
"Abroad they develop decision-makers. Cesc Fabregas is a great example. In a good side you will have options, you need to choose the right one. It is no good looking to the bench for help."
I have recently seen this approach myself. Last month I joined 16 others on a windswept field in Surrey to attend the FA's Level Two Coaching Certificate, a qualification which also counts as part one of the Uefa B licence. This was my third such course. In 1994 I passed the FA Preliminary Coaching Badge, which was then the only precursor to the Full Coaching Badge. A sub-editor headlined my report, with brutal accuracy, "A short course with shortcomings". It was enthusiastically taught but the syllabus was limited to outlining the various techniques and tactical practices of football and the 30-hour course was spent entirely on the training pitch.
Four years later, after the biggest revamp in decades, I took the FA Coaching Certificate. The syllabus had been expanded to include subjects such as nutrition, injuries, child protection and health and safety. It was still largely prescriptive, though as in 1994 the need to demonstrate as well as instruct was emphasised.
The first sign that the Level Two course was different came at the induction meeting (itself a new development) at which a massive folder, containing three DVDs and a huge amount of reading material, was presented to us. One DVD revealed the Long Term Player Development concept (LTPD), a theory adapted from the Long Term Athlete Development model widely used in English sports coaching – in part because it provides access to government funding – having originated with the Canadian Winter Olympic programme.
The FA version focuses on a four-corner approach in which every training session should include technical, psychological, physical and social aspects. Training should also be age-related with younger players (five-11) encouraged to have fun while learning basic techniques, older players (11-16) needing the right balance between training and competition, and young adults (16-21) focusing on winning. This is clearly aimed at producing elite sportsmen, and the supporting material borders on gobbledygook at times, but the broad intention to look at the big picture when training young footballers is sound enough. Brooking explained how, in practice, it might mean an academy coach bearing in mind young people have growth spurts when a talented 11-year-old becomes a gangly, unbalanced 12-year-old, and instead of releasing him, waiting to see if he regains his promise when he settles into his new body.
The DVDs also featured examples of best practice showing coaches working with young players in a collegiate fashion.
Thus primed, 17 of us arrived at a sports ground near Epsom hoping to be transformed into Jose Mourinho. One student, Marta, had a clear advantage, she was Portuguese. Marta was one of two females, Susie, the other, worked for Fulham's Football in the Community programme.
Most had jobs outside the game including TV production, warehouseman, finance and fencing. Ages ranged from 20 to 51. There was also a wide variance in ability. While a few played at a good semi-professional level – with Matty part of the Horsham team that reached the FA Cup first round last season – some struggled with the practical aspects. There was no clear correlation, however, between playing ability and coaching ability.
We were very fortunate in having two of the most experienced coach educators in the game. Keith Boanas is Surrey's county coach, manager to Millwall Lionesses, and assistant director at the David Beckham Academy. Ted Dale brought John Terry through the ranks while Academy coach at Chelsea and is now director of coaching at the Beckham Academy. Both have worked through the changing curriculum of the last 15 years – Boanas coincidentally taught my course in 1998 – and welcome the changes.
"We used to have to drill coaches," said Boanas. "It was all spoon-fed. We would be telling students, 'This is how you do it. Copy this and you will pass'. Now they are allowed to use imagination and come up with unique sessions of their own.
"If you are coaching kids you need to have a diversity of sessions. You have to keep them interested. The new way is much more about how a coach delivers a session, how he involves the kids."
Over the week the pair of them guided us through the new philosophy, initially taking sessions themselves, then dissecting the ones we put on. We were told not to intervene in a session by shouting, "No, no, no. That's wrong. You've blazed it miles over the bar. Not like that, like this." Instead we should say, "You got yourself in a great position there. Well done. How do you think you could have then made sure your shot was on target? How about the position of your head?"
Always the idea was to draw the information out of the player, to make him think, not to instruct. By way of demonstrating, Ted conducted one debrief by asking 26 questions without ever volunteering information himself. When intervening in a session the process was freeze the play, praise, then Q&A the player, demonstrate the correct way, watch the player rehearse the correct way, praise again, then get out.
All in 90 seconds. Keeping things moving, keeping it interesting, and keeping it fun was crucial. And no wonder – on the two days it poured down I was reminded of the passage in Gianluca Vialli's book on the differences between English and Italian football, when he suggests our island's wind and rain are a big reason for our technical inadequacies. In such weather training has to be enjoyable.
Having completed the week we were sent away to log 12 hours coaching at clubs before returning, in December, for a three-day final assessment. Unlike the old course there are support meetings between now and then, and the opportunity to retake within a two-year window. This is one of several reasons why the new course should be easier to pass, but should also produce better coaches, ones with potential to develop into good, imaginative coaches.
The experiences of our motley crew may seem a long way from the professional game but it is part of the route there for coaches. Some fast-tracking takes place for ex-pros but they all still start at Level Two and Paul Ince, having been appointed Blackburn manager without the relevant qualifications, is busy working his way up from this stage.
Among my fellow students in 1994 was Steve Johnson, brother of current Bristol City manager Gary. Steve later coached Weymouth.
Several students on my course intend to progress to Level Three and beyond with a view to a career in the professional game. Even those who remain coaching under-12s, a role Brooking regards as the most important of all, could one day find themselves, like Ted Dale, watching an ex-pupil lead out England.
Main courses: How the FA coaching ladder works
Level one: Required to manage a team at a Charter Standard amateur club.
Tuition: 24-30 hours. Time: 2-4 weeks. Cost: £100-150. Qualified in the past 12 months: 28,633
An introductory course that acts as a basic primer for youth-team coaches and managers. Pass rate nears 100 per cent. Includes child protection, first aid and laws of the game.
Level two: Certificate in coaching football
Leads to work in Football in the Community programmes, local authorities, US soccer camps.
Counts towards Uefa B licence.
Tuition: 90 hours. Time: 4-6 months. Cost: £200-£375. Qualified in the past 12 months: 2,791
Teaches coaching style and content, basic tactics and techniques. Pass rate around 40 per cent. Includes nutrition, fitness and physiology, ethics, health and safety, and the Long Term Player Development model.
Level three: Uefa B licence
With Level Two makes up the Uefa B licence. Coaches at Academies and Centres of Excellence need, contentiously, to have registered for this course rather than completed it.
Tuition: 60-120 hours. Time: 12-18 months. Cost: £300-£450. Qualified in the past 12 months: 696
Teaches match analysis, advanced tactics, strategy and techniques. Includes sports science, injury identification and drug awareness.
Some ex-pros can be fast-tracked to start at this level.
Level four: Uefa A licence
Tuition: 180 hours including two residential fortnights. Time: 2 years. Cost: £2,360-£2,560
Qualified in the past 12 months: 27
Described as "an MBA of coaching". Includes preparing for the management role, sophisticated strategy and tactics, principles and systems of play, psychology and media skills
Level five: Uefa Pro licence
Aimed at managers and required to manage in any major European league, though Gareth Southgate and Paul Ince were appointed without one, having promised to earn the qualification. Several managers, including Sir Alex Ferguson and Harry Redknapp, have been granted an FA diploma, which is regarded as equivalent, on the basis of their experience.
Tuition: 240 hours including two residential courses and an overseas study visit. Time: One year. Cost: £7,102 (10 per cent discount for credit card payment). Qualified in the past 12 months: 19
Course includes using technology to assess and manage players, coping with players' on- and off-field problems, dealing with agents and contracts, analysing opponents, planning strategy over a season, and for a key fixture, and communication skills.
Course costs for levels one to three vary as each county FA, and some other bodies, run their own courses resulting in differing salary and facility hire costs.
Funding is available for tuition fees from a variety of sources.
For course details contact your local County Association or go to www.thefa.com/TheFA/FALearning
Tomorrow: MISSION IMPOSSIBLE? The search to find an Englishman who could manage the England team