The Football Association launched another coaching initiative yesterday. The FA is good at launches and all the big guns were being wheeled out, Fabio Capello, Sir Trevor Brooking, Sam Allardyce, even Wembley Stadium itself with a select group of aspirant coaches being put through a session on the hallowed turf.
Capello and co were launching a coaching manual, "The Future Game – Grassroots", directed at youth coaches. Around 600 paid £60 to visit Wembley, pick up the doorstep-sized manual, and listen to the great and the good.
The aim is to teach more English youngsters to play like the Spanish. Brooking, the Director of Football Development, stressed: "We have to play through thirds [defence, midfield, attack], we need 10 technically proficient outfield players who are all comfortable in possession. It is the way I was brought up at West Ham. You need intelligent young players who can make decisions without looking to the bench all the time. To create decent young players we need coaches who can engage children in the game and make them fall in love with football."
All very admirable, but the launch coincides with a perplexing change in the FA's coach development policy. One of the biggest problems facing English football is a shortage of qualified coaches. At the last count England had fewer than 3,000 coaches with the Uefa level B standard or higher. This compared very poorly to Germany (35,000), Italy (29,000), Spain (23,000) and France (17,500), all World Cup or European Championship finalists in the last five years. Level B is where coaches learn how to apply to match situations the nuts and bolts of the game – where and when to pass, how and when to close down an opponent, the creation and use of space.
Even the national team, to judge from the World Cup, could do with improvement in this area and in 2008 the FA set a target of quadrupling the number of coaches qualified to level B standard. Progress was being made, until the FA's education department suddenly embarked on a cull of coaches and courses. The number of freelance coaches being employed along with FA staff is being slashed from 112 to 60. Responsibility for hosting courses is being taken away from the counties and will be administered on a regional basis by the FA. The cost of such courses is rising from £300-450 to £750. The consequence? Far fewer courses, leading to far fewer coaches qualifying, and entry will be restricted to those with deep pockets or who are sponsored by clubs. It seems illogical at best.
At first sight the response from Steve Rutter, the FA's coach education manager, is obtuse. "People say Germany and Spain have got this and that, but we've watched them work and our education system would not tolerate it," he said. "There are some very old-fashioned ways of doing it. A lot is taught by rote in Spain. We have moved away from that. People say they have 20,000 coaches, well if they had 20,000 coaches and never won anything people wouldn't add them up. There are other countries with lots of qualified coaches who never win things, but people never quote those stats, they only quote Spain because they win things."
That, surely, is the point. Spain and Germany are successful, England are not. The figures, incidentally, are quoted in the FA coaching department's own literature as an aspiration.
However, there is a context. Rutter went on to explain that many coaches only work at youth level, where coaching requirements are different from those taught and learnt at level B. The FA is seeking to steer these coaches towards the new, and highly regarded, youth modules which teach coaches how to deal with four disparate age groups within the 5-16 range. "A lot of courses we were running had people on the courses who never do that sort of work, had little chance of passing and would not practise it afterwards." Taking their money was disingenuous, said Rutter.
The gripe within the coaching fraternity is the apparently arbitrary selection of the 60 coaches retained; none have been told why and there is a feeling that it is a case of "whose face fits". Rutter disputes this, arguing the best 60 have been selected. "There will be people who are fed up because they have not been picked, but that's life," he said. The increased cost, he added, reflected the longer, more in-depth nature of the course.
The other problem is the scarcity of jobs coaching under-16s. One reason coaches want a B licence is that it is hard to make a living from coaching without it. Brooking is working to resolve this but until he does there is little point pushing coaches into youth development.
The coaches' view
At yesterday's FA conference several coaches gave their solutions to improving the way youngsters approach the game. Here are some examples.
On formations, and his first act when taking over a relegation-threatened Blackpool:
I said to the players, what system do you want to play? Then I said, 'here it is, there is no excuses now, take responsibility.
On academy football:
The season should be moved to the summer. At the moment everyone trains indoors on a 60x40m arena. Let's use the light nights and warm weather.
On player development:
A lot of people say, 'practise your weaknesses'. I say practise your strengths, you can work on improving your weaknesses later, it's your strengths that will get you somewhere. I learnt that lesson early on when I was told to concentrate on my tackling and not bother dribbling with the ball.
We use a lot of visual aids to get our message across to the players. It is not just that half of them are foreign, this generation has grown up with Playstation and being on screen. It is how they receive information.
Sir Trevor Brooking
On young players:
Sixteen is a difficult age. We see them come into our development programme. Some of them think they have made it already and are not prepared to make the commitment required. It can be other, less talented players who come through because they do the work. Getting the right attitude and commitment is a big challenge in the generation coming through.
On bringing through the great crop of youngsters at Manchester United
We talked to them all the time. Paul Scholes never said a word in a group, so we would sit him down individually. I can still remember the look on his face when I told him Alex Ferguson had said he would play in the first team. He was a genius of a player but he didn't believe he would do that. You need to talk to young players.Reuse content