Five ways we can turn Greg Dyke's passionate plea into achievable improvements
The Independent's chief football correspondent considers how the FA chairman's call for action might be realised
1. Improve the quality of young English footballers
It might sound like a niche-interest European political party but EPPP – the Elite Player Performance Plan – is the blueprint to preserve the future of the English footballer. Conceived by the Premier League, and endorsed by the Football Association under Greg Dyke's predecessor as FA chairman, David Bernstein, this is the major play to change English football.
Dyke was explicit in his speech that the ideas he was advancing should not turn into a FA v Premier League row. Naturally, though, emotions were a little raw at Gloucester Place today as Dyke's cri de coeur to English football sank in. There is no doubt the new chairman, in speaking so frankly, has seized the moment and it is the Premier League, for all its success, that is in the firing line. The League believes, in EPPP, it is already doing its bit.
A radical overhaul of the academy system, EPPP is now into its second year. A change to the academy structure was led by chief executive Richard Scudamore, before the disappointment of the 2010 World Cup finals, and EPPP itself was devised by Ged Roddy, the Premier League's director of youth. At its heart is £340m of investment in youth development, much greater contact hours with coaches, independent auditing of academies and a clear tariff system for the transfer of young players.
A lot of effort went into EPPP, in its creation and persuading the clubs to sign up. Youth development is a painstaking process which cannot be changed overnight. The most optimistic belief is that change will be seen in three to five years. The true EPPP generation are the children going into the elite "category one" academies. Even in 2022, they will still be teenagers. This will take time.
2. Raise the profile of the England junior teams
It is evident that the England junior teams, from Under-16s upwards, do not occupy the status they should among young players. In his speech on Wednesday, Dyke told a story about a player being withdrawn from a junior England squad in order to play for his club side, only for him not even to be on the bench.
The downgrading of the importance of playing for England has been a gradual process. Under the old England Schools (ESFA) administration, the Victory Shield Under-15s game was at Wembley, broadcast on terrestrial television and was something of an event.
Sky Sports has the rights now and, while the broadcaster approaches the match with its usual enthusiasm, the shield has to take its place amid the mass of live television.
The FA is considering bringing in some bigger names – recently retired players – to manage the junior sides.
3. Tighten up the Dyke commission's aims
As yet there is no timeframe and no terms of reference. How will one person's opinion of the England team be evaluated in relation to another? Dyke acknowledged that establishing a commission might be seen "as a bureaucratic response". The problem is that it is impossible for the FA to impose any measures on the Premier League. Regardless of that, quotas are illegal under European Union law. The development of young players is in the hands of the Premier League clubs and the EPPP. Even if the Premier League takes part in the commission it cannot be forced to accept the findings.
Dyke's speech made an impact, and his key points made a great deal of sense. The problem is that the commission threatens to lead nowhere.
4. Don't set unrealistic targets
In his speech, Dyke joked that as "a former journalist" he could see the headlines coming about a FA v Premier League row and wanted to head them off. The headline he did not see coming – which should have been obvious – was that he would be taken to task for writing off England's chances at the World Cup finals next summer in a radio interview, having set the target of winning the 2022 World Cup in his original speech.
Everyone knows England will probably not win the next World Cup. They may not even qualify. But there is no point going into a tournament having been that explicit. Equally, the target of winning in 2022 is ludicrous. Even countries with the deepest resources like, Spain, Germany and Brazil cannot be that bold. So much can happen in the interim. Tournament football is volatile and throws up unusual consequences, as when Greece won Euro 2004.
A more realistic target would have been to challenge English football to have 40-50 per cent England-qualified players in Premier League starting XIs by the time the squad is selected for 2022. That is achievable and will at least give England a fighting chance. Which is as much as anyone could ask.
5. Focus on the forgotten areas of the country
Under EPPP, academies are assessed according to the level of coaching and facilities they provide and ranked in four different categories, with "category one" being the best. Those academies are able to take boys at the youngest ages.
Unfortunately, the spread of "category one" academies is not even across the country. There are none in major population areas such as Kent, the South-west and Yorkshire, depriving boys there of the chance of training at a top academy on their doorstep. Under EPPP, Southampton will be forced to shut their Bath satellite academy which discovered Gareth Bale (left).
Would there be a way of building independent academies run by the Premier League in these areas? It is not without complications – how would the best then be drafted into clubs? – but worth looking into.
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