Glenn Moore: The crucial areas where FA action is needed
The Weekend Dossier: Time is running out to submit ideas to Greg Dyke’s commission
In September Football Association chairman Greg Dyke announced a commission to ascertain why so few English footballers make it to the top level.
This was quickly overshadowed by the furore over its composition, but in the intervening four months it has been gathering evidence and inviting submissions from “anyone involved or interested in the game who have views on the way young players are developed”. The deadline to submit evidence is 2 January. This is an edited version of this correspondent’s submission:
It is a fallacy to suggest the biennial failures of the England team are a consequence of the rise of the Premier League. Prior to the league’s formation England reached one major final, at home in 1966. However, the league’s success has not been accompanied by an improvement in the national team’s results despite that being a prime reason for the FA sanctioning its formation.
In the original blueprint it was indicated the league would reduce to 18 clubs to enable England to prepare better. That has been reneged upon. The clubs have also taken control of youth development with mixed results, driving the closure of the National School at Lilleshall, forcing Football League clubs to accept the Elite Player Performance Plan which threatens to make youth development uneconomic for many, and denying England age-group teams access to players.
It is time for the FA to flex its muscles, reclaim some of its powers, and create an environment in which English players can flourish.
More and better-paid coaches
Given the money in the game, salaries for coaches operating at youth level are diabolical. At most clubs coaches have to work at Under-18 level or above to make a decent living, yet the key development years are much earlier. Qualified coaches – of whom there would be many more – must be entitled to a decent working wage.
Compulsory release of youth players
Spain have won the last three major World and European tournaments. In the last 12 years they have also won 11 age-group tournaments (U17, U19, U21). England have won one age-group tournament in 20 years and nothing at senior level. These results are not unconnected. Among many differences, one of the most significant is La Liga clubs not only have to release players when selected for youth matches and tournaments, they must also let them attend federation coaching camps for three days every month.
Imposing such access in England would offset a coaching structure in which players develop (or not) in isolation at their clubs – unlike in Germany and France where there are regional centres run by federations in conjunction with clubs.
Reduce ‘average’ foreign players
There is no problem with the likes of Mesut Özil, Robin van Persie and Sergio Aguero playing in England. Native players learn from them as they did from Gianfranco Zola, Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp. What is ludicrous is a situation where Brighton have three foreign goalkeepers over the age of 30, where the Under-21 development league is a quarter-populated by foreign players and Fulham, a club with reputedly an excellent youth system, have players from 18 different non-English countries in their first-team squad.
European Union laws limit the action which can be taken, but work permits should be granted for non-EU nationals only in exceptional circumstances – the likes of Elsad Zverotic, a Montenegrin with three Fulham appearances this season, need not apply.
Reward clubs playing English players
One way to increase opportunities for English players without falling foul of EU law is to reward clubs for picking them. The England and Wales Cricket Board pays counties a bonus for fielding English-qualified players. This has paid off with counties such as Derbyshire reducing their reliance on overseas players, and Durham winning the title with 84 per cent of their appearances made by Englishmen. While cricket’s income structure means the ECB is able to make more impact this way than the FA could, clubs outside the top flight could be incentivised.
Seek out Asian footballers
It beggars belief that there are a mere handful of Asians in the professional game and only Swansea’s Neil Taylor in the top flight. There are thousands of Asian footballers at grass roots, some very talented. From a purely economic viewpoint the game should be going into Asian-only leagues and areas of high Asian populations and finding them.
Improve grass-roots facilities
All internationals start somewhere, in England they normally begin on a waterlogged pitch with dilapidated changing rooms. Grass-roots facilities are a disgrace and the FA and Premier League bear a responsibility to improve them. They also need to embarrass a government whose investment in sports provision is a scandal, and a short-sighted one at that, given the cost of obesity to the NHS.
Re-distribute FA Cup prize fund and cut costs
Some reforms will cost money. The prize money awarded to clubs progressing in the FA Cup has a real impact in the early rounds but to a Premier League club the £900,000 they get for winning the FA Cup semi-final is equivalent to finishing 12th rather than 13th in the league. That cash could be better spent. Prize money should halt after the fifth round. That would free up £8.6m to be spent on coaches or facilities.
Significant savings could be made elsewhere. The FA’s salary bill last year was £43.4m, at an average of £57,600, which seems rather high. It is ludicrous that the general secretary, Alex Horne, is paid £528,000, more than treble the Prime Minister. Like being PM, running the FA carries plenty of kudos and further money-making opportunities. Horne (or a successor) should not be paid more than David Cameron. Further savings could be made by reducing the stupendous level of luxury in which the England team is kept. Italy stayed in an ordinary business hotel (Hotel Landhaus Milser) near Duisburg for the 2006 World Cup while Engand were in opulent isolation in Baden-Baden. Italy won the tournament. Under Roy Hodgson some progress is being made in this area.
Resist pressure to allow feeder clubs
There is a growing campaign by Premier League clubs to allow feeder clubs, as happens in some continental leagues. This would either be by way of creating a new team (eg, Manchester United B), and working their way through the leagues or more probably, as it is quicker, by swallowing an existing team (eg, Bury, and turning them into Manchester United B). The argument goes that this would enable young players to experience meaningful matches at a key stage of their development rather than the now discontinued reserve leagues or the new, and so far uncovincing, U21 development league. This happens elsewhere, notably in Spain.
However, not only is the depth of the professional game one of the great historic strengths of English football, there is no evidence that this is more likely to produce better players than the other reforms listed. Far better to prevent big clubs stockpiling talent, so enabling smaller clubs to retain, and play, young talent.
To contribute to the Dyke commission go to the-fa.com/Q4cfhh
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