Stop! Stand still!" Sixteen players come to a halt, eventually, as I march out towards the penalty area. They turn expectantly, waiting for my pearls of tactical wisdom. I hope I look confident and knowledgeable. In reality I'm in a state of rising panic as I think to myself: "What do I say here? Who do I start with? Then what? Blimey. I bet Arsène Wenger never feels like this."
But he must have done once, long ago. This episode in mental self- flagellation is part of the Football Association's level three coaching certificate, aka Uefa B coaching licence. Achieving this mark is required – in theory – to work at a Premier League academy. It is also the third of five stages towards the Pro Licence, the standard required – again, in theory – to manage a Premier League club.
With Fabio Capello having concluded a successful World Cup qualifying campaign, and the Premier League's big four looking to achieve qualification en masse for the Champions League knockout stages for the fourth successive year, much may seem rosy with the English game.
However, behind these successes is a worrying situation. Only 10 of the 352 players who started the last round of group-stage matches were English. This weekend around a third of the Premier League's starters will be English. No wonder Capello's squad lacks depth.
The inescapable conclusion is that the FA's coaching system has been failing English-born players. To its credit, the FA recognised this some time ago and Trevor Brooking, the director of football development, has been overhauling the system. The problem is that we are decades behind France, Germany, Italy and Spain, and a lack of respect for coaching, as well as political infighting within and between the football authorities, is hampering attempts to bridge the chasm.
On the face of it none of this matters to the 25 of us gathered on a school Astroturf pitch in Redhill. We are fortunate in that our course is administered by the Surrey FA, which has one of the best-regarded coaching programmes, and has two experienced tutors, Mike Trusson and Mark Newson. "Truss" graced the midfields of Sheffield United, Rotherham, Gillingham, Plymouth and Brighton, and is now behind the coaching website grassroots.com. "Newse", once a shrewd full-back with Bournemouth, Fulham and Barnet, was more recently a coach at West Ham who helped to develop Junior Stanislas and Zavon Hines among others. Under their guidance we are enduring the practical week which kicks off the course. While a week playing football is fun, it's physically hard work, especially for those of us in our forties, and mentally draining as there is a lot of information to absorb. But a dressing-room camaraderie soon develops and, in between dishing out stick, we help each other out.
Level three is where the FA's coaching pathway (see panel) gets tactical, with topics such as "coach when to play to feet and when to play into space" and "coach forward runs to create and exploit space". Trusson and Newson steer us through a series of small-sided games and routines (known as phases and functions), constantly halting play to illustrate a coaching point. Then we all have a go ourselves. For non-professionals, even those who have watched a lot of football, or played a decent amateur standard, much of it is new.
After the week's practical work we have to put what we have learnt into practice, logging at least 10 hours' coaching at clubs. There is also a lot of paperwork, much of it needlessly bureaucratic which must contribute to the drop-out rate. There are various support evenings and practical days. Finally, assuming the paperwork is complete, in the spring we will undergo a practical assessment during which we will have to deliver two coaching sessions successfully.
And then what? The course involves a serious time commitment, and it is not cheap either at around £400. How can the qualification be put to use? Among our number are a few with ambitions to work in the professional game at first-team level, notably Carl Emberson, the only former pro on the course. Emberson, who played 300-plus senior matches in goal, primarily for Colchester, is unusual in that most ex-pros attend PFA-run courses with their peers. He now lives in Spain, running a soccer school, and decided he wanted to learn from the bottom up, even taking level one, which few ex-pros do. Having a player of his experience on the course is a significant plus for us amateurs.
Others want to work in the community, for clubs or local authorities, or want simply to improve the coaching of their own children's teams. Many, though, want to work at academy level. Some already do with clubs such as Fulham, Brentford and AFC Wimbledon and need level three to progress. These, as far as the FA is concerned, are the significant ones.
As Capello found, when he inherited the national team, for decades our children have been told to play a limited brand of football: "Get it forward early, press the ball." This created an exciting domestic game, albeit technically limited until the foreigners arrived, but an underperforming national team. A high- tempo, loose-possession game is fine in a domestic context, but it does not work against teams who can keep the ball, like Portugal and Brazil. Capello has had to teach the country's elite to pass the ball "through the thirds" (defence, midfield, attack).
Brooking's hope is that future England coaches will not have to start with such basics, but instead inherit players who are comfortable playing the ball from the back and capable of taking the right decisions under pressure.
This philosophy is reflected on the course. There is an emphasis on passing, on creating and exploiting space. The ball seems to go sideways a lot, but this is a reflection of our moderate ability, and the fact that we are quicker to absorb the defensive principles. Creativity, as the professional game shows, takes time to develop but we are encouraged to teach players to see options, and to make decisions. As Trusson says: "The idea is not to tell players how to play, it is to give them the tools to make their own decisions."
All very admirable, but we are not in a bubble. Outside in the real world there are parents who put a premium on results, who shout "get stuck in" and "get rid" at their terrified kids. Those children who survive this and get taken on by academies will, in many cases, not come under the influence of the best coaches until they are in their mid-teens, way too late to develop an English Cesc Fabregas. This is because the wages paid to youth coaches are, for such a wealthy sport, an absolute disgrace, and the only way to make a respectable income is, at most clubs, by working with the 16- to 18-year-olds. The five-11 group Brooking wants to target get the beginners, or the mediocre.
An evening's coaching at many a professional club's academy will bring in about £50. A lower division academy manager, a full-time job with managerial responsibilities as well as coaching, will be lucky to clear £25,000. That can double at a moderate Premier League, or decent Championship club, but, as with teachers progressing to become headmasters, by that stage the coach is often doing as much admin as coaching, which is of limited use to the club's promising nine-year-olds. And in non-League, where many aspiring coaches will aim to hone their skills, a level-three coach might get £70 a week for running two evening sessions and overseeing a weekend match.
As a result too many ex-pros, the ones with the knowledge, drift into the media, like Clive Walker. Best known as a winger with Chelsea, Sunderland and Fulham, he now works in radio. He said: "Most ex-pros love the game and want to stay involved, but I did it for four years and the money's terrible. I'm not saying you have to get rich coaching, but you have to make a living."
Which suggests this is not going to be an escape route for me if, as the doomsayers forecast, the newspaper industry dies. Nor is anyone else on the course likely to make a full-time career of it, not unless they set up a soccer school and employ other coaches, as one lad does, or can supplement their coaching with alternative income streams such as a police or forces pension, cab-driving, or another form of self-employment.
It is not like this overseas. At a club like Ajax the pre-teen coach would be one of the better-paid. But coaching is more widely respected on the Continent. There are no dispensations for those who, like Paul Ince and Alan Shearer last season, are not fully qualified to coach in the top flight. Academy level coaches must have a B licence, not merely "be working towards it" as in England. At the last count, in 2008, Germany, Italy, Spain and France had 100,000 coaches of B licence standard and above, between them, while England had fewer than 3,000. In England there are no mandatory refresher courses, and even coach educators need attend only one day a year; in France, all coaches must attend a refresher course every four years.
"France has a culture of training coaches," said Gérard Houllier, former Liverpool manager, now French technical director. "There is a domino effect, you want better players, you need better trained players; that means better trainers; that means a better coach education system."
Obvious really, yet Brooking is fighting for every penny when it comes to coach education, and only occasionally winning. Much like the national team in the big tournaments.
Dog & Duck to Stamford Bridge: The FA pathway
Required to be in charge of a team at an (amateur) Charter Standard club.
Tuition: 24-30 hours over two-four weeks.
Graduates in 2008: 28,856.
Part administration, part basic coaching. An introduction aimed at those involved with boys' and girls' teams. Includes child protection and first aid.
Typical exercise: Basic passing drills.
Certificate in coaching football.
Opens up opportunities with local authorities, football in the community schemes, US soccer camps.
Tuition: 90 hours over four-six months.
Graduates in 2008: 3,937.
Teaches coaching style and content, basic tactics and techniques. Includes nutrition, fitness and physiology, ethics, health and safety, laws of the game.
Typical exercise: Defending when outnumbered.
Uefa 'B' licence.
Coaches at Academies and Centres of Excellence need to take this course. Ex-pros often fast-tracked to this level.
Tuition: 60-120 hours over six-12 months.
Graduates in 2008: 549.
Teaches match analysis, advanced tactics, strategy and techniques, goalkeeping. Includes sports science, injury identification and drug awareness.
Typical exercise: When to press and when to drop.
Uefa 'A' licence
Tuition: 180 hours including two residential fortnights over two years.
Graduates in 2008: 30.
The coaching MBA. Includes preparing for the management role, sophisticated strategy and tactics, including set plays, principles and systems of play, psychology and media skills.
Typical exercise: How to defend a corner, then counter-attack.
Uefa Pro licence
Aimed at managers and required – in theory – to manage in any major European league. Long-serving managers have been granted an FA diploma, regarded as equivalent.
Tuition: 240 hours including two residential courses and an overseas study visit.
Graduates in 2008: 20.
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 communication skills.
Typical exercise: Produce a game plan for a key fixture.
*Course costs for levels one to three vary as each county FA, and other bodies, run their own courses resulting in differing salary and facility hire costs. Funding available for tuition fees from a variety of sources.Reuse content