How to save English game – it's child's play

Premier League hope new 'free schools' for under-18s can fix England's long-term international prospects

The Premier League wants to help create a new generation of English footballers by radically increasing the amount of coaching time available to young players. The League are exploring a range of options with a view to trebling the number of hours a week boys can train, including the viability of setting up schools in co-operation with clubs or other sporting bodies that would allow a more flexible approach to education.

The League believes the scheme being set up by Michael Gove, the new Secretary of State for Education, to allow the creation of "free schools" could be used for the benefit of young English players.

Under the guidance of Ged Roddy, their director of youth, the League is looking to close the large gap between the amount of direct coaching time children in countries such as the Netherlands and England receive. In Holland, by the time a young player reaches the age of 18 he is estimated to have received 6,500 hours of direct coaching, compared to just 2,500 in England.

Roddy, who was last year recruited from the University of Bath, where he oversaw the development of a succession of Olympic champions at every games since Barcelona in 1992, and the League regard a flexible approach to education as the best possible way of raising coaching hours in England.

"I could envisage a day when there could be a Premier League school in the North-west, for example, that allows players to combine playing football with their studies and has that extra flexibility," Richard Scudamore, the League's chief executive, said. The clubs are believed to be keen backers of the idea.

Roddy cited the example of a unnamed 15-year-old swimmer who is an Olympic hopeful. In a normal week, she trains for 15 hours around her school commitments, much of it direct one-on-one technical coaching. In comparison, a young footballer currently receives five hours a week. Fifteen hours is the mark the Premier League wants to become the norm.

The suggestion is that a school day need not be so fixed with a couple of training sessions mixed in between classes. In theory, training would still take place at the club's academies, while the education would be based at a specially created facility that might, for example, serve clubs in the Manchester or Liverpool areas.

With his experience across many different sports, Roddy, who was at Bath for 17 years, will be a key figure in any changes. He was recruited to help modernise the process of youth development and has already consulted the likes of Dave Brailsford, the man behind British cycling's run of unprecedented success, to see if any practices from elsewhere can be adopted.

These ideas were discussed before the World Cup finals that saw England so embarrassed, especially in comparison to the vibrant, young German side that knocked them out of the competition so emphatically.

"We made this decision at summer meeting on 3 June when there was still a lot of optimism about the World Cup," Scudamore said. "We know this is absolutely the right thing to be doing."

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