Kevin Garside: St George's day will come only if England players learn to love the ball

The Ballon d’Or shortlist reflects the influence of Spain’s greatest export

Tomorrow a door opens on English football's future. The Football Association cuts the ribbon on its new headquarters at St George's Park. There will be no parachuting in of the Queen but the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will be there to mark what we hope is a departure.

The national side is also in action on Friday in a World Cup qualifier against San Marino, to whom a representative side from the football dark ages, AKA the 1970s, could still administer defeat. Poland next Tuesday is a stiffer test and, like the Ukraine experience of last month, a better measure of England's standing than the Fifa ranking which has them at No 5 in the world.

The St George's Park initiative acknowledges the need for football's mother country to fall into step with best practice elsewhere. The deficit is felt most keenly in the standard of grassroots coaching, an area in which England have fallen way behind our continental counterparts. In number and method, coaching away from centres of excellence at elite professional clubs has not been a priority. As a nation we have trusted in the idea that talent will somehow make itself known, force its way to the forefront of the game.

That idea is smashed by statistics revealed before the last World Cup in 2010 which showed a paltry 2,769 Uefa-licensed coaches at work in England servicing a playing public numbering more than 2 million. That is one coach per 812 kids. World and European champions Spain had 24,000 coaches, Italy 29,000-plus and perennial contenders Germany more than 34,000. The scales fall from the eyes, allowing us to make the link between grassroots footballing education and the emergence of skilful players of the calibre of Mezut Özil, Mario Götze, Marko Marin and Marco Reus in Germany and AN Other in Spain.

In three weeks' time, the shortlist for the Ballon d'Or is announced. The presence of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Xavi and Andres Iniesta is a given. All four shared the same pitch in the first Clasico of the season last night. The latter are Spanish, another, Messi, learned the game in Spain and the fourth, Ronaldo, grew up in Funchal immersed in the myth of Real Madrid. This Spanish eulogy reflects the growing influence of Spain's greatest export: its football. The domination of Barcelona and the attempts by Real Madrid to counter it are shaping the game, and not just in Spain.

No great team in history has dominated matches against other important clubs in the way Barcelona achieved under the Pep Guardiola regime. At the Barcelona finishing school, La Masia Academy, anything less than 70 per cent possession is punishable by a week's exile in Madrid reciting poetry in Castilian. This love of the ball and the trophies it yields has won an important argument. The most efficient way to beat the opposition in this method is by retaining the ball, which requires improved movement, greater positional fluidity, which in turn facilitates the rapid transfer of the ball – "quick ball" as they call it in rugby – between feet willing to receive it in any position.

A cursory glance across the Premier League demonstrates how this idea has already started to spread beyond the obvious powerhouses that traditionally contest the title. Everton have been transformed by the gradual retreat from the long-ball philosophy initially adopted by David Moyes, a former disciple of the damaging idea that Everton did not have the type of footballer capable of playing the Barcelona way. That notion is shredded by the present Goodison template that has thrust Everton not only up the league but higher in the table of aesthetics.

Sunderland were a revelation to these eyes despite losing to Manchester City on Saturday lunchtime. Martin O'Neill has frustrated in the past by adopting methods that bear an inverse relationship to his intelligent analysis. Though he is always a fantastic fireside companion with whom to discuss the finer virtues of the game, his teams have too often failed to reflect the subtlety of his thinking. His Aston Villa team was characterised by four big lads at the back and a big lump up front surrounded by nippy aides whose job it was to feed off scraps. In other words, the classic old-school template which sought to transfer the ball forwards as quickly as possible.

Route One was never the default response at the Etihad Stadium, even when under pressure. Sunderland kept the ball on the deck and, as a result, for much of the first half enjoyed chunks of possession that on another day might have produced a more profitable outcome. At Goodison Park and the Stadium of Light, at the Hawthorns and the Liberty Stadium (where Spanish golfer Sergio Garcia sat in the dugout on Saturday) the game appears to be engaged in a radical shift. They are a long way from being Barcelona, but that is not necessarily the goal. The point is to be the best they can be.

Keeping the ball is central to that. This requires a change in habits, particularly at grassroots level, which brings us to the doors of St George's Park, where the vision for a new England is enshrined tomorrow.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor