Sam Wallace: The biggest problem with Burton? England do not have any need for it

Talking Football: It's a grandiose scheme from a bygone era when the FA thought it had money to burn
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The Independent Football

Tomorrow morning in a field somewhere in East Staffordshire, various members of the Football Association, some of us in the press and probably the local mayor will be invited to stand in the cold and imagine the glorious future of English football.

Given that the project is the FA's National Football Centre at Byrkley Park outside Burton upon Trent, forgive us if we find it hard to make that leap of faith.

The National Football Centre – "NFC" in FAspeak, "Burton" to the rest of us – is a bit like that unfinished cathedral in Spain that has been built for the last 50 years by one man alone. As an act of devotion it is impressive but no one is really certain we need it and there is always that nagging fear that it might never get finished.

Tomorrow will be eight years and 61 days since Howard Wilkinson announced the original plans for Burton. Since then about £25m has been spent on acquiring the land, constructing pitches, doomed architects' plan and access roads. I feel sorry for those at the FA left with clearing up a grandiose scheme that belongs to a bygone era when the organisation thought it had money to burn.

Some people get very upset about the fact that Burton was put on hold seven years ago, as the scale of the FA's other great construction project, Wembley, took hold. They believe that had it been allowed to flourish, Burton would have produced generations of young English footballers like the Clairefontaine academy in France.

1) Burton was never intended as an academy for young players. 2) Why is it that Clairefontaine has now taken on mythical status as if it produced every French international since Just Fontaine? It is one of a string of French regional academies. What do Zinedine Zidane, Patrice Evra, Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema have in common? Answer: None of them went to Clairefontaine as kids.

The problem with the Burton project is that we do not really need it. The problem for the FA is that as long as it sits there unfinished, Burton is a stick which the FA's critics use to beat it. No matter that it was conceived in a different economic climate by an ambitious FA chief executive, Adam Crozier, who had not yet felt the backlash of the Premier League encroaching on the FA and his grand projects.

At least, nine years on, the suggestion is that the FA will announce tomorrow it is funding Burton by selling off part of the land for a 230-room hotel and a housing scheme.

What the FA gets is a base for the senior England team when they are preparing for internationals. Yet the England team already have a base. They stay at the Grove hotel in Watford and, for training sessions, are driven to Arsenal's state-of-the-art training ground at London Colney, 11 miles away. Come match day, they go from the Grove to Wembley, 20 miles away.

The site for Burton, where the England team will be staying once the project is complete, is 105 miles from Wembley. Someone tell Shaun Wright-Phillips to make sure his PSP is fully charged because that could be one long journey. Either that or shall we start playing England internationals at the Pirelli Stadium?

There will be a sports science department at Burton and there is a hope that as well as making it available to the six junior England teams from the Under-16s to the Under-21s (those hotel staff won't know what's hit them), it will be a teaching base for coaches. The Italians have Coverciano, a kind of university for football managers, and the FA want Burton to be something similar.

Otherwise, all Burton seems to be is a rather inconveniently located base for the England team that is used when the national team happens to be playing at Wembley, on average about six times a year. The Coverciano idea is a nice one, but is it worth the money and pain that has been poured into Burton from the start?

The English FA is pretty much alone among national football associations in owning its own stadium – and given the debt on Wembley "owning" might not be the right word. The historical connection with Wembley meant it was right that the FA built the £757m stadium, however painful it was at times. To build a six-times-a-year training ground as well seems excessive.

Fabio Capello says that Burton is essential and what Capello wants he tends to get. But just because Capello studied at Coverciano and just because he finds the Grove hotel a little too lacking in privacy at times (HM Wormwood Scrubs is more his idea of an ideal team base camp) does not mean he is right. Chances are that Capello will not be in the job when Burton is finished.

The announcement this week that the FA is pushing ahead with planning permission is the governing body trying to do right by some of the wackier ideas of former regimes. The 10 pitches are currently being used as a training ground by Burton Albion and that is how they should stay.

There was a very different mood at the FA, and within the country, when, in November 2001, Wilkinson unveiled his high-spec architects' model for Burton, complete with miniature trees, at the FA's Soho Square headquarters. The FA left Soho Square last year to take up residence in Wembley and, as for that dusty Burton architects' model, you have to wonder if it went with them.

Looking back at the news stories from that day, the feature that most of us reporters seized upon excitedly was the proposed giant video screens above Burton's indoor training pitch on which coaches could show players instant replays. It seemed like a minor detail to focus on but that was probably because, even then, no one was really sure why Burton was being built.

Calamity if James misses World Cup

David James has had one hell of a career but it would be a terrible shame if a silly wrangle over his Portsmouth contract meant that he ended up losing his chance to play in the World Cup this summer.

James is the best goalkeeper in England, even at 39. But once he plays 19 games for Portsmouth this season – he has already played 12 – the club will be obliged to give him another one-year £2m contract, which Pompey cannot afford to do. Result: James could end up on the bench. Let's just hope that if push comes to shove, James tears up the contract clause, takes the financial hit and keeps on playing.

Robinho had a Jimmy, and not in a good way

The technical term for an occasion when a player who comes on as a substitute and is then himself subbed – like Robinho on Saturday – is a "Jimmy Carter", in honour of the then Liverpool player who made such a bad impression against Chelsea in May 1991 that he was brought off again. On the other hand, Ryan Giggs (Juventus, February 2003) and Cesc Fabregas (Aston Villa, December 2009) demonstrated that "having a Jimmy Carter" does not necessarily mean humiliation.

Playing in Swindon, heart back in Haiti

That Jean-François Lescinel came on as a substitute for Swindon against Gillingham on Saturday might seem like one of the weekend's minor details. But as he is the only Haitian international playing professional football in the UK, you can only wonder at what he must have gone through since Tuesday.

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