Southgate leaves FA to avoid joining the blazer brigade

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The Independent Online

The Football Association's youth development programme suffered a blow yesterday when Gareth Southgate left the organisation having decided the role of technical director was not for him.

The Independent understands Southgate, who has been head of elite development for 18 months, was offered the newly created post having impressed with his part in persuading both the grassroots and the FA Council to accept a raft of reforms to young player development and in the delivery of the new coaching hub of St George's Park, Burton.

However, the former Middlesbrough manager and England international had reservations about committing himself to a role which would have tied him to the governing body for several years, involved a lot of travel and bureaucracy, and probably pigeon-holed him as a "blazer". Rather than accept the job and then leave it after six months, he felt it best to make the decision now. Unusually with a senior figure leaving the FA there has been no bust-ups or personality clashes.

Dan Ashworth, technical director at West Bromwich Albion, is now favourite for the post though there are other candidates in the mix. While Ashworth does not have Southgate's high profile he does have hands-on experience in youth development and is just as well connected within the professional game.

FA general secretary Alex Horne admitted Southgate's departure was "a disappointment". The FA had invested in grooming Southgate for a senior role within a body often criticised for the lack of ex-players in leadership positions. However, Southgate does not rule out returning to work for the FA in the future, will remain involved in some committees, and said he had advised the FA: "I will be pleased to help with specific projects moving forward."

"I'd like to place on record just how much I have enjoyed working at the FA. It really has been an honour and a pleasure. Hopefully I have been able to play some small part in delivering important changes to the way children play at the youngest levels. It has also been a tremendous experience to work on St George's Park."

In some respects it is a good time for Southgate to quit. In the last year, the FA has completed St George's Park, the keys to which were handed over earlier this month, assisted in the adoption of EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan), and passed such youth development proposals as smaller pitches and the banning of 11-a-side matches until players are at under-13 level.

A new man will take on new challenges like persuading the grassroots and council to accept measures to ameliorate the relative age effect (the bias that results from both schools and clubs having a 1 September cut-off date for year groups).

Southgate will continue to work for ITV as a pundit and is open to other employment ideas. He has not, however, left the FA to actively seek a return to management, though that may be the eventual result. In the immediate future he is expected to spend more time with his family in the north-east. Southgate has school-age children and would not have seen much of them had he taken up the new post at the FA's Wembley HQ and at St George's Park, and would have had to travel a lot domestically and overseas. This may be one reason why, as one FA insider said, "not as many people want it as you might think". Including, it transpires, the man the FA wanted.

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