Time for change: Four ways to save the national game - News & Comment - Football - The Independent

Time for change: Four ways to save the national game

1. James Lawton: Get rid of the culture of excess

There is no ready remedy for one of the most crippling aspects of the English football culture. You cannot change the workings of a free market, put Wayne Rooney on piece, or rather goal, rates and limit each English superstar to say, a maximum of three £100,000-plus vehicles in the drive of his mansion.

But maybe other forces can come more profitably into the war that seems to be about to be declared on some of the attitudes which preceded the meltdown in England's World Cup challenge.

Fabio Capello has been, legitimately or not, scourged for some of his tactics and some of his selections at this World Cup but not many have questioned the first strong emphasis he brought to his job: discipline and the need for English professionals to understand that there had to be a stronger relationship between performance and reward. Rio Ferdinand, whose absence here through injury was a blow that became progressively more serious, and reached a grim significance when England's defence crumbled so naively against Germany on Sunday, has admitted that most players had realised deep down that things had changed.

Two years though is maybe too short a time to change the habits of even brief but hugely indulged careers. Perhaps the Premier League, which piles so much physical pressure on the leading players, may come to agree that some of their greatest assets have been less than brilliant adverts for the product these few weeks. Maybe they have a part to play, perhaps with the insertion of performance clauses in hugely rewarded contracts.

What seems to be beyond question is that the days of unchallenged excess may be coming under their most severe pressure.

2. Sam Wallace: Change the academy system

The academy system that operates at Premier League clubs and many in the Football League came into effect in 1997 and only now are the players who went through the system from start to finish reaching the age when they should be breaking into professional football.

For that reason, the success of the academy system, in which players are "scholars" instead of apprentices or YTS boys, will only be accurately judged over the next few years. However, many clubs have major complaints about a system that only permits them to recruit within strict geographical parameters and makes signing a teenage boy from Europe cheaper than signing him from another English club.

The biggest obstacle to hopeful young English footballers is that not only are the senior teams of top clubs full of foreign players but, in many cases, there is a contingent of foreign boys within the academies as well. After 13 years, many believe that the academy system is in need of an overhaul.

Regional academies have been mooted where the very best one or two players from clubs in the region train together at an elite centre – as in France. The Premier League's new homegrown quotas should give these boys a better chance of breaking into first team squads.

There is no substitute for first-team experience in developing a young player. It will be fascinating to see if Carlo Ancelotti gives that crucial opportunity to any of the expensively-assembled academy players at his club who won the Under-18 FA Youth Cup this season.



3. Ian Herbert: Introduce quotas on foreigners in Premier League

The Premier League's new rules governing the quota of home-developed players, which is to be introduced next season, has already impacted on clubs' transfer market activity. When the summer transfer window has closed on 1 September, each club must name a squad of 25 players for the forthcoming half-season, eight of which must have spent three years at an English or Welsh academy. Beyond that pool of 25, whose names must be submitted to the league – replicating the squad system for European competitions – a club may also select an unlimited number of under-21s, who will provide the flexibility needed in an injury crisis. Manchester United chief executive David Gill has described how the quota system has informed the club's decisions to invest in young players.

United seem ready to promote 20-year-old Ben Amos to be their third-choice keeper next season having made Tomasz Kuszczak the deputy to Edwin van der Sar. They have signed 20-year-old defender Chris Smalling, another Englishman from Fulham. Liverpool have signed midfielder Jonjo Shelvey from Charlton. Manchester City's desire to hold on to Nedum Onuoha and Shaun Wright-Phillips stems, in part, from the same quota rule.

The proposed Fifa legislation which might have done most to preserve the number of homegrown players in the league, the six-plus-five rule, was dropped on the eve of the World Cup. The Premier League opposed the idea, in part because the advice was that it would fall foul of European law. Fifa have finally reached the same conclusion.



4. Glenn Moore: Introduce a winter break in the Premier League

English footballers play too many matches, a problem exacerbated by the punishing pace of them. When they reach summer tournaments they are either injured, or more prone to injury. Every recent World Cup has been dominated by injury stories. This time Rio Ferdinand, Gareth Barry, Wayne Rooney and Ledley King all arrived in South Africa lacking full fitness, and several other players looked jaded.

This should not be so. When the Premier League was created, the deal struck between the clubs and the Football Association, whose sanction was required, was that the League would be cut from 22 clubs to 18. This would create space for the winter break a succession of England managers have pleaded for.

Against the wishes of Graham Taylor, England manager at the time, the FA allowed the League to stagger the reduction. The clubs, as Taylor feared, reneged on the deal. The FA are now too weak, and too compromised by the conflict of interests of their Premier League Board-based members, to enforce it.

A winter break (in January, thus preserving the popular Christmas programme) would allow players to recharge mentally and physically, and allow coaches time to work on tactics and technique. Of course, it will not happen. The clubs will not countenance the loss of revenue from two fewer home fixtures, and in TV income. And a dozen clubs will also fear being among two extra teams relegated.

Most other teams with a core of regular Premier League players in their starting XI – France, Ivory Coast, Australia, the US – are also out. Coincidence?

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