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Capitalism Kills English Football In Front of Global Audience

…while Johnny Foreigner shows us how to do it again, with a bit of wise investment.

WHEN WILL WE LEARN?

In February 2010, a Dutch Football Academy opened in West Wikham, London. Its motto? ‘Skills, Vision, and Fun!’ Three words that are so, so distant from anything in English football at the moment, that they could actually be used to describe exactly what English football is not. So instead of trying to adopt some of the methods used by successful football institutions, they seem to be coming to us. Good then: for we are a country whose footballing hierarchies are greedy, ignorant and stupid to the point that as a nation, we now need all the help we can get.

It’s not like we don’t know what the problem is though. Even the most football illiterate person can see that even our ‘world-class players’, messers Lampard, Gerrard, Rooney cannot cope with the technical demands of the game at the top level, even with a proven, world-class coach. And the only reason we think they are ‘world-beaters’ of a ‘golden-generation’ is because our eyes and ears are constantly being blinded and deafened by an Anglo-centric, Premiership-obsessed media. Disappointment and embarrassment should not really be surprising to us; if anyone takes a look at the technical level of the players in any of the other leagues in the continent, or in South America it is obvious we are not even playing the same game.

Carlos Alberto, whose World Cup Final goal so many English football fans salivate over:


check the comments on the YouTube video

Alberto hits the nail on the head saying: “Unless you (English) change your whole attitude to football, nothing will get better.” And it is not just the technical deficiencies that are making us look like mugs, it is clearly what motivates our players to play that is the problem : “Sometimes they play as if they do not feel the game. I hope they understand these things and try to change because every other country changed a long time ago[1].” And this is the crux of the problem, right down to grassroots football. Why does everyone else play? For fun. To learn. Why do we play? Money. And what is it that is ruining English football from the bottom up? Money.

Let’s look carefully at this question ‘why are we so technically inept?’ Well, anyone who has ever tried to learn anything will testify to the fact that it is much, much more difficult when you are older than say, 14, or 15. Success in football is usually determined by which players are best able to manipulate the ball and manipulate the space available. You cannot teach players to do this without investing lots and lots of money into a system of education that specialises in teaching these skills at a very early age.

‘What’s the problem then? The Premier League has lots of money’

But the truth is, clubs don’t spend anything like enough on youth development from a young age, and even when they do, barely any players make it into the first teams. Who didn’t marvel at the intelligence, maturity and skill exhibited by the German team of Ozil, Muller and Shweinsteiger? The same team who, in the build up to the game against England were labelled by the ever self-involved English press as ‘inexperienced’, ‘lightweight’, and even ‘inconsistent’. And what allowed a young side such as this to gain the experience and confidence? Money, ironically enough.

Here are some spending figures comparing investment in youth development between the Bundesliga and the English Premier League:

Bundesliga 2009-09 Premier League 2008-09

Revenue: €1.6bn (£1.3bn)

Operating profit: €172m (£143m)

Net debt: €610m (£506m)

Spending on youth academies: €55m (£46m)

Revenue: £1.981bn

Operating profits: £79m

Net Debt: £3.3bn (£1.4bn soft loans)

Spending on youth academies: £30m [2]

To summarise these figures with a quote from the accompanying article:

“Their system works, quite simply, because German clubs invest more in the future. Bundesliga clubs spent €55m (£50m) on their youth academies in 2008-09. This works out as 3.3 per cent of gross revenues. Premier League clubs, by contrast, spend about £30m a year, just 1.5 per cent of revenues”

The Germans spend twice as much of their profit on youth development. So we can definitely say that one thing successful countries are doing is spending more money (that we, the viewer pay for, incidentally) on making their players better. Just have a look at the number of coaches employed in Britain compared to the other big three leagues in Europe:

England Spain Italy Germany
2,769 23,995 29,420 34,790[3]

It is absolutely clear that there is a link between the amount of coaches, and the quality of the countries footballers. But as ever with England, football isn’t about quality, it is about money. Howard Wilkinson, the man who put forward the Charter for Quality that would inspire the creation of dedicated football academies at professional clubs is clearly concerned that the English pre-occupation with maximising profit is detrimental at academy level (where all our qualified coaches are). He suggests that the desperation for results and immediate investment in players and results will mean that spending on youth development will not have such a high priority for clubs. He says prophetically ‘It will impact on the national team if we don’t have players coming through from the academies’.

Here are some figures to show how few players come through:

PREMIER PRODUCTION LINES

Number of English-qualified academy graduates from current PL clubs who have gone on to make at least five league starts since start of 2002-03 season


Nine: Middlesbrough

Eight: Manchester City

Five: Aston Villa, West Ham

Four: Derby

Three: Arsenal, Everton, Fulham, Newcastle, Sunderland

Two: Liverpool

One: Birmingham, Blackburn, Manchester United, Spurs, Wigan*

None: Bolton, Chelsea, Portsmouth**, Reading


* No academy
** Academy status since July

But that isn’t the end of it. Speaking in this month’s FourFourTwo, England under 17 manager John Peacock highlights another problem: ‘we are in a quick-fix business and first team managers need players to step in and do a job, which not all young players can do’ And herein lies the other problem; unless you are a talent that is suited to the demands of the English Premier or football league, you are not going to get a chance anyway. Wayne Rooney was a strong young lad with two powerful feet and pace. He was ideally suited to life in the English top flight. Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta are both 170cm, which works out to be about 5 ft 6 inches, they can’t weigh much more than 9 stone apiece.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTilDwda-Hs

Their footballing skill and intelligence beat the ever-effective Germans to win Euro 2008,  systematically destroyed Manchester United in the 2009 European Cup Final, and have just shown incredible physical endurance and capability to overcome a brutal Dutch challenge to become World Champions in 2010. Can you ever imagine players of their size getting a chance in the middle of the park for any Premiership sides before they were proven? Of course not. Too much of a risk, right?

In Spain they pride themselves in what they call the cantera. Literally, this means quarry and refers to the resource pool of local talent in any given sport. Of course we all love to see homegrown players make it big, but I am strained to think of an example of any British club that places such an importance on its ability to turn out quality young homemade players. The Crewe Alexandra of Dario Gradi perhaps. And they finished 18th in Division 2 last season.

And even if we did turn players out in the same number that they do in Spain and other European countries, what would they be good at anyway? What they have been trained to do all their lives – running and fighting and lamping it up to whichever Crouch / Heskey figure might be lumbering around up front? Playing up to an impatient crowd and coach who desperately need a goal and a result? This is not what England needs. Sir Trevor Brooking,  former England midfielder and Director of Football Development at the English FA knows what we need:

“We should encourage youngsters to think about the risk option because if you are comfortable in your technique the risk option isn’t a risk. Arsenal knock the ball into people who are marked all the time but they weight it away from the defender and pace the pass the right way”

And where do they learn this then? It is amazing to see what goes in the academies of other European top flight clubs, it is exactly this. At the academy of Inter Milan, they don’t even learn football until the age of 10. The first two years are simply spent learning co-ordination skills: walking, running, jumping and climbing. Talk about getting technique right early on. What about at Ajax, the most famed of all sporting academies, what are the questions they ask of their players at a young age? “Is he on his forefeet, running lightly? Does he have creativity with the ball? Does he seem that he is really loving the game?” Says Ronald De Jong, Ajax academy coach. And not only this, but they pay clinical intention to efficiency of movement, doctoring the running style of players from the ages of 7 upwards. This kind of personal attention to detail, to improvement is something that is missing from the English coaching mentality.

As a teacher, I played with a 15 year old in friendly staff vs students game. There was one player who evidently had levels of skill that superseded anyone else on the pitch. Chatting to him after he had methodically taken us to pieces, he told us of his time in the youth set up at Manchester United. He said that the most important part of his week in training, the thing that he felt most pressure to deliver was not signs of technical improvement, but to get a good number rating out of 10 at the end of the two games that he had that week. He had an agent, also. Released from United in November of his final year of school for being too small (at 16 he’s the same size as Xavi), he has been taken on by Oldham, and then Rochdale. I ask if it is any different at these clubs. ‘No’, is his reply. I ask him if he thinks he’ll make it. ‘Not unless I grow some more’. I say to him it has got to hurt. ‘It does. All I want to do is play football’, he replies.

The thing is, none of this wouldn’t be a problem if English football wasn’t run by the rules of extreme-capitalism. The English FA is designed to look after these things, that is its job – to make sure English football is as good as it can be.  But as we all know, it is a joke. There have been four chief executives in the past 10 years. How can anyone hope for some sort of consistency in improvement? This is particularly obvious when we look at the work done by gems of the FA, like Brooking and Howard Wilkinson, who saw all of these problems a mile off, and attempted to get the best out of our ‘golden-generation’ as far back as 1997 with his Charter for Quality. That focussed on gifted coaches teaching skills to 5 -11 year olds. That focussed on technique, not results. And guess what happened. He couldn’t fight through the beaurocracy of the FA. But who did take a lot from his propositions of 1998?

Clive Woodward came to see me and used some of the thinking for international success with regard to how he took on managing England in the World Cup in 2003. Parts of what we were doing gave the Germans a germ of a thought that they needed to be more proactive about the development of young players” Wilkinson speaking in 2010 following Englands defeat.

We can’t make the most of our own plans, but the Rugby team can, and win a World Cup, and the Germans can, and …well, we all know, don’t we. So is it a case of the FA ‘sitting on their backsides doing nothing, tournament after tournament’ as a raging Chris Waddle said following England’s exit, ceding all of its power to the Premier League ? In part. Is our perennial international incompetence down to clubs not caring about English football, and caring more about sustaining high profit margins and pay-rises and ignoring the needs of developing players and the fans that follow them week in, week out? Probably. But most of all, most crucially in the case of our national identity, it is a case of not being willing change to get success. The stay-at-home, look after number one nature of life after Thatcher’s Britain of the 1980’s has permeated the thing we love the most as a nation and it is humiliating us on a global scale. And this greed and ignorance has permeated every level of the game, from grassroots, to pitch, to the fans, to the boardrooms, to the media, to the ruling body, and this greed and the ignorance is the only thing left in charge.

And so it comes back to that thing that doctors everything. Learning. Waddle, in a quote never repeated from his infamous ‘rant’ said ‘I learnt so much in my three years at Marseilles…how to keep the ball, how to win games…things I never knew before I went’. I know Chris, but that is all that is left for us now. We won’t learn for ourselves. People are having to come and show us.


[1] Taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/7137071.stm

[2] Taken from http://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/analysis-and-features/something-is-rotten-in-the-state-of-english-football-2023656.html

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jun/01/football-coach-shortage-england

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