'St George’s Park will be football Mecca' - Sheepshanks

The chairman of the new national football centre in Burton believes its completion has sent a message to the rest of the world about England's desire to improve
David Sheepshanks, the chairman of England’s new St George’s Park national football centre in Burton, claims the site's completion has sent a message of intent to the rest of the world.

The project has taken more than ten years to be completed as a result of various disputes, but the FA now has a national centre which they hope can rival European equivalents such as Clairefontaine in France.

England’s Under-17 team will begin training at the base from the start of August, and the 330-acre site will then begin to take on more age-groups as well as playing host to the full national team’s training sessions.

And former Ipswich Town chairman Sheepshanks believes the centre will act as a hub for footballing debate and discussion in the country, and will help England become successful in years to come.

"Hopefully the rest of the world will see this as a statement of intent by English football, which we will go on seeking to improve," he said.

"It is a nerve-centre, a think-tank. I could almost say, if I was allowed to, a Mecca.

"It is a meeting point for the game, a congregating nerve centre where it doesn't matter whether you are coaches, chief execs, physios, commercial directors, nutritionists - it is a place where the game can come together.

"One of the reasons we got here is because we listened to what everyone else told us, and we will go on listening because the day you think you have got to the top of the mountain is the day you start going down it."

The Football Association purchased the site in Burton-upon-Trent in 2001 on the advice of Howard Wilkinson, but the project was temporarily shelved due to the financial commitments involved in re-building Wembley Stadium.

However, after several years of tournament failure, as well as the outstanding recent success of European rivals Spain, the issue of grassroots coaching has re-entered mainstream conciousness.

"When we didn't qualify for the Euros that was the starting point and then we had another sharp reminder in 2010 in South Africa [at the World Cup]," Sheepshanks added.

"We have had two big wake-up calls at two big tournaments in succession and now we have had another - not just England but other countries - from what Spain has taught us.

"Their performance in Kiev [in winning Euro 2012] has just confirmed the decisions taken in 2008 and 2010 to build St George's Park were absolutely the right ones."

Along with opening the new base, the FA are looking to employ a new technical director to work alongside first-team manager Roy Hodgson.

They are also looking to bring the amount of Uefa registered coaches up from 2,769 to a figure which rivals Spain's 23,995 or Italy's 29,420 through courses at the new centre.

Sheepshanks added: "We have consensus within the football family as the Premier League and Football League have bought into this because the Elite Player Performance Plan requires a higher standard of coaching at every age group in the country.

"We have some outstanding coach educators in this country, however, if we want to be best in class we should not necessarily think all of our coach educators should be home-grown.

"We need to recruit from the best in the world and learn from the best in the world.

"We have some great strengths in England and we should look to align both, and I think St George's Park will give a new standard of education for coaches which will enable us to be adaptable, flexible and to have our cake and eat it."