The governing body's director of development insists the St George's Park complex must be used to drastically improve the quality and quantity of English coaches
By Liam Twomey
The Football Association must do all it can to ensure the new National Football Centre in Burton proves to be a “game-changer” for domestic coaching if England is ever to produce a national team capable of consistently competing with the world’s best, according to Sir Trevor Brooking.
Delayed for over a decade by a combination of planning issues and a lack of funding caused by the exorbitant costs of constructing the new Wembley Stadium, the £100 million complex at St George’s Park formally opens this month amid much fanfare.
The 330-acre site boasts 12 full-size training pitches, including an exact replica of the Wembley surface, and will play host to 24 England teams, covering men and women as well as senior and youth levels.
But the centre’s most important function will be as the home of FA Learning, the governing body’s education department. Through the delivery of national coach education courses, it is hoped both the quality and the quantity of England’s coaches will be drastically improved.
In the run-up to England’s spectacular failure at the World Cup in South Africa two years ago, figures published by Uefa showed only 2,769 English coaches holding their top qualifications – the B, A and Pro badges. Spain, the current world and European champions, had 23,995, while Italy and Germany could boast even more.
The figures make for sombre reading, and Brooking, the FA’s director of development, told Goal.com that the organisation must use their new state-of-the-art facility to address the problem if further embarrassments on the international stage are to be avoided.
"We need to make sure the National Football Centre is a game-changer for coaching in this country"
“The facility itself is great, but we’ve got to work hard to put the structure in place around it. The FA are not going to be able to do that on their own, so we need the funding bodies who have helped up until now, along with the Premier League and Football League, and the LMA [League Managers' Association] and PFA [Professional Footballers Association] will also have roles to play in that.
“When I arrived in 2004, we had the Charter for Quality on one side and the Centres for Excellence on the other, and there was a concern they weren’t delivering quite what we hoped they would.
“We had some challenges on a political level with regards to youth development, because while we can impact things in a coaching sense, all the players are with the clubs, so any changes have to be led by the Premier League. They appointed Ged Roddy as their director of youth to revamp the professional game a couple of years ago.
“This year they’ve introduced the Elite Player Performance Plan, which I think will be beneficial. At the same time we’re opening St George’s Park, and we’re using that as a catalyst to grow the work we do on the coach education side.
“As of now, with the EPPP, St George’s Park and the age appropriate courses, we’re in as good a position as we’ve ever been, although probably about five years later than I would have liked.
“We’ve had some challenges, but we’ve got an overall package now which should see us able to move forward at a much better pace than we have done.”
As well as merely increasing the number of coaches available to young English players, the education drive it is hoped the National Football Centre will enable is also geared towards prompting a stylistic revolution of the domestic game at all levels, from grass roots to the international stage.
At Euro 2012, England’s players regained a measure of fan pride with a mixture of defensive discipline and resilience, but the technical shortfalls were ever-present. Italy hammered Roy Hodgson’s game but limited side in all but the scoreline before subjecting them to the familiar misery of penalty-shootout defeat.
The nation craves technical improvement for the sake of entertainment, but it is also entirely necessary if 1966 is not to remain the sole moment of triumph. Courses at St George’s Park will promote the FA’s Future Game philosophy, seeking to arm coaches with the knowledge to relieve youngsters from the shackles of the long ball in an era where little men rule the football world.
“Our aim is to make sure that by the end of the Foundation stage – which includes kids from the ages of five to 11 – they’ve got the necessary ball mastery so that when the ball comes to them, they’re not thinking ‘Can I get this ball under control?’,” Brooking continued. “If you’re still thinking that by the age of 11, you’re in trouble, because it should be instinctive by then.
“Once kids go into bigger matches of nine versus nine or 11 versus 11, if they haven’t got the ball mastery it becomes much harder to pass and keep the ball. Our philosophy dictates that players need to be able to pass the ball out from the back through the three thirds of the pitch, so the long ball approach is not going to develop players who can play at the higher level.
“You don’t see Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea or any of the other major Champions League teams just lumping the ball up the pitch. We want to make sure the game youngsters play is as close as possible to what they see at the top level, and the work we do in the next five to ten years will be crucial to that.”
Sir Trevor Brooking was speaking to Goal.com at the launch of Budweiser Club Futures, a programme set to invest £1m into grassroots football over the next two seasons. Clubs wishing to apply should visit www.thefa.com/budweiserclubfutures The closing date is 31 August.
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