In a month that has provided enough reasons to give up on football, the FA have delivered a facility set to energise and innovate the future of the domestic game
By Jay Jaffa
Fabio Capello predicted St George's Park would be "the true heartbeat of England for years to come" after a site visit in 2008 and though his time with the Three Lions has since expired, the official opening of the facility shows there is life left in the domestic game yet.
This is a week that may well be remembered in years to come for kicking off a golden era for football in this country and 90,000 people are expected to bookend it by heading to Wembley on Friday for the barely marketable international "clash" with San Marino. Football is indeed far more credible than we have been led to believe.
Until this week, indiscretions had peppered the integrity of the game. John Terry and Ashley Cole hardly enticed sympathy from the public in the last few weeks, with the latter lashing out on Twitter at the Football Association's insinuation that he had altered his evidence in the trial of the Chelsea captain.
The FA have taken plenty of flak for their handling of the scandals surrounding the Stamford Bridge duo and they are under further pressure to address the familiar debate on diving following the weekend shenanigans of Luis Suarez and Gareth Bale.
But while the respective clubs choose not to discipline their employees, instead leaving the FA to sort out the mess, maybe those within football should take a step back and commend the leaders of the game for the delivery of the state-of-the-art base now home to 24 England teams.
Roy Hodgson's squad of 26 for the latest two World Cup 2014 qualifiers against San Marino and Poland were present as the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially opened the facility on Tuesday.
With 12 full size pitches, one measured to the exact dimensions of the Wembley surface and an array of medical and gym equipment spread across 330 acres, England's new home provides everything a modern-day footballer requires. It is a marvellous addition to the English game and as Steven Gerrard remarked: "we are taking away all the excuses the players might use in future."
The initial blueprint appears weighted more towards educating the next generation of coaches and by making a few simple assumptions it is clear to see the long-term benefits, the world-beating England team the Duke of Cambridge alluded to in his speech, may not arrive until far beyond 2020, if at all.
But there are precedents – much the reason the project was pursued. The all-conquering French World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000 squads were largely made up of graduates from Clairefontaine, the nation's centre of excellence, set up 10 years prior, and it is this example that drove the St George's Park project. There are questions surrounding the protracted completion though. Detractors will question why it took so long to finish an undertaking that was first touted in 1975 and delayed numerous times after the site was purchased in 2001.
But it is here now and leaves Hodgson and his staff no excuse to squander the support and provisions available.
The effect looks instant. The squad looked vitalised in the photos that surfaced on Wednesday, clearly enjoying their first steps in their new home, whilst in the understanding that this new England, under Hodgson – seemingly a man unperturbed by reputation – demands more of each individual. Suddenly just about every position on the pitch looks up for grabs as players are picked on form and not name – see the inclusion of Jonjo Shelvey and Ryan Shawcross as unlikely potential debutants.
Of course, England supporters and indeed those in charge, know that possessing spectacular infrastructure cannot deliver victories. Though England do have an almost guaranteed three points to collect on Friday, they embark on a mission to Poland next week as they look to make up lost ground following the 1-1 draw with Ukraine.
There will of course be a large band of away fans heading to Warsaw but it is the home support that catches the eye. To pack out Wembley for a routine win over a team of part-timers is astonishing and compared to the rest of Europe there is no equal.
Of the most recent home fixtures of the six European teams in the top 10 of Fifa's official rankings, only the Netherlands come close, filling 95 per cent of the Amsterdam ArenA when they hosted Turkey – a considerably more established opponent than San Marino. Germany played in front of a 65% full AWD Arena when Joachim Low's side defeated Faroe Islands 3-0. If World Cups were decided by followers, England would certainly progress past the quarter-final stage.
There are caveats to the aforementioned praise, though – the reported £105 million spent on St George's Park, the eight year gap until results are expected to be seen and many of the punters at Wembley on Friday will be there more for the reduced prices than their love of Hodgson and his team.
Yet there are few nations able to boast the unwavering support England has and although at club level, those in charge prefer to wring their hands of responsibility, when it comes to providing lasting developments for the future of the sport, the FA have delivered.
It was overdue, much like any tangible success since 1966 but with St George's Park in place and a public hunger for intentional football seemingly unaffected by the concerns blighting the game, England are in a far rosier place than some may believe.
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