We get a lot of criticism in this country for the way we produce our players. Accusations of a coaching mentality based on direct football and not enough investment in our youth appears to be in stark contrast to better-organised foreign national academies such as France’s Clairefontaine, one of twelve national academies in France.
Gareth Southgate, Head of Elite Development at the FA, has been one of the major critics for the way we coach our football and has suggested that the way we start coaching young players should be different. Southgate proposed preventing players from playing eleven a side games until they were thirteen. His reasoning for this was that similar systems occur in Spain, France and Italy. The benefits of this proposal are that players concentrate more on technique and skill as opposed to physicality and athleticism.
Everyone can see why this would be positive for the English game, too rarely do we see players such as Wilshere or Rooney come through with such natural ability and technique. However this doesn’t mean we should abandon the ‘English’ style of football altogether, nor does it mean that we can’t find a balance between the way we coach now and the continental approach.
Undoubtedly one of the most successful junior football teams in England, Wallsend graduates include: Alan Shearer, Peter Beardsley, Michael Bridges, Steve Bruce, Michael Carrick, Steven Taylor and Brian Laws. Wallsend, a suburb of Newcastle, has produced sixty-seven professional footballers in all and thirty-four coaches. They must be doing something right.
Based in East London Senrab is our other bastion of English coaching. A true vindication of the way we coach our youth the Sunday League club has produced players such as: Sol Campbell, Jermain Defoe, John Terry, Bobby Zamora and Ledley King as well as coaches like Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley.
Between these two clubs some of our country’s best players have been produced. Brian Laws, one of Wallsend’s graduates, told The Telegraph that the Tyneside outfit taught him:
“Guidance and discipline. It was always very well organised, everything always ran smoothly. Kids’ football could be pretty chaotic, but not at Wallsend…you were treated like a pro. It gave you a sense of comfort, and you’d do everything the best you could…they were good people and you gave them your all.”
Lessons to be learned
Our academy systems in England may not be perfect, but that does not mean that the formula is completely wrong. People criticise English coaching for a whole number of reasons but a large part of that is a consequence of the failures of the national team. People see the failures of the national team as a failure of the way those players have been taught. And maybe to a certain extent that is the case. However it is far more likely that there are simply not enough clubs like Wallsend or Senrab around. Perhaps before completely revamping the coaching system in this country people like Gareth Southgate, with his position of responsibility, should try to learn from these few successful clubs before forcing them to change their approach.
Before we look abroad to find examples of success we should be looking at examples of success in our own country. Yes we can take positives from foreign systems and incorporate them in to our own, not to do so would be both ignorant and arrogant, but that doesn’t mean that there are not many strengths in the way our coaching is carried out. We have produced some of the best players in the world in this country and our failures on the international stage are down to a number of reasons, not just the lack of basic training for under fourteens.
Follow Hamish Mackay on Twitter @H_Mackay