By John Cartwright

The building of a house is a good example of planned progression.  The customer’s vision of the property is set out by an architect on drawings. From those drawings the development methods to be used to construct the property, its costs and the time to completion,  must be planned in a careful and organized manner or mistakes to the structure and delays will be incurred.

            From start to finish the various trades must be brought in to do their job at the appropriate times. Disruption and disorganization in the building process must be kept to an absolute minimum by good project management if the house is to be built as required.

           With the plans (strategy) the builder can begin. It is always possible for the builder to make changes and adaptations during the building period to improve or modify the property with only limited interference to the work schedules that have been set earlier.

             Even after the house has been completed, modifications to it are always possible and parts can be added, removed or improved over time. However, these later changes would still be required to comply with the original plans of the property. Only when it was necessary to demolish the original property and build a new one in its place, would a new vision require a new set of plans  (strategy) to be drawn.

                                      A playing vision (playing style) for football also has to be seen first in the mind. Attractive, exciting, and effective playing of the game should be essential aspects of that vision. Once a playing vision, is agreed, the plans to achieve it can be organised accordingly.

                      Any forward-thinking National Football Association should be expected to establish their country’s own playing vision.  This can be done in conjunction with a selected group of experienced, professional coaches, and discussions amongst them to formulate such a vision should be a priority. Once a suitable playing vision has been devised and accepted, planning to achieve it can be started. The route from beginning to final product can now be carefully organised and managed.  Progressive, age and ability-related coaching programs can now be written that follow a designated route forward. These programs must educate coaches, at all levels of the game, on how to teach progressively towards a desired playing vision, and in turn, these coaches must progressively teach the players how to play towards a football vision. Importantly, it should never be forgotten that the ‘footballing public’ also need to be introduced to new changes in playing methods. The public are the paying customer and like the purchaser of a new house should be fully aware and appreciative of the product they are paying for.

                                      It might seem over simplistic to point out the obvious but, unless one knows the destination, one can’t plan the journey! However, it is perfectly true. By selecting a destination first, allows a route to be established and a time can be assessed for the completion of the journey in accordance with any required stops along the way. Football coaching is often guilty of not establishing a destination (playing vision) first, and therefore, it becomes lost in a myriad of ‘side-streets’ leading nowhere. From the early formative years, into adolescence and then onwards to senior levels of development and playing, practice must proceed in a systematic and co-ordinated way towards a pre-determined objective —- as the builder follows his plans for a project through to completion; football coaching must build in the same organised and progressive manner towards a designated playing vision.

                                            The use of random football practices, like random building methods, should be evaded like the plague if the production of quality players able to play the game to the highest standards is to be achieved. Too many development programs have been designed by ‘coaching cowboys’. The Do It Yourself experience makes the difficult look easier than it actually is and it has often been proved that there is no substitute for professional trades- people.

                   Age and ability-designed programs must form a progressive learning structure towards an agreed playing vision. Each program should build onto the work completed within a previous program and should consist of topics that progressively cover; skills in att/def; tactics for att/def; goalkeeping, as well as, fitness; diet; laws of the game; etc. The practices used for each of the playing topics must not only be progressive, but competitively realistic as well to satisfy the actual playing needs of the game. Coaching must begin to realize that football is a competitive, military-styled game requiring competitive skills, not choreographed techniques to play it.

                                Why practice unrealistically? Why spend valuable time learning actions that will be unsuitable in the hurly-burley of a competitive game?  Players are expected to play against opposition, why not learn those actions by practicing them against opposition from their earliest involvement with the game? From Warm-up through to full game, each individual practice session should reflect, as near as possible, the competitive skills and tactics of an actual game suitable for the age and playing qualities of those involved. This does not necessarily mean physical contact at all times, but certainly means quick and individualistic decision making by players at all times through the deprivation of time and space during the various practices.  

                                                  Planned progression must feed its way through every stage of the development process from very junior to senior levels. There must be continuity within each session, with practices complimenting each-other. From ‘semi-active’ opposed warm-ups, to organised, ratio-opposed work, to small–sided games, to full practice games at the more senior levels, the ‘flow’ of practices must provide calculated and systematic forward progress in understanding and performance.  Each session must be a ‘building block’ for sessions that follow throughout a program of work. Likewise, each program must develop forward from the work already completed in earlier programs. Building in such a way from a prepared plan can allow for modifications to a development model over time as deemed necessary without disturbing the forward momentum towards a visualized playing style.

                                 Had a more professional and visionary approach been taken with our coaching and development methods, the wastage in time, money and effort would not have occurred. ‘Home-grown’ mediocrity is the result of tinkering and not tackling the reasons for the long-term demise in our football fortunes. This situation is unlikely to change here for the better, for the ‘hype’ that tries to camouflage a paucity in talent, cannot produce quality on the field when it matters. To this very day, those who stand at the summit of our football structure, have little understanding of the needs of our game and how to achieve them. A quotation from the Bible sums up the situation best; ‘ where there is no vision, the people perish.—- says it all about our game doesn’t it!


  1. Well, do we need a playing vision to aspire to or don’t we. If we do: Where isit ? What is it? How is it to be introduced? These are fundamental questions that need answering. As coaches, you should be demanding answers from our game’s hierarchy. How can anyone formulate progressive stages of work if the there is no vision to aspire to? Think about it, you and the youngsters you coach are working in a ‘fog’ of uncertainty — is this the correct road or do we go up this path, or are we lost?
    Clearly defined vision allows for exact route calculation to reach your destination!
    Will our game find the best way forward ? …………. I wouldn’t lay a bet on it; there’s no Sat-Nav at the FA !!!

  2. This is from the Times:

    James Lawton: Ballon d’Or list shows next English generation may be even less golden than the last

    The verdict brought by the voters is a statement of near bankruptcy in the way English football tries to groom the best of its young talent

    Andres Iniesta, the Spain midfielder, is favourite to win this year’s inaugural Fifa Ballon D’or award

    It was hardly a shock but that didn’t make the judgement any less oppressive when not a single Englishman made the shortlist for Fifa’s World Player of the Year award this week. Dire failure in the World Cup and the Champions League no doubt made the voting down of an English presence by coaches, national team captains and journalists a fait accompli.

    What it didn’t do, though, was obscure the reality that this reflected more, much more, than a reaction to a set of dismal performances in club and international football.

    Popularity parades, and subjective voting, are one thing; quite another is the lack of a sense that a line of succession is in place, that young English players are showing that they have the necessary competitive character, encouragement and environment to one day challenge an international player aristocracy populated by Spaniards, overwhelmingly, and Germans and Dutch and which includes contenders from Uruguay and Ghana.

    How can we imagine a Spanish or German-type groundswell in England in this year of all years?

    Who can we pick out as native-born young runners in a race being led by the Germans Mesut Ozil and Thomas Müller and the maturing warrior Bastian Schweinsteiger to reach the level of the man who will surely succeed Lionel Messi as the award’s winner, Andres Iniesta?

    In the third month of a new season only one such candidate has suggested himself here. It is Arsenal’s precocious Jack Wilshere who, if he can smooth out a reckless tackling tendency, offers a new dimension to his club and, just maybe, a ready-made replacement whenever Cesc Fabregas – one of only three Premier League nominees – decides finally to return to his native soil.

    Wilshere has shown the classic characteristics of the English footballer praised so highly in the past by, among others, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer – a competitive edge and intensity of the higher order – along with striking evidence that he is sophisticated enough to perform at the most demanding level.

    Yes, there are a few other possibilities. Joe Hart may indeed find the lost chord of English goalkeeping and his Manchester City club-mate Adam Johnson has shown much promise, so far, though not enough to win a guaranteed place on the international chorus line assembled by his coach Roberto Mancini.

    Similarly, Theo Walcott occupies the margins of Arsenal’s first team. So where is the sure-fire provenance of English football? It has rarely seemed quite so elusive.

    Now we shouldn’t be squeamish. We should acknowledge that the verdict brought by the Ballon d’Or voters isn’t solely about the caprices of form but a statement of near bankruptcy in the way English football attempts to groom the best of its young talent.

    The brutal fact is that the English game, in the main, simply doesn’t care enough about the development of a core of native-born talent. If it did, it might have responded to the French creation of a custom-made training centre in a forest south of Paris that helped shape the golden age of Zidane and Henry, Vieira and Thuram. It might have responded with urgency to the concern that increasingly young English players were being squeezed out of the Premier League action, a shrinking of exposure that has now fallen shockingly below 40 per cent – much the worst of the major leagues of European football.

    On the eve of the Fifa announcement, the FA’s director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, said that it was a little too soon for a reprise of the previously catastrophic English regime of Steve McClaren after his success last season in Dutch football – perhaps a rare moment of reflection in an almost demented, tokenistic clamour to return an Englishman to control of a team that has driven Fabio Capello, previously one of the most successful coaches of them all, to the point of distraction.

    What English football needs to do most, we have been reminded this week, is to step back for a properly cold evaluation of what nearly 20 years of Premier League football have yielded. One of its promises was to slim down the League to 18 teams and make the nurturing of the national team a priority. Instead, we see club-versus-country conflict as endemic as ever and a league, for all its protestations, still at the mercy of those who see it not as an important part of national life but something in which to gouge out profit at whatever risk.

    The Premier League of course had its own kick in the teeth this week when just three of its players, Fabregas, Didier Drogba and Asamoah Gyan, made their way on to the 23-man shortlist. That would have been two if Gyan hadn’t joined Sunderland in the summer.

    This compares with La Liga (11), the Bundesliga (six) and Serie A (four). It leaves the Premier League claim that it is the most glamorous and watchable in the world somewhat hollow at the centre. Yes, it provides a high measure of excitement – though too often because of appalling defensive technique, with most of the money going on the creative and striking departments staffed by foreign imports – and goalscoring spectacle.

    But what of the sustained craft and vision of Iniesta, the little man who turned the World Cup almost into a one-man crusade on behalf of football that breathed passion and relentless attacking effort, or the deadly tactical thrust of a Wesley Sneijder? It is desperately thin on the English ground.

    There is Fabregas, of course, and the sometimes superman quality of Drogba, and there is also the dogged hope that such as Steven Gerrard and the holidaymaking Wayne Rooney will remind us some time soon of play that last year made them contenders, albeit long shots, for the game’s highest individual prize.

    Where, though, is the shaft of new light, the idea that the best of young English footballers will sometime soon form a generation who can, once more, challenge the best in the world?

    At 18, Jack Wilshere is undoubtedly one of them. Chelsea’s Josh McEachran, 17, may be another. For the rest, toss the wheat into an unpromising wind. The Fifa vote was more than a crushing rebuke. It was a warning that, at a very late hour, surely can no longer be ignored.

    This was England: Previous English nominees

    This year the Fifa World Player of the Year award and the European Footballer of the Year (the Ballon d’Or) award have merged to create a conclusive leading player of the year award: the Fifa Ballon d’Or. Since Fifa introduced a 23-player shortlist for the World Player of the Year award in 2004, there have been at least three English players nominated every year:

    Steven Gerrard (Liverpool) 2009, 08, 07, 06, 05, 04.

    Frank Lampard (Chelsea) 2009, 08, 07, 06, 05, 04.

    Wayne Rooney (MU) 2009, 07, 06, 05, 04.

    John Terry (Chelsea) 2009, 08, 07.

    David Beckham (R Madrid) 2005, 04.

    Michael Owen (R Madrid) 2004.

    An Englishman has been nominated for the Ballon d’Or every year since 1995, Owen the last to win it in 2001.

    2010 Fifa Ballon d’Or nominees X Alonso, I Casillas, M Ozil, C Ronaldo (R Madrid); D Alves, A Iniesta, C Puyol, L Messi, D Villa, Xavi (Barca); S Eto’o, J Cesar, Maicon, W Sneijder (Inter); D Drogba (Chelsea); C Fabregas (Arsenal); D Forlan (A Madrid); A Gyan (Sunderland); M Klose, P Lahm, T Müller, A Robben, B Schweinsteiger (B Munich).

  3. LET’S HERE FROM YOU. The substance of this article is about the foundation of everything we attempt in life. If we don’t plan carefully towards an objective we become confused, lost and open to any suggestion offered to us that we might be able to follow or cling on to. This is what has happened so often in our football — jump on the next passing bus and hope it might take us home. None have in the past, so why should we be any luckier in the future?

  4. hi,
    My name is Acille Ngoung ,a premier skills community coach in cameroon. since the september 2009 course,this website is an opprtunity for me to be update when planning my coaching session.
    thanks you very much.
    coach Acille
    premier skills community coach
    Douala Cameroun

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