By John Cartwright

Let me make an important point before going forward with this ‘blog’:  I believe in coaching and have a tremendous admiration for all those people who teach the game to our young players.  However, what I am concerned about at junior levels in this country is the use of poor coaching methods combined with a chaotic and largely unregulated development structure. Problems with these fundamental aspects of the game, so necessary in the development and production of quality players, have gone unresolved for decades.  I believe those charged with control over our game have shown a lack of initiative when dealing with important issues involving player and game-style development and the administrative infrastructure at junior levels.  The long-running ‘tinkering’ not re-construction of these vital aspects of our game, has caused problems at junior levels that continue into senior football to this day. 

In War, security of a country is an absolute necessity, not from just outside aggression, but infiltration from within its own borders that could breach its security.  Breaches of this nature when discovered need to be quickly dealt with as lapses can cause severe problems and disrupt a country’s future war efforts.  With this in mind……………… 


Has this country’s ‘chaotic’ football development infrastructure been inadvertently ‘infiltrated’ over a long period by quasi-type coaching methods? How seriously has this negative combination affected the development of our young players and subsequently, the quality of football at all levels played here?

I have always believed that football needs both a vision to aspire to combined with a carefully planned program to achieve those playing aspirations. Unless players are subjected to high quality practice/playing situations allied to a predetermined playing vision from the start of their development, they will suffer problems with skill, tactical deficiencies and game understanding later.

It is time for open discussion – debate – argument if necessary, about the long-running problems of football development in this country and the reasons for the lack of ‘home-grown’ quality produced for our game. Many of the major reasons are well known, but no fundamental changes of real significance have been made…. lots of talk and tinkering but little positive action!  The whole of the development period from 6 up to senior levels requires a thorough re-think and overhaul, from administrative re-structure to coaching and playing methodology ….. AS OCCURRED IN HOLLAND IN THE EARLY 1980’s where selected coaches and administrators from the professional game re-designed the way they developed their players and the way they played the game……. There must be a similar reappraisal of the standards required for top level performance in football here.  No longer can the future of our game be left in the hands of those who have provided ‘amateur ‘standards for our game for too long.

Players no longer produce themselves as they did in the past in streets, playgrounds and on waste grounds. Since the introduction of coaching, players here have been taught how to play football by FA certified coaches who follow their prescribed teaching programmes. Whether involved in the game or simply a supporter, it is generally agreed by many interested in the game here that   quality players have not been produced over a significant period to play attractive and effective football using FA prescribed coaching methods or adaptations of them.  Therefore, there must be radical problems with those coaching methods along with the infrastructure in which they are used.  Let’s stop denying the fact that  coaching methods used here that have in the main,  been produced , presented and certified by ‘schoolteachers’ employed at the FA have historically failed.  The standards set for both practice and playing of the game in this country are the standards of schoolteachers and not the standards required for the game at the highest level.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Over the years we have modified/adapted/tinkered with these failed methods and have continued to ‘educate’ generation after generation of coaches with them. By providing sub-standard coaching methods to inexperienced coaches and then placing them at the game’s foundation level, is tantamount to placing a ‘fifth column’ within the development process. This country’s football has suffered for years from the poor start our youngsters are given … team play before individual development. ………… At no time in our football history have we ever welded the qualities necessary for top performance with a satisfactory teaching and learning model……….In the past, the abundance of self-produced talent was ‘gathered up’ and used randomly; today, the limited amount of  ability available is too frequently ‘strangled’ not ‘stretched’ by poorly taught and  inexperienced coaching practitioners.

Do we really understand what quality performance is any more?  Older ‘football people’, still  involved or retired from the game, can remember the performance levels of self-produced ‘stars’, of the past, both foreign and domestic, and find our present ‘hyped’ versions a poor substitute.  The development of high quality performance remains largely unavailable to our game due to a combination of poor practice methods and our casual, acceptance and satisfaction with low playing standards. However, to suggest to today’s army of ‘certificated developers’ that the work they provide to our young players is unsatisfactory and that their assessment of playing standards is far too low, brings howls of dissent — they’ve got the ‘ bits of paper’ to say they know differently !!

In my opinion, the junior end of the game has become too closely connected with well-intentioned but poorly educated coaches, who, since the demise of street football,  have  become a dominant and mostly unsupervised feature, inadvertently de-railing satisfactory progress at the beginning of the development journey.  These young coaches need an improved structure in which to work, plus an improved teaching and learning model with increased time and assistance alongside more experienced ‘coaching overseers’ to provide them with  guidance during this vital learning period. Unless more interest and control is taken in this area of the game and large changes are brought about, the massive disorder and waste of talent at junior levels will continue to affect playing quality throughout all levels of our game.

To enforce my opinion about development structure,  playing quality and improved standards, I watched Barcelona ‘tear Man. Utd apart’ (quote from Sir Alex Ferguson). The Spanish club have been single-minded with a prolonged vision about development through all levels at their club (originated by Rinus Michels/Johann Cruyff).  Their present team consists largely of players who have progressed through their youth sections and there are several players just waiting in the wings for their chance to follow the present stars. The game was grossly one-sided and emphasized a huge gap in standards.  It said it all about the ‘hyped’ quality of the so-called ‘best league in the world’ as the PREMIER LEAGUE is so frequently described by those who benefit most from saying so.

Similarly, one has to wince at England’s performance against Switzerland in a recent EURO qualifier.  A country we used to select a second team to play against and still beat convincingly, now look to have better individuals than us and showed a greater appreciation of team-play.

Following our senior squad’s poor performance at Wembley, it was embarrassing to watch the vast gap in playing quality between our U/21 and Spain’s U/21’s in Denmark. We managed to draw what was such a one-sided encounter that had we gone on to win this competition it would not have alleviated the memory of this mis-match.  The after-match interview on TV brought a mind-boggling remark from the England coach, “if we’d had as much possession of the ball as the Spanish had tonight we would have won the game 5.0”.  Did he mean we should have been beaten 5-0? ; and, why were we not able to out-match the Spanish team’s superior ability of retaining the ball?

We eventually failed to qualify for the semi-finals of a tournament that, we were once again, ‘hyped’ to believe we would go the distance in.  All the usual criticism and vitriol over the poor performances has been turned on players and Manager since their expulsion from the competition. However, give it about a month or so and all will be forgotten; the ‘football carpet’ will be lifted and all concerns with the U/21 performances will be swept under it and forgotten as the new season draws near.  It’s happened so many times in the past that those responsible for the chaos within our game have become expert at ‘putting on their tin helmets, retiring to the trenches to wait for the all clear to sound before continuing on their ‘confused and mis-guided way’.      

                      Will we never understand that our players, now and for many decades past, are the products of poor development? Our teams, at all levels have consistently looked no better than ‘difficult opponents to beat’……   journeymen ‘scrappers’; punch-drunk, but too proud to lie down !    

I say once again to all those who consistently deny the obvious and question my concerns about our game —– we have not ‘visualized’ a suitable national playing style……we are forever ‘walking in a fog’, totally confused as to which direction we should take next and making wrong decisions time after time…… we are not producing enough players of real quality able to play attractive and effective football — we are calling mediocrity greatness …,,we have lied (hyped) about playing standards — we have  failed to provide a suitable development structure allied to an effective teaching model……….For years and years  we have continually sown the seeds of failure;  and we have continually harvested the results of those mistakes….. poor quality players who play poor quality football.


              Who’s in charge of our stumbling game,

              the effort’s still there, but skill’s on the wane?

              The cupboard’s bare due to complacency and fear,

              whilst greed and ‘hype’ rule our game more year after year.

              Though ‘red lights’ flash ‘ DANGER’ each season in vain,

               it’s NEGLECT that’s in charge of our stumbling game’.


22 thoughts on “Danger!!!!

  1. I agree with you John, that the current set-up is not taking us anywhere, except perhaps backwards. And I agree with many of the points you make about what is wrong.

    But if we want to win this argument, then I think we need more detailed examples of what we can positively do about the current situation. You say we need a more regulated development structure, less neglect, a less chaotic infrastructure, more initiative. more postivie action etc. But what action, what regulation, and what infrastructure?

    In my experience, successful change happens when a very clear vision accompanies a very clear pathway of how to get there. I can’t see the details of this vision and this pathway. I am keen to hear more on this. Then I think we can all jump on-board and make change happen.

  2. Agree. A failure of player development is the central reason for our inability to punch our weight at international level, for decades now. Yes, individual managers or players have made mistakes but that accounts for less than 10% of the problem & is a distraction to proper understanding of causes & nature of our collective failure.

    Somehow we need to bring two groups of people together. Those with deep knowledge & experience of the professional game & those with the skills necessary to teach youngsters. It is rare you get someone who has both sets of skills & experiences. What we can do is design a way which facilitates this happening & create a proper syllabus for coaches to work to within an overarching national playing style based on sound principles. I also agree that the Liverpool pass & move style of the 70s & 80s would be good place to start from, when devising that national playing style/template.

  3. We are in a genrational degredation of football. Meaning it will take a generation to recover! Just like N ireland, Afghanistan and Iraq. the only way we can make a change is to forget about the current and turn to the influence the future. The six yr olds of today are the next world cup winning team. If we fail in them now , then look to the birth year 2012! Where is our plan 2014, the USA has one! Every world cup they are improving. We had one for cricket..world champions….we had one for rugby… world champions…where is our plan for football? We play to win the next game not the next tournamnet, proof is if we did, Capello would have been gone a long time ago. Sad to loose 6 million, i do not think so, not after all the money we lost on the world cup bid.Six Million was a drop. The coming model, of English Squad players is definatly a way to advance, but already Arsenal are trying to circumnavigate it. To me it is the confidence in our players, let the younger ones express it now. or when they are bought in for the euros, due to injury or other such areas it will be too late and they will become the blame hound under the pundits table. Wipe the slate, many will be too old for 2014 and then what? We do not need a ball, we need a broom! Not one from ‘Trigger’ whIch has had ten new heads and six new shafts, BUT IT IS THE SAME BROOM!!!
    Bring in the youngsters, let them play, loose if necessary but win within their result. An English coaching management team from coaches like Steve Clarke and Ray Wilkins, look who they have worked along side and their recent awards, current builders, with experienced resumes from different methodologies. We do not need to look at the past but at the players of tomorrow and the style we should play around them. The period of “Beckham” and direct play is over. we are still trying to play it and Becks is not even there! Please is it not that obvious?
    Just to finish the rant, we can not even enter a team in our own Olympics. I beleive that just sums up our countries mini FIFA status.

  4. One of the challenges is at Grassroots / recreational levels where those of us who emphasise development and individual skill over winning games are challenged by parents who want to see their kids win more games than they lose – for “competitive” read “winning”. For it is not a competitive game which parents wish to see where the result may go either way – they wish to see their kids win consistently and preferably a cup or a league as well.

    Coaching qualifications are relevant – however, it is not the qualification itself that makes you a good coach but it does provide at least a baseline from which to work. Not having been a professional player (or anywhere near it) that does not mean I do not or cannot appreciate the game or how I would like to see it played.
    When you pass exams to become a lawyer or accountant they are relevant too – but again they don’t make you a good one – it’s the practice to become a better accountant, lawyer, coach (same as players and voilinists) and experience that makes you better/good.

    I like to think that over a 20 year period I have studied the game and evolved my practices. Where they were once essentially drill based they are now much more ‘chaotic’ in order to replicate the demands of the game. However, 20 years experience, studying, trying to examine different approaches and trying to devise my own way to develop young players gains me no leeway or credence in some parents eyes – if you don’t win, you don’t know what you’re doing. We need results now (at U10,U11,U12 – I kid you not!) and if not we will take our kids elsewhere where they will be “more competitive” (i.e. they will be in a superior team in an inferior league as ‘coaches’ hoover up the best talent to win games / leagues / cups (as John describes above).

    So depsite the deliberate practice to become a better coach you/we (one) get no recognition for the fact.

    So, what has this got to do with the elite levels of the game I hear you ask? Well, they get their kids from the grassroots game. They take the best of what is on offer but if they haven’t been developed as John describes, they go into the potential elite with some of the bricks in the wall missing – and the older they get, the harder it is to put in what was missed initially.

    Again, one of the issues is that some volunteers who run teams at grassroots don’t want to be ‘told’ how to ‘train’ their players – they know best, they know what they need and who are you to tell me how to do it? The trouble is everyone has an opinion – I know I do – but mine has evolved over 20 years of coaching, 25 years of playing and a lifetime of watching the game. I venture to suggest that my view of the national team is largely speaking the same as John’s – I think the problems are not so much at the elite level, they are at the grassroots but the symptoms of what is wrong manifests itself at the elite level.

    Now I can’t speak for other nations’ coaching systems as I haven’t been in them but I have seen a limited (very limited) number of coaching sessions in Italy and Holland and believe me some of those are pretty drill based too. I still think the FA is heading in the right direction (I know it’s not always a popular view on here) – they may not be where they need to be yet but I have witnessed some really good coaches putting on some excellent sessions which dovetail nicely with the Practice Play philosophy of Premier Skills.

    I also think that the Vision that John seeks from the FA is there – I have read the Future Game
    and it clearly espouses a style of play and the types of players we need to develop in order to play that style. It talks about keeping the best of the English game (which John also acknowledges has some advantages – fighting spirit, never say die attitude, being hard to beat) but adding those parts of our game where we are clearly (and have been for nearly as long as I can remember) deficient.

    But HOW do we get that collective vision? You can’t IMPOSE a Vision – it has to grow and develop, The FA are trying to communicate their vision but how do we reach those at the Grassroots who don’t want to hear? We keep chipping away until we reach the tipping point but in the meantime we will still have players coming through the system who haven’t been taught ‘the game’.

    I have an open mind and whilst I don’t think there is only ‘One Right Way’ I am prepared to take elements from lots of philosophies and methodologies that I think will help me to develop players better than I was (which isn’t saying much to be fair),and hopefully to be the players of the future that we all want to see. I will use chaotic practices that will use elements of the ‘real’ game. I will always use practices to develop individual skill in young players and I will always watch and learn from other coaches who are better than me and who can give me input to become a better coach.

  5. It is all well and good producing a booklet with a new philosophy but who is going to oversee it and make sure this is how all young players are taught this way,performance before results is my motto.
    Also,who is going to provide the missing facilities,ie the all weather surfaces and changing rooms/clubhouses that make playing the game and being involved socially a place that is where young people want to be?
    Lets see the authorities put their money where there mouth is rather than saying good things and doing the opposite.

  6. I have just returned from a trip to Villareal with a group of 17 yr olds. We went with a college academy on a “soccer tour”. The coach that took our kids was top notch. He asked us what we wanted before hand and gave it to us with icing on top. Every session BUILT ON WHAT WAS PREVIOUSLY LEARNT. We REVISED the previous work and then built on it. The coaches at Villareal always talked about the “coaching philosophy” at the club ( ie Vision). The whole party were able to look back to our week in Spain and diagnose and apply it to the work we had already done this season ( much of it with John Cartwright ).
    What can I compare this to in England? Well we have the London Coaches sessions every 4th Monday during the season. Is there a “coaching philosophy” that is being transmitted? Not a chance; there are “sessions” that resemble “topics” from the FA coaching courses. Such and such will be doing a session on crossing and finishing and so and so will do another on “defending as a unit”.
    The Prem Skills courses build up logically. When you do the Lev 2 work you are still doing the Lev 1 stuff. When you do the Lev 3 you incorporate the stuff from 1 and 2 because you know where its all going. This was the case for us in Spain too the other week. The coaching staff recognised that we wanted to tap into their vision and everything worked because we were all headed in the same direction. The coaches and players were able to maximise the opportunity.
    Oh …….and by the way; unlike the U21’s we went 3 games unbeaten against Spanish opposition, drawing twice and winning once and outplaying our opponents too. On top of that the Spanish coaching staff were full of praise for the boys who were ” a little different from what we usually meet from England”
    Fact is too many people in this country don’t want to change. Steve the Seagull; I hear you. But the governing body do not want to deal with it. You say they can’t impose a vision but they MUST impose a vision. Then those who OPPOSE it can be isolated. I remember clearly being told by John Alpress that if your “vision” was to win the U11’s cup who was he to stop that? I replied that if all I wanted was to win the U11’s cup I’d find myself a couple of big lumps and smash the ball in their direction. He actually tried to justify his comment. Grassroots coaches like us MUST HAVE a framework because as you rightly note the volunteers are running riot with our future talent. Somewhere in Romford there is a future Xavi or Messi ; an English Xavi or Messi ; but in our current system that boy will never emerge. Its time to wipe out the dinasours; the stone age has to become the past.

  7. The FA Coaching Scheme does not have a vision and this is the major problem with it.The Practice/Play methodology does have a vision and as Fletch says each Level inter-links with the previous one.What he and his team saw and experienced at Villareal underlined that the Practice/Play approach is consistent with the best work that is done in the leading football nations.
    From the mid seventies to the early eighties I was able,through the influence of a friend,to observe the training at FC Cologne.During this period they were coached by Hennes Weisweiller and Karl-Heinz Hedergott (Germans) and Rinus Michels (Dutchman).|I never saw these coaches use drills.I have seen drills used at other clubs that I have visited in Germany,Holland and France.These were drills in the form of combinations or pattern plays.When the coaches did this work they often referred to it as “tactical training”.They simulated situations that they expected the opposition to provide in the next match and how they wanted their players to react to it.
    At Cologne under the coaches i have mentioned the players were encouraged to solve the problems for themselves.A number of times i saw a practice which is very similar to the one which is in the Level 2 of Practice/Play.This is the one where four players play around the four sides of a rectangle and must attempt to play through the two players who are inside the rectangle by running with the ball,passing,one-two etc.Until that penetrative ball is on they keep possession (play rounds).
    At Cologne they worked on many variations of this practice.It helps prove to me that Practice/Play is the methodology that should be followed.
    The list of English failures and poor performance at the moment is endless.After the sub-standard performances of the England teams at various levels, the other day Eurosport showed a ‘live’ transmission of an Under 15 match played in singapore between Juventus and Newcastle United.Again we had an English team with bags of effort and spirit but without the technical skill of their foreign opponents.Where have we heard that before?

    rectangle.Until the penetrative pass is on the four players must keep possession (play rounds) until they can run,pass,one-two between the two

  8. Future Game: Playing Philosophy
    Football should be played with an efficient, economical, measured, possession based approach, where pass quality combined with intelligent and timely support and movement lead to progress and penetration through the thirds of the field toprovide goal scoring opportunities IF counter attacking possibilities are denied.
    To defend effectively and efficiently: ateam should display a controlled calculated and assertive approach where all players contribute and have a clear understanding of the tactical objectives being used to regain possession of the ball.

    The game style will allow and encourage all players to contribute to theattacking phase with variety, audacity and with considered risk taking and in the defending phase with understanding, assertiveness and decisiveness.

  9. mightyred wrote: ” Also,who is going to provide the missing facilities,ie the all weather surfaces and changing rooms/clubhouses that make playing the game and being involved socially a place that is where young people want to be?
    Lets see the authorities put their money where there mouth is rather than saying good things and doing the opposite ”

    One of the issues here, I feel is the parochial / tribal nature of the game in this country – again, driven by adults who ‘break away’ from other clubs or set up their own as they know better / don’t agree with another club’s “way”.

    On the continent (and in the USA) the tendency is for larger clubs with more teams where coaches can concentrate on development and where streaming of players by current ability leads to them getting an appropriate level of challenge for that point in their development.

    As a country we need to try and get away from this approach. Pooling resources will help young players and reduce the strain on volunteers and their time. We also need a change in attitude (and probably planning policy) to help us develop decent standard facilities for the grassroots of the game – Semi-pro and amateur / recreational can and should live hand in hand as it does in Holland (I know we have some good examples in this country but they are the exception that proves the rule).

    Where does the money come from? To be honest, especially in a recession, I would struggle to find the answers. However, we can’t expect the FA to stump up for it all – it’s the Premier League that has all the money anyway (or would have apart from inflated transfer fees and player wages). It has to come from private enterprise, local authorities (from national or local taxes) and from local benefactors (although there’s clearly more credence to be attained from bankrolling a Premier League side than your local grassroots club) and, perhaps, a small percentage levy on pro-game players.

  10. After Spain and Swtzerland had qualified in some style for the semi finals of the UEFA U-21 Championship they both experienced some difficulty in their next matches when facing obdurate opponents in Belarus and Czech Republic respectively. There was no way that these two opponents were going to lie down and sucomb to the attractive,possession-based football of the Spanish and Swiss and so both semis went to extra time before the two favourites finally squeezed through to the final.
    The problems in English football were illustrated by the reactions of many people after the difficulties Spain and Switzerland both faced in their semi finals.Because of the difficulties both teams had in breaking down their opponents i heard criticisms of the lack of crosses going into the box,insufficient pressure and,in general, the lack of a ‘typical British approach’.
    How quickly some people forget the lessons which these good teams are giving us.Belarus and the Czech Rep were extremely well organised,disciplined and with some technically good players.They were ‘up for the battle’ and Spain nearly went out,equalising just before the end of normal time. Spain and Switzerland had to adapt their tactics.They had to maintain possession and search very hard for the penetrative pass or run with the ball when it was on.It was clear from the early minutes of each match that it would not be spectacular,but like many boxing matches it would be cagey with a lot of sparring.Possession would have to be retained and the reward of penetration would have to be hard earned.
    It is a great pity that many people in this country have an intense dislike to that kind of football.We demand that as soon as we get the ball we must score a goal,often by the shortest possible route. Many opponents and many matches demand an alternative approach but our crowds are fiercely and vociforously critical of a team that switches to a patient, slower build-up. I have said before that Liverpool years ago had two ways of playing – the slower,patient build-up in European Cup matches and the typical fast-paced British style in League matches. Their supporters accepted the ‘foreign style’ in Europe because it brought them the European Cup on several occasions but when Everton,Tottenham etc came to Anfield on a Saturday they wanted long balls out to the wings and plenty of crosses and goal-mouth action.
    About 15 – 20 years ago Channel 4 screened ‘live’ Italian Serie A matches but that has long since been discontinued, although i know that these games can be picked up on satellite channels.That is the only time that a terrestial TV channel has shown regular league matches from another country.Football fans in Britain from an Italian background were pleased with the coverage but many English followers were largely disinterested and it was because of the slower pace.
    This obsession with pace is severely holding us back in this country.This is another superior aspect of the Practice/Play courses over the FA Coaching Scheme.I have never known an FA Coaching Course contain an element or topic with the emphasis on slowing the pace or adopting a patient build up.Everything must be done at a high pace and it must be constant.
    But right from the start on Level 1 in Practice/Play we are instructed to vary the pace and show patience in the build up play.I think that it is vital that this element of slowing the pace is in Level 1 because,as in the FA equivalent, that is the Level which most grassroot coaches are likely to do and,correspondinly,they comprise a large bulk of the football crowds on a Saturday afternoon. So that is another lesson from the Practice/Play methodology to out National Association!

  11. “Make your case strategically over time” were the words from Alastair Campbell, the ex political adviser to Tony Blair. Mr Campbell said this line in a local meeting in Camden the other night where he was discussing the reforms and effects on sport in our area.
    Our sports industry is a business must be the only organisation where they have no competetion.

    The answer is I feel to create a movement which will re-shape just how the current systems of football are run. I feel the grassroot clubs have no leadership other than the FA and this is frankly scary but this blog and the use of the internet can create a powerful body to change things.

    Here is my quick and simple plan…

    1. Create a model of excellence in a number of grassroot clubs by allowing them to generate an income to allow the club to pay its coaches.

    This income can come from not only subs but the use of coaches going into schools and delivering PE programs

    2. Use an alternative football coaching system to the FA way. This can be Johns or the Spanish programs that are available

    3. Stop our grassroot talent going to the pro boys by showing our parents what we are doing.

    4. Create our own pressure groups to the goverment to create different funding routes for our development of our coaches and potential funding for training.

    5. Develop a different body to the FA and show that the organisation can do it better

    Thats my bit, not to clear but I have been coaching myself for the last 10 years and it is only now that I am beginning to see in our club, something which could challenge the current model. The challenge is that we have no group to go to. I used Johns program but felt he was tremendous but too busy with other things.

    Finances from the premier leagues are at all time highs, the pro boys are using this excess money to create developments centres which is another drain on the grassroot talent and yet as is clearly being demonstrated that the pro model is only producing 1% of players and even at that, these boys are not of the right standard.

    I really like the idea of creating well run bigger grassroot/semi pro teams such as those in Holland. These would use a “scheme of work” from a recognised and proven program such as John Cartwright or something else. The idea is that such programs have a mentoring program attached to them and the creation of development sessions.

    Being an ex FDS franchise holder this actually showed a model to develop revenues to actually pay coaches. Basically children paying to be coached to a better level than the current FA system. The challenge with the FDS way is that the lack of spatial work and systems of play were a huge issue for our club.

    My personal feeling is that the only way we can change things is by the creation of a link minded organisation to create the structure and program and slowly but surely show that we do have another way.

    Steve has a point for the need to create “super grassroot” clubs that actually develop economies of scale but I feel these clubs need to become self sufficient by creating a commercial side of the football. Volunteers are good but in reality the future must see a need to create full time coaches within the grassroot clubs.

    The new Youth Module is good but when I asked Trevor Wilkinson of seeking other methods, he told me that the FA had taken their very best people out in the World and they have come back with the answers.

    I feel that change is in the air and we need to change the FA way by showing an alternative. Stop giving our players to the pro boys. They should pay the clubs for this talent and more importantly we need to get together to devise the way…


    James Lawton: Manufacture a Messi? No chance – but we can change the English approach

    This philosophy was a key factor in the development of a stream of outstanding Dutch players, quite out of proportion to the nation’s population

    Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has been mesmerising world football, but can his talents be taught?
    There we were running away with the idea that Lionel Messi belonged to a different species while English football was lapsing into still another stone age.

    Didn’t we know that if Messi did indeed receive certain gifts in the cradle, including the not inconsiderable one of natural born genius, none of them are beyond the reach of some really good coaching?

    Who said this? A coach, of course, but before sending for the men in the white coats we should give Alf Galustian, a former Wimbledon player, his due.

    His admirers include Arsène Wenger and Jose Mourinho – he may be the only subject on which they agree in their entire lives – and the Premier League have just appointed him their skills adviser. Tony Pulis of Stoke City is also a fan and anxious to have him work on something more refined than the long throw.

    However, this doesn’t mean necessarily that the white coat brigade should be stood down. For this is what Galustian declares: “Messi is a one-off. But I’m certain everything he does can be taught.”

    At the very least it is a stimulating point of discussion. So much so, indeed, that if he was still alive Jimmy Murphy, the man who did so much to groom the Busby Babes more than 50 years ago, who so revered the late Duncan Edwards and devoted so much of his spare time to cultivating the talents of the young Bobby Charlton, would now be surely bombarded with demands for his reaction.

    This is because Murphy, like Galustian, was a fanatic believer in the value of repetitive work on football skill. He would have his proteges – who many sound judges believe might have inspired England’s first World Cup triumph but for the Munich air crash of 1958 – work endlessly on developing their technique and attacking points of weakness. However, he was emphatic that coaches could do everything except create genius.

    He was once asked: “What would you say to George Best?” After the briefest pause, he replied: “Ask him if he’s got a brother.”

    Yet if there is a core absurdity in Galustian’s claim that a Messi can indeed be manufactured, much of what this singularly committed man has to say is surely beneficially directed at an English game which made such a woefully inadequate case for itself in the weekend European Championship qualifier against Switzerland.

    Galustian is a disciple of Wiel Coerver, coach of the 1974 Uefa Cup winners Feyenoord, but perhaps more significantly is remembered and respected for his passionate belief that it was disastrous to have seven and eight-year-olds labouring, competitively, on full-scale pitches.

    This philosophy was a key factor in the development of a stream of outstanding Dutch players, something quite out of proportion to the nation’s small population and modest football background. Now, nearly 40 years on, such thinking buzzes around English football. Gareth Southgate, FA head of elite development, talks of the need for enlightenment in the crucial matter of developing skills and ball-orientated practice and this week the Premier League votes on something described as the Elite Players Performance Plan.

    This is all very exciting, of course, but you still have to wonder when the other shoe will drop, which is to ask when the Premier League will address the immediate problem of supplying a sufficient degree of encouragement for those native-born youngsters attached to the top clubs, those who spend most of their time watching expensive foreign imports performing for the first-teams.

    No one can question the importance of developing the skills of young English players in a way that is routine in Europe. Still less of an argument is Galustian’s assertion that Messi is a working example for any aspiring young player. He says: “Messi is the maestro and I think coaches can use this wonderful icon to excite young players to do long and consistent practice that is essential to acquire such super skills.

    “Messi does it naturally but he is our teacher; we can break down and teach his movements through repetition. His genius is knowing not only how to make his wonderful actions but when and where – yet this knowledge will come as young players play more small-sided games, encouraged not to fear failure.”

    The trouble is that you cannot teach players not to fear failure and if we doubt this we need only ask Wenger. What you can do is provide an environment where a young player can breathe and develop his skills and be subject to the exhilaration, something you can see in stretches of beaten- down ground in the shanty towns of Rio and Buenos Aires.

    You can hope that the ambition to be great catches fire, as it did for Pele and Maradona in such a way they were able to play first-division football in their mid-teens.

    What is needed most, of course, is not a culture of coaching which attempts a Dr Frankenstein creation of the football monster talent – “You’ll never make a Gerson in a football clinic,” said an old guard Brazilian after the brilliant World Cup triumph of 1970 – but an environment which is quick to recognise and encourage extraordinary ability.

    When Murphy was running the serial FA Youth Cup winning team which had the phenomenal Edwards at its heart, he became concerned that the star had become too dominant – and at the cost of the expression of some of his team-mates. So, before a difficult tie, the guru said that, by way of a change, whenever a player gained possession of the ball he should not automatically pass it to Edwards. “Spread it around, boys,” said Murphy.

    The team came back to the dressing room 2-1 down at half- time. “Forget what I said about spreading it around,” said the coach, “give the fucking ball to Duncan.”

    As you would do, you have to guess for as long as football is played, to the kind of player who will always be born rather than made.

  13. The FA always makes great play about the success of womens’ football in this country.Certaily,there have been great strides made in recent years and it appears to be achieving great levels of popularity.We are told that more and more girls are taking up the game.The Womens’World Cup,at present being played in Germany,is attracting some very good crowds.
    Unfortunately, I feel that in England we have missed a great chance to make a much needed statement of how we want to play our national game.
    When girls started coming into the game in significant numbers the very valid point was made that they were doing so without any preconceived ideas.They were coming with an open mind and many people who coached them remarked that there was a marked difference in attitude between boys and girls.They were more ready to take in information and advice than boys not having grown up in an environment where they were surrounded in football. The opportunity was there to guide them along a path of presenting the game to them which glorified

    skill and technique before physical qualities.

    But looking at England’s recent World Cup match with Mexico it was clear

    that our women play a female version of the mens’ game.It is direct and lacks subtlety just as the mens’ game does.If we had been more far-sighted at the time when the explosion in intertest from

  14. (continuation from above post)……
    young girls arose then a different type of game could have been nurtured which in time would also have influenced the mens’ game.But,looking at the match with Mexico, we have coached our girls and women in the same way as we have coached our boys and men, and got the same results. A predictable,functional game without imagination and guile.
    The coaching department at the FA should have foreseen the situation and realised the opportunity they had within their grasp but they failed to take action.In the FA Youth Award modules they say to coaches quite rightly that when you are coaching children in the 5 – 12 age range you are coaching children and not mini-adults. That is quite correct, but they have not produced the same outlook on coaching female footballers as opposed to men.Female players could have led to a revolution in the English playing style but unfortunately it is another opportunity lost.

  15. Steve, YES YES YES . You have ‘hit the hail on the head; once again. Our womens’ football is a replica of the mens’ game. It is an obvious example of the effect of the coaching methodology that has ‘infected’ the womens’ game.
    We have latent talent in both mens’ and womens’ football, but until we break away from present development methods that are clearly not working, both sexes will fail to reach their full potential as individuals or as teams.

  16. Since the end of last season the record of various England teams at different levels has been appauling.The Under 17 team was eliminated at the UEFA Championship in Serbia after being outplayed and out-thought by both Denmark and Holland.The senior team scraped a 2-2 draw against Switzerland after being 0-2 down against a team who in years gone by they would have been expected to beat with ease but who now gave us a lesson in how to play a possession-based game.The Under-21 team offered nothing more than honest endeavour in the UEFA Under-21 Championship and were outplayed by Spain,in spite of the 1-1 scoreline, and comfortably contained by the Czech Republic.Honest effort was there in abundance when the Under-17s played in the FIFA U-17 Championship in Mexico but,let’s face it,it always is but there was little evidence of technical skill or game understanding and the 2-3 defeat against G ermany in the 1/4 final flattered us.And finally we had the England Womens’ team going out of the Womens World Cup to France,albeit on penalties, but the scenario was still the same: our girls had bucket-loads of courage and effort but they were always second best to the French in terms of technical skill and game intelligence.
    Every single England team displays the same characteristics – never-say-die attitude,guts,determination,willingness to spill every last drop of blood until the final whistle, but severe shortcomings in technical skill and football intelligence.Last year we had the

  17. (continuation of above post)…..
    disastrous world cup campaign in South Africa and i suppose that this year the FA thought that it would by a quiet close season with no catastrophic championship for the senior England team to be involved in.But really this has been the worst close season that i can recall because it really does show that the cupboard is bare.Where will the next generation of senior england players come from? There have been depressingly few examples of rising talent in the youth teams which we have seen on our TV screens this summer.
    To be honest i am starting to think that not m,any people really care.Football in this country is run by the powerful Premier league clubs and if they can buy up the best talent from abroad then they are happy with that.So are their supporters and so are the moguls in charge of the Premier League and Sky TV.The only hope is that UEFA’s Financial Fair play initiative really bites.The clubs must be forced into developing talent and it must be local talent.
    But finally,and most important of all,the FA must improve its coaching scheme at the grass roots end.If this summer has not provided a wake-up call then nothing ever will.The Practice/Play methodology is out there and more and more grass-roots coaches are discovering it and doing the courses.The Fa have had their chance before to take it on board and turned their backs on it.The present calamitous state of affairs demands that they do not make the same mistake again.

  18. I disagree regarding England under 17s in Mexico,i think the talent and ability was there but i believe the players were handicapped by the negative philosophy of their coach.
    The only time they played with 2 strikers,v finalists Uruguay,they won comfortably but then reverted to type for the games v Argentina and Germany,one which they only won on penalties and the German game where the score flattered them.

    I dont know much about John Peacock but it seems he’s one of the old guard and needs to be moved out for fresh blood.
    I dont blame those under 17s i lay the blame with the coach for their exit.

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