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………………
DIFFICULT BUT IMPORTANT QUESTIONS MUST BE ASKED…..
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’.