Can our game be changed?

Bu John Cartwright

Game-style in most other countries is closely inter-connected at club and at all international levels. In this country, the ‘home of the game’, we have failed to recognize how important this playing linkage is and how equally important it is to have an efficient organizational structure to achieve this linkage.  Spanish football is a clear example of how effective club and country involvement can be with many international tournaments won by their teams in recent years.

Because our national association is so disorganized we haven’t prioritized the creation of a national playing vision and then combined both a national development coaching methodology and development infrastructure to implement that vision. Subsequently, we have watched our game flounder down numerous pathways leaving a trail of wasteful incompetence.  This summer we have seen the woeful wreckage due to long-term mis-handling of our game; from the senior’s lamentable display against Switzerland through all subsequent levels down to u/17 we have shown a total lack of both individual skill as well as poor team play. BUT THE NEW SEASON’S UPON US AND ALL WILL CONTINUE AS BEFORE, that’s the one certainty we can be rely on !

I have watched numerous personnel at the FA ‘Tinker’ with the game and achieve NOTHING. The present incumbent at the top of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, has been in the ‘hot seat’ for the past 7 years, he has also ‘tinkered’ as well as ‘bluffed’ with development issues throughout that time but he has, like all his predecessors, achieved NOTHING. How much longer are we prepared to watch our game spin downwards at all levels with no satisfactory plan in sight to reverse the dismal playing qualities of the game here?

IS IT POSSIBLE FOR US TO CHANGE THE WAY WE DEVELOP PLAYERS AND GET THEM TO PLAY FOOTBALL WITH MORE SKILL AND TACTICAL ITELLECT ?  After many years of watching the appalling ineptitude displayed both on and off the field here, I seriously doubt we can. Gross arrogance combined with fear, greed and a lack of foresight make the changes required an almost impossible task to achieve. Having supplied the game of football to the world we have since stood back and watched other nations develop the game to much higher levels of skill and tactics. Our football history is a millstone around our neck when it comes to re-thinking changes to the way we play and watch the game. Fans and Press as well as those involved actively within the game are all guilty of stopping our game from going forward. Lack of understanding of what changes and how to achieve them is endemic throughout all sections of our ‘football society’.

Our national football association seems more concerned with ‘cash-flow’ than ‘flowing football’. Each year it seems a new coaching course or initiative is produced with yet another piece of paper certification to go with it. I ask a simple question, “how can football coaching programs be produced when no definitive playing vision has been set”? These ‘pathways to nowhere’ do nothing to correct the poor football intellect that infects our game. The constant arguments that follow poor displays by our national teams along with the stream of foreign players into our leagues will continue unabated until the whole sorry mess that is termed ‘football development’ in this country is demolished and re-thought.

Our kids are no worse than any other kids involved in football all around the world. The problem our kids experience and what denies them the opportunity to reach their full potential as players is the learning ‘mess’ that they are forced to endure during their ‘golden learning years’. There is a famous proverb; ‘give me the child and I will give you back the man’. Unfortunately, when the ‘football boy becomes a football man’ here, the football education they have received has curtailed their development and not advanced it!

Without being arrogant, I believe we could be leaders of world football. There is no reason other than the poor development methods that restricts the youngsters here from being the best. I have seen how quickly youngsters can respond to practice and then transfer it into match-play and how eager they are to play the game differently from the usual ‘up and at ‘em’ way that dominates our playing style. We have lost millions of great kids to the game because we have not shown enough care and attention to their football upbringing. It is about time we threw the arrogance and ineptitude that pervades so many aspects of football here and began to offer a better way forward.

Do I think we have the ‘guts’ like the Spanish to remodel our playing style and produce something that combines our national stoic qualities and combine it with the flair that our foreign opponents seem to have? No I don’t think we can; — we’re English, and football, being a ‘mirror’ of national lifestyles, our game has taken the same greedy, lazy and mis-guided route we see in so much of our society. Surrounded by incompetence at all levels, how can the world’s greatest game be displayed here as anything other than a shabby, ‘fightball’ interpretation of it!

12 thoughts on “Can our game be changed?

  1. Great article John, I often find myself pondering how we can change our great game during a young players development years so that the ultmate measurment is not goals. I know that the objective of the game is to score goals however we require a number of other formalised objective / subjective measures to assist in changing the ultimate measure of success based on development criteria.

    I am not aiming my reply at the coaches that read this article as I know that all of you already operate with development criteria as the ultimate measure.


  2. There is so much antagonism between the clubs and the National Team in england that it is difficult to envisage a link up between the two with the establishment of a national playing style of the sort which can be seen in Spain and also in France and in many other countries too.The responsibility very much rests with the Football Association to take the lead and produce a national playing style and the message should then be the focul point of their coaching courses so that everybody knows what they are aiming for.The recently introduced FA Youth Award courses would have been an ideal vehicle to project this vision but it has been another great opportunity lost.The fact that these courses are aimed at the grass roots coaches as much as those at the elite end of the game made this an ideal opportunity but instead we continue to have this complete mixture of playing ideas and methods.
    When Charles Hughes was the FA Director of coaching he quite rightly received,eventually,widespread criticism because of his direct,over-simplistic approach,but at least everyone knew what the vision was and where we were meant to be heading.When club sides like Ajax and AC Milan and national teams such as Holland,France and Brazil showed us how the game should be played, Hughes disappeared under the avalanche of criticism and many at the FA coaching hierarchy who had been employing his methods at their clubs suddenly said “we’ve got to play like the Dutch.” A classic example was Howard Wilkinson who produced strong,disciplined but unimaginative and functional teams at sheffield Wednesday and Leeds United and having taken over from Hughes at the Fa he is suddenly at the forefront of an alleged crusade to make the English game ‘go Dutch’.Nothing came of it of course because no national playing style style was introduced.We got bits of pieces of ideas lifted from various coaches of the world’s leading teams but no vision, no clearly defined route to go down to give our game an identity and a vision that can be followed by everyone working in it at whatever level.
    There was nothing until now,that is until the advent of the Practice/Play coaching courses which we have from Premier Skills.I just cannot see any other route than the one that everyone who sets off on the P/P level 1 can follow.If the national association will not tackle the problem then everyone who sets out on the Practice/play courses must spread the message.This is the only way.The last time I was on a course a few weeks ago we were told that at that time 3000 coaches had gone through the Level 1 and 2 courses.I know that this is only a fraction compared to figures which the FA could produce for the numbers which pass through their course equivalent but it is still a sizable number.It is vital that those 3000 coaches get the message out to the part of the football world that they inhabit to influence more and more coaches,team managers,volunteers etc.

  3. When a match kicks off in england,at any level,the intention of everybody – players,spectators,coaching staff on the benches,directors and money men in the VIP seats – is to see a goal scored.when a match kicks off in spain,france,Italy and many other countries,the first priority is to establish our game style on the match.This is a possession-based approach and is inherent in those countries football.It is not inherent in our game but it could be if this was adopted as the national playing style and was included as the focul point in the FA Coaching courses from day one.We would then have the vision which John cartwright has appealed for for so long now.In his book ‘Football For The Brave’, john cartwright has a chapter entitled ‘Football is a sideways game’.he describes how the best foreign teams play across the pitch in lateral movement to maintain possession and probe for openings in the opposition armoury.But we play a very much forward playing game, always heading for the opposition goal.The fans want it and the media hype it and say that is why the premier league is so great.
    But it is time for change and the establishment of a playing vision projecting a national playing style.The national association has the power to do this but if they will not then it is Premier Skills,through the Practice/Play courses,which is the only hope.

  4. Hi Steve. I wish i could engender the same passion and common sense that you have for the game from the hierarchy in charge of our football. The new season’s up and running and, in all the games that i have watched at all levels, i see no influence on normal playing styles in those games even after the wonderful example provided by Barcelona and Spanish national teams. I fully realize that Barcelona/Spain have wonderful individuals in their teams’, but that does not stop clubs’ here from trying to play with different systems and playing methods that would provide opportunities to keep possession of the ball better and reduce the 1v1 ‘fights’ we see so regularly in our game. Are we afraid of change? Is a lack of coaching ability hindering change? Don’t we want to change the way we play? Until we show a national desire to change along with the ‘guts’ and determination to follow through, we can only look forward to the same boring mediocrity that we see so often here.
    But we’ve got ‘The best League in the World’ we’re told ——regularly —– hear it enough times and you’ll be convinced it’s true !!! After watching the failure of all of our national teams along with the total ‘desruction’ of our Premier League champions in the Champions’ League final this Summer, we have a lot of catching up to do but. little resolve to set about doing it.

  5. Right or wrong, a key part of our national culture is that we are a nation of fighters. Literally. And I think that the DNA of the British psyche carries into our sport.

    Now the key is to harness that never say die attitude to a more considered approach to how we play the game. The ONLY way is to start at he grassroots of the game with the kids and we all know that thay may take another 15 years to reach fruition until those kids wind up at the elite levels.

    There IS a groundswell of opinion amonst youth team coaches at the grassroots level that we must teach the kids the GAME not necessarily just how to win. We ARE short changing our kids but times they are a changing. We have to convince the less well educated coaches that the way they were taught as an adult is not the best way to teach the next generation.

    I know John is not too impressed with the movement towards 9 a side but I for one, think it is exactly a step that is required. Anything we can do to build gradually towards 11 a side at appropriate ages has to be of benefit to the children we teach (even Charles Hughes says in his book that rushing children to 11 a side and obsessing over formations is not in the childrens interest – we should be playing small sided games).

    The next battle to win is to convince parents – parents who want their kid to be winning trophies or they take them to other “coaches” who are merely successful by hoovering up the best kids in the area just to satisfy their own egos to improve the win-loss ratio.

    But the parents think they are in better hands. I once had a parent tell me that at the age of 10 players need to undertsand that there are winners and losers in life !

    The FA are making strides – some of the criticism of the FA on here is based on an old reality. I have worked with a great FA Staff coach whom I believe worked with John and certainly he espouses skill based, chaotic style practices – not line drill technique based work. There are others who are not only trying to educate the coaches (from the grassroots up) but are also trying to do their bit to educate the significant others in the game as well – parents I have mentioned but also league representatives, club committees and anyone who is going to have an influence in the development of young players.

    There is real passion for the technical development of the game within the FA – I know some of them. They also have developed a philosophy , both of playing and how to develop players.

    They have created a reference document which communicates that philosophy as well as providing practice templates which are game like and age specific to help less experienced and developed coaches. The FA are trying to generate a movement towards what John is talking about – to say that they are not is really not fair. You may not agree with the way they are doing it or even agree with the philosophy but it cannot truthfully be said, any longer, that they don’t know where they’re headed.

    The key now is can we bring along with us the most important group which we need to influence – the closed minded parent-coaches (not all of them) who are stuck in the mindset that what they did as a 27 year old pub player is good enough for the kids.

    And I am aware of the criticism that heading has been left out of the Future Game. But, with respect, a header is just another type of pass or shot or means of controlling the ball – good coaches can deal with teaching those aspects surely.

    • i think that we are a nation of lazy fighters in a way. we fight and try hard on the pitch. but havent put the effort in off the pitch to ever become truely great…..

  6. Hi Steve The Seagull…
    It is significant that you raise the problem of certain parents in junior football and make a plea for something to be done about it.
    I feel that the Practice/Play methodology tackles the problem head-on with the ‘Parent As First Coach’ idea.This is a short course which the coaches of teams give to the parents of children who are under their charge.This ties in with the ‘Football Homework’ which the kids are given at the end of each training session which is a skill to be practiced at home in the garden etc under the supervision of the parent who obviously must know the basic mechanics of what is being looked for.When the child goes back to training the following week then the coach tests his performance to check for improvement or any further observations.
    On this parent issue, I think that some of the leagues could help a little more.This season the team which I help to coach,now that it has reached the under 13 age group, is going out of the local league which they have played in since being under 7s into the Kent Youth League which
    is stronger and should provide a serious test each week.However,it is the policy of this lesgue to keep the parents roped off along

    just one side of the pitch whilst the managers and coaches are completely separated on the opposite side of the pitch.
    Although this is to prevent any kind of interjections between coaches and spectators/parents during the match I wonder if it is really the answer to the problem.If the parents are ‘educated’ to watch the match in an orderly and sober manner, (the aim of the ‘Parent As First Coach’ method)

  7. (continuation of above post)……..
    then the obsetvations and advice given from the coaches technical area will be understood by the parents and will only help to enhance their knowledge during the game which would be then carried on into their supervision/observation of the football homework.
    From the courses which i have been on it is clear that Premier Skills focus considerably on the vital part which parents/carers/older brothers or sisters play in the development of young players because of course their lenght of contact with the young player is far greater than that of the coach.

  8. Steve, I agree with you – I think the principle of football homework and “Parent as first coach” from Prem Skills is excellent. Do you think that this will help convince parents to look at longer term development rather than just whether or not the team (their kid !) wins a trophy this season (at U11 !!).

    Have you seen evidence that including them in this approach has changed their mindset and convinced them it really is a long term project developing players?

  9. Hi Steve The Seagull….
    It is a bit early to gauge just yet whether there has been a change in mindset of the parents of our under 13 team with the introduction of football homework but I am hopeful. You will know that the surveys carried out around the country have revealed that children overwhelmingly play football for fun and enjoyment and the desire to win cups and medals comes a very long way down their list of priorities.I think that it is the job of the coach to create the desire to improve in the mind of the young player and ‘to be the best he/she can be’. If this attitude can also be embedded in the parents’ minds, and they can be shown how they can play an important part,then some very important steps will have been taken.
    As has been said so many times on this blog,it is the quality of the coaching and the belief and enthusiasm of the coach which is so important. The static,queue-orientation nature of drills has passed its sell- by date.This is not to say that the technical detail and mechanics of drills was wrong because much of it was very good but players of all ages respond to an approach where there is constant movement,they have to address the problems of time and space and the coach guides them along the right path rather than drills them in a robotic manner which would never produce the players we now see at Barcelona.

  10. Need way more 3G facilities and seasons that run from March to November ……. more street football ……. more pick up park games …… more “natural ” football where kids learn from playing and get tougher from falling down on concrete and getting back up again .
    The Xbox generation and bad parenting aren’t helping either .
    Kids need to be kids …… let them climb , explore , skateboard , martial arts ….. as many sports as possible really .
    We need kids who move correctly – how many kids do we observe that can’t even run or turn correctly , never mind control a ball while doing these things ?
    The whole PC thing with every kid is a winner is brutal too .
    What are we teaching here , complacency ?
    Kids need to win and kids need to lose in order to learn .
    Don’t see the teachers give every kid an A in class but then on weekends they want to give every single kid a “trophy” ?
    Madness .

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