By John Cartwright
So many parents over so many years have encouraged their offspring to play football. This is fine if the reason for the youngsters’ involvement with the game is purely for fun, socializing or fitness, but when the reason for involvement in the game becomes more serious — there may be a professional career ahead -encouragement can often turn to ‘sacrifice’.
Professional football in the United Kingdom has never shown an ability to create a satisfactory learning and development model through which raw talent could be moulded into high quality players. Thousands upon thousands of youngsters have taken the ‘rocky road to stardom’, very few have even reached a level of mediocrity. Why has this reoccurring waste of talent happened and what can be done about it?
The professional game, up until the late sixties, never had to produce its players; they produced themselves in the streets all over these islands. This natural talent was then transferred from streets to stadiums for the public to support. This method of player development occurred throughout the world wherever football was played and it still persists today in countries that remain economically poor. ‘Poverty produces players’ is a term that can be recognized in many countries that produce playing talent for the leagues of more prosperous football nations.
We cannot return to the days of self-production of talent. The times and circumstances have changed and the game now requires well taught players to replace those who were self-taught in the past. This is the major problem regarding our player development, but it has been addressed more carefully and sensibly by many of our overseas opponents. The teaching of the game, that has been under the control of our national association, the FA for over fifty years, has throughout all that time, been unable to provide a suitable coaching methodology. Consequently, we have arrived at a situation in which ‘home-grown’ talent is virtually non-existent and foreign ‘imports’ flourish in our domestic game. One has to ask the question, how much longer before we are unable to select a national team capable of going beyond the qualification stages of major international competitions? The parents of all young ‘hopefuls’ should begin to ask pointed questions to those in charge of the future of our game. Do those parents want their children to go the same way as so many have in the past here –‘sacrificed’ on football coaching’s ‘altar of mediocrity’.
Are the rumblings of discontent beginning to turn into a resounding ‘backlash’ of criticism? Our national coaching structure and those still doggedly involved in its continuance, are coming under severe pressure from anxious parents, perplexed spectators, disgruntled players and coaches as well as many branches of the media; all are questioning what’s going on and are demanding substantial changes to the playing and development methods that have failed to provide the standards for top-class performance to our young players. Let’s hope changes will occur — but I don’t think they will. Why? Well to begin; a poor organizational set-up in control of the game here creates greed, selfishness and lethargy; Sir Trevor Brooking, after seven years as Head of Football Development, has shown no determination to force through necessary changes to coaching and development; combined with the afore-mentioned, there is the fear of change by those brought up and ‘comfortable’ using the development methodology of the past.
Parents, take off the ‘rose-coloured glasses’ – your child has scant chance of ever reaching the standards necessary for stardom, or even mediocrity, by following the long-established, but failed development methods provided to them. Your child will never reach the standards developed at the Barcelona academy or in many other foreign countries. When are you going to wake up and force stronger demands for an improved coaching and development format that would give your child a better opportunity to succeed? Without a ‘coaching revolution’ things will not just remain the same they will become worse as foreign and not local talent is preferred by our clubs in ever-increasing numbers. Problems within our game will remain unanswered, with the usual despatch of most of them being carefully swept ‘under the carpet’. Meanwhile, the flood of expectant parents ‘hauling’ their youngsters from one inconsequential training session after another will unhappily continue as it has in the past. The failure rate will remain discouragingly high even though mediocrity is the standard to aspire to. May I wish you all good luck; without radical changes, you’re kids are going to need it—lots and lots of it!