By John Cartwright
After dismal performances over the last two summer’s by our international squads at all levels and genders, it’s about time one took a close look at the 10 year period that Sir Trevor Brooking has been at the FA.
In December 2003 the Football Association appointed Sir Trevor, as their Head of Football Development. To many of us it revived the hope that, at last, here was a person with a football background to make significant changes to our Coach Education and Player Development programs. However, since his appointment 10 years ago, it must be said, there has been no ‘fireworks’ just ‘damp squibs’ from the Coaching and Education dept. Oh yes, we have seen numerous initiatives, ‘tinkerings’ and questionable coaching appointments during this time, but nothing of ‘ground-breaking’ substance to create the necessary and long-awaited improvements our game needs so badly.
Inertia complemented by excuses about the obstructive, competing factions involved in the running and organization of our game, have been the dominant features of the Brooking period. When he was appointed he fully understood the selfish attitude of those rival groups against whom he was expected to vigorously respond. It was hoped by many that he would be the ‘convincer with a professional pedigree’ who would have a plan of action to overcome the problems besetting our game and offer fierce determination to enforce it; what we got was someone who has failed to rise to the challenge – another feeble ‘Football Politician’ instead of a powerful and visionary ‘Football Practioner’.
Since taking up his present position, at approximately two yearly intervals, Sir Trevor, has issued a ‘comment’ rather than a ‘command’ regarding development situations here. It seems these timely references are made more to justify his position as Head of Football Development and his department’s ‘raison-d’etre’ rather than offering a clear plan forward………….. The first of these ‘revelations’ was; “we’re not skilful enough”. Well, Sir Trevor, this was hardly surprising as we had been saying exactly that for the previous sixty years – remember the Hungarians with Puskas and co? What did Sir Trevor provide us with? — a sponsored skills ‘jamboree’ that has had minimal – if any – impact on skill appreciation and playing quality here. ………. After another timely interval the next piece of ‘revelatory re-justification’ emerged from Sir Trevor’s domain, this time it was; “junior football is too competitive”. Well, no surprise to us Sir Trevor, we’ve also known that for the last sixty years! What he and his ‘blinkered’ subordinates don’t seem to understand is that – it’s not competition that’s the problem, it’s how we introduce competition to young players that’s the problem! Generally, under the direction of inexperienced parents or ‘coaches’, our young players are introduced to a work and playing atmosphere that is totally unsuitable during this important stage of football learning and creates on-going problems in skills and tactical ability.
A recent revelation from his Dept. is; “we must introduce 9 v 9 games for youngsters before introducing 11v11 games”. Well, Sir Trevor, the introduction of small-sided games, from the very beginning of the development period right into senior levels, should be as carefully considered as any other area of practice. At each stage of development the correct introduction of player numbers along with the associated teaching and learning requirements (realistic, practical content) is vital. If this is not done the introduction and playing of 9v9 or any other number ‘pulled out of a hat’, will make little difference to the learning and playing qualities of those involved.
Then it was promoting the importance of defenders being able to come forward with the ball to create overload situations; a bit late in recognizing the importance of quality back players, I have been saying and coaching this for the past 40 years!!
The next attempt to bring some quality into our game is called the Elite Player Performance Program. This new piece of ‘hopeful expectation’ is designed by the Premier league and endorsed by The FA in an attempt to produce a large quantity of talented players for our game….. I thought the Academy scheme was supposed to do that over the last 20 years! Will this new innovation from the top be just another 5-10 year ‘breathing space’ for its ‘ academic initiators’ that will, like so many of their ‘initiatives’ in the past, fail to provide what it promises? At present a mountain of paper bureaucracy seems to be the main ingredient of the scheme and there is little to suggest EPPP will provide the practical answers to the ever increasing demise in development standards here.
The latest expensive gamble to put things right with our development is the FA centre at St George’s…..this ‘roof without the foundations’ we’re told will be producing ‘top-notch’ players in ten years time!!
When are we going to realize that it’s a national playing vision that is required in combination with systematic planning and restructuring of our whole coaching framework. We don’t need spaced-out, self-justifying comments from Mr Brooking and co. we need determined and inspirational leadership with foresight!
Ignore all the ‘hype’, our game is in decline. It may be possible to fool some of the people for some of the time, but it isn’t possible to fool all of the people all of the time. Our game needs honest, professional discussion to re-route it from disaster not periodic comments or publicity ‘stunts’ that have neither relevance nor impact on the coaching and development and playing crisis we have in this country. In an interview with Gary Lineker, some time ago, Brooking, admitted that he had not been able to make the changes in development he saw necessary for its improvement. Sir Trevor, occupies the ‘hot seat’, it’s time he replaced the Blazer for the Track-suit and began to exert a more positive and professional influence over the direction of development here instead of allowing the continuance of ‘ amateur, academic theorists’ to rule the roost and continue to increase the mess they have brought to our national game.
Sir Trevor, what we have seen so far is not good enough…..by a distance!