Our Football’s “Wobbly” Foundations

By John Cartwright

Without carefully constructed foundations anything developed — be it with bricks and mortar, a business project or a football vision etc. will buckle, crack and eventually fall. It could be said that the final phase of the process of disintegration – ‘the fall’ is fast approaching the game of football in this country.

The glittering, greedy façade of English football; The Premier League, stands astride the minnows of our game; in so doing the historic foundations on which the game in this country was created is gradually eroding — the street player has gone and money from senior clubs to those in lower leagues for players has virtually disappeared as foreign ‘stars’ have infiltrated our game at all senior levels.

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Like the so-called, ‘lack of skills’ available for our industries, so the same problem has occurred in our football where overseas players are gradually taking the positions previously filled by a lack of home-grown players. Our stars of the past — original (apprentices) products of the streets of this country, have not been replaced since the introduction of countless National Coaching program(s)

The introduction of structured coaching without first establishing a suitable national playing vision has proved to be a major factor for the continuing demise in the standards of our game. Without ‘knowing where we are attempting to go and how we should get there’, our game’s administrators have continually produced ‘routes to nowhere’ with coaching programs that are unsuitably age-related and are allied to a playing infrastructure that is more destructive than instructive; thus, the whole fabric of teaching and playing from foundation level and upwards is little more than a discredited, disjointed mess, failing time and time again, decade after decade.

At present the FA are attempting, once again, to resolve the long-standing  problems with our ‘haphazard’ coaching methods with what they call ‘the DNA of Performance’ philosophy– (in basic football jargon and not academic ‘waffle’, this is simply about establishing a ‘game-style’) — funny, but I’ve been telling them about this for the last 40 years is!  It is aimed, we are told, at – England’s Development Teams, with a version planned for grassroots level at a later date.  However, the disorganized playing structure at grassroots levels that has allowed a ‘free-for-all’, competitive malaise to infect learning throughout the whole development period will make any changes by the FA extremely difficult to introduce. The ‘Golden Years’ of competitive skill learning of the streets has been followed by a competitive playing ‘mania’ that has reduced the time and opportunity for the game’s skills and understanding to be thoroughly and realistically ‘rehearsed’ by our young players;  —— organised, structured winning, not creative and progressive learning of the game has become the main object of ‘the developmental period’ despite the numerous futile attempts by the FA to ‘tweak’ their coaching methods.

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In my opinion practice time for our young players is often not game-realistic enough; practises often lack decision making and practice games that follow do not provide situations that young players can ‘recognize and reproduce’. This important development factor has not been understood over the years by those charged with game learning. Subsequently, many of the coaches at junior levels have made little or no forward progress in developing the intelligent and skilful players needed for our game.

In conjunction with poor practice methods our young players are then expected to use their limited football knowledge and ability in competitive football matches where winning, not learning, is the target. I have said for many years that there should be a suitable game provided for young players that can be modified as age and ability occurs. The present small-sided game method where an increase in numbers of players and pitch sizes represents progression does not satisfy progressive learning requirements.   It might be said that our coaching methods throughout junior football’s ‘learning ladder’ are nothing more than an early introduction of a ‘fifth column’ creating ‘havoc’— not development ‘harmony’ in the ranks !

A solid base on which a towering structure can be successfully built to last has been absent for decades, thus the ‘cracks and failures’ in our game at senior levels up to present day are clear for all to see. The complex number of organizations, associations etc. headed by our FA that have evolved over the years, along with the multitude of people involved in the running or ‘ruining’ of our game in some way or other, must justify their ‘raison d’etre’.

A clear forward vision and a more ‘inter-connected’ approach towards achieving that vision is essential. I am uncertain of the playing knowledge and coaching experience of those producing the present DNA Philosophy, for past history has shown that too many mistakes have been made in this vitally important area of game development. Unless purposeful and progressive teaching programs are integrated carefully alongside a productive playing structure at all ages, the ‘local talent’ needed for our game in this country to survive and prosper will not be forthcoming in both numbers and playing ability.

‘The Beautiful Game’ — a game founded in these Isles —  must not be allowed to crash to the ground here. Our game has gradually become the ‘strangled victim’ of both developmental incompetence and financial mis-management that when combined has ‘infected’ our national sport with a disease called ‘Ignorant Greed’. The symptoms are obvious for all to see; —- disorganization and poverty at lower levels, and ‘hype’ camouflaging poor playing standards and the misuse of billions at the top!

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41 thoughts on “Our Football’s “Wobbly” Foundations

  1. a great article to the point lets hope they FA take heed, foreign owners and foreign players have benefited other countries at the expense of our own, they play in the best league in the world and when internationals come around they are ready and honed. the idea of one or two top foreign players in the team would help to develop our home grown talent, but now they make up almost the entire team in some cases, no room for the English lads to get that much needed playing time

  2. Hi all. I sincerely hope that this ‘blog’ will create replies -for or against- as in my opinion, it reflects the serious problems we have in our game which have ‘festered’ for decades without a successful and positive forward approach being provided. Here’s a chance to express your opinion– is everything ok or is our game in real trouble?

  3. Clearly everything is not OK in our football and we are in serious trouble. After watching the opening matches of the Asian Cup I have to admit that even previously so-called minnows of the game are at least our equals in terms of their tactical approach and technical skills. Australia are making considerable improvement and who would ever have thought that possible of a country which was always the land of rugby and cricket? About 12 years ago they beat England comprehensively at Upton Park and if the two countries met again, my money would be on the Aussies.
    The Premier League gives a distorted view of football in this country and many fans believe that because we have a strong league, watched avidly around the world, then our football is strong. Every World Cup and European Championship gives us a reality check, but once the league season starts we forget all about another international failure amidst the Premier League hype.
    During the last World Cup, a meeting was held for England supporters out in Brazil at an English pub in Sao Paulo, the day before England played Uruguay. Three retired Premier League players addressed the England fans and they were convinced England would win the next day, simply because the Uruguayans had in their squad a defender, Lugano, who had had a miserable season at West Brom. Their reasoning was that if Uruguay were selecting Lugano, even for the bench, they couldn’t be any good and so the three points were in the bag for England. But anyone with a passing knowledge of foreign football knew that Uruguay had some excellent technical players in their team, much superior to England’s line-up. So it proved and England were out after two games.
    So let’s face the reality: we are way behind the established football countries, and the developing countries are producing players better equipped to succeed in international competition. It’s all hypothetical, but if England were playing in the Asian Cup then they might just qualify from the group stage but, in my opinion, they would not go any further.
    I agree that we must retain our inherent football strengths of controlled aggression, heading ability, (which is declining due to coaching neglect), tackling,(same comment as heading), and fighting spirit. But we must develop in our young players the ability and awareness of when to change the pace and tempo of play, (which I think has always been a failing), and give every young player a better grounding in awareness and ability of all-round technical skills. The emphasis must be on realistic coaching practices with the basis on game play which Premier Skills is all about and this is how the coacing and practicing of football must be presented to young players.
    As John says continuously, just tinkering with a few changes here and a few changes there is no good. We have to pull down the whole structure if need be and start again. The Premier League can go its own merry way, because it’s really nothing to do with English football, it’s just matches being played in this country (at the moment!) for the benefit of TV companies and fans around the world.

  4. “The Premier League gives a distorted view of football in this country and many fans believe that because we have a strong league, watched avidly around the world, then our football is strong”

    So true! This inadvertently fuels the sweet FA’s status and structure. Without the Premiership, our level of football-teaching capability would be exposed and the FA’s self-proclaimed ‘masterclasses’ and Centers of excellence’ would be valued on what they actually produce. For me, ‘The Future Game’ and the FA courses lack ‘content’, they are ambiguous, subjective and in many ways outdated. I’m not saying that the individual coaches are weak, but the system which they represent doesn’t work. This is frustrating because all English coaches must adhere to the FA’s faulty coaching pathway in order to access knowledge and be taken seriously. Is the DNA of performance going to change anything? Or just give the ‘boys’ something new to do?

  5. Hi Steve. Thanks once again for your comments that strike right at the football problems we have here. Your point about the Premier League is important and exactly right for it does not represent the game from grass-roots upwards that here. It is time for those who care about the game in this country to demonstrate their concern and dissatisfaction.

  6. Hi John

    I’m from New Zealand and I read your blog a lot and while I agree with just about all you write, I’m not so sure about your emphasis on playing style. Playing styles come and go. Once it was Barca’s possession style, then it swung to counter-attack, Bayern are developing a team that can do both. Teams win by ‘parking the bus’, others have won with direct football, others lose with both.

    Any one particular playing style may work at a particular time, but then again it might not, especially when certain players are available to a coach, and others are not.

    However, all playing styles respect the fundamental principles of the game. It’s just that some styles emphasise certain fundamentals more than others.

    At the top of football it is all about winning games, and sticking to a particular playing style, despite being 1-0 down on aggregate in the second leg of a cup semi, isn’t a justifiable position. You’re there to win. If you need to quickly smack the ball forward in the dying minutes just so you can get a shot in to force extra-time, then you should do it.

    Insisting that any one particular playing style is all-conquering is pure faddism.

    It would be better to come to a consensus on what the fundamental principles of the game, and teach those to as many coaches as possible, rather than forcing coaches to play any one particular style. That’s being tried here in New Zealand, and it’s being tried in Australia, both with little progress. Both countries’ insistence that players should play 4-3-3 is naiive. One particular formation is not inherently ‘better’ than the other.

    All formations have overloads, some sort of control over the dimensions of the pitch, angles of support, attack,defence and transitional concepts, etc etc, and none are more or less valuable to a player’s development.

    I’m convinced by Raymond Verheijen’s approach.

    His objective philosophy states that communication, game intelligence, football technique and football fitness are the four foundations of the game, as ever player in the world, irrespective of size, age, gender or playing style, must play the game with respect to such foundations.

    It doesn’t matter whether they play on the streets of Rio or play in the Bundesliga: each player must communicate – intentionally and unintentionally – with the pitch, teammates and opponents. Based on the result of that communication, they must make the best decision as to which of the three possible football techniques (pass, dribble or shoot), they will use to accomplish their decision, and then they need football fitness to maintain all of that over the period of the game.

    Since playing style varies so much, it cannot form the basis of an objective philosophy – it is only a subjective opinion (and it’s perfectly acceptable to choose one over the other) as to which one is adopted.

    He points out that the vast majority of coaches have not developed an objective football philosophy, one that describes the game without reference to any one person’s ‘experience’, and thus they navigate football based on pure subjectivity. As a result, two coaches can argue about football for hours, and both end the conversation thinking they’re right.

    This, I think, is exactly the situation you describe. It certainly is the case here in New Zealand.

    Developing playing styles is the remit of individual teams and coaches, not national associations.
    National associations should focus on developing coaches who understand the game from an objective stand point, and help them develop coaching methodologies that serve this philosophy, the funamental principles of the game, and thus their players.

    Currently, it’s a war of opinions.

  7. When Joachim Low accepted the Coach of the Year Award at the recent Ballon d’Or event, he made a very telling comment which strikes at the very heart of our football problems and, at the same time, hit the nail on the head in pin-pointing the reason for Germany’s footballing success.
    Low said that he was accepting the Award on behalf of all coaches in Germany, at all levels, because they were providing him with the playing material which he just needed to fit into a team capable of winning the World Cup. The seemingly endless production line of German talent bears testimony to Low’s words and for us in England, jolts us back into reality for the task ahead.
    Low’s simple words of gratitude to the people who provide him with the raw material at the quarry face, cut through the glitz and glamour of an over-hyped, over-exposed Premier League and acts as a resounding reminder to us all of just how far behind we really are.

  8. Glad to see the FFA (Australia) National Curriculum getting acknowledged overseas.
    The cultural change is taking place and the standard of players at junior level is getting better.
    The FFA has total control of what is taught to junior players with integrated programs from 9-18.

  9. Hi Dirk. I have heard that the game is improving in Australia. If you provide the game with quality development ‘foundations’ you will produce players who will be able to play it to higher and higher standards. Good luck!

  10. I have been impressed with what I have seen of Australia in the current Asian Cup and clearly the coaching which their players are receiving overseas, together with improved youth development standards at home, are having a beneficial effect.

  11. Arsene Wenger has recently been drawing attention to the shortage of really exceptional European strikers compared to those of South American descent. He is clearly delighted with the superb displays which Sanchis has been giving for Arsenal this season, and Aguero has been equally brilliant for Man City. We of course come back to the street-development of the game’s greats, and in the case of forwards this is particularly pronounced. Just as relevant as the street game in the development such great talent is the sheer non-stop work ethic of, in particular, Sanchis. But not only did the Arsenal forward learn the game in the street but he played against and alongside other kids several years older, and bigger, than himself. The ability to look after himself and become a street-fighter, in a football sense, became part of his character which is just as important as his pure football talent. In England there is less opportunity for boys to play with, and against, good senior players than there once was, particularly since the end of reserve team football.
    Players who can take,and then learn to avoid, the knocks have additional qualities to their footballing development.

  12. Hi all. As we at premier Skills have said so often the Street Game was the solid foundation on which the game of football was established. It ‘died’ here but is still active in less prosperous parts of the world where it is still producing quality players.Premier Skills Coaching is still the only methodology that represents the Street Game of the past — but in a modern complex !

  13. It has been reported in the press today that a party of coaches from the PFA have recenlty returned from a study visit to look at youth academies in Brazil. The most noticeable aspect of their trip, the report says, was the commitment shown by 14 year olds who, after rising at dawn, travelled distances of 50 miles for a day’s training. Most of the young players had a working day of nine hours. Their commitment has its roots in the poor backgrounds which the young players come from, having been born and raised in the favella areas of poverty and deprivation. Their coaches constantly remind them that unless they commit themselves totally to their training then they will have no chance of escaping that environment.
    Obviously we do not wish our young people to live under such conditions, but the motivation to improve and develop as highly skilled players must come from the quality of the coaching and the enlightened approach which is the basis of the Premier Skills coaching scheme.

  14. Hi Steve and all others interested in transforming the way the game is played in this country. Unless we begin at the bottom and prepare our young players properly with appropriately devised and realistic practises we will continue to produce the ‘football robots’ we see today.

  15. It is a pity that the passion shown by football fans on radio phone-in programmes, such as “606” and “Call Collymore”, is not channelled into debate on the state of the game in this country, rather than the fluctuating fortunes of various Premier League/Football League clubs. Of course, all fans have a right to call into question the manager’s team selection if it appears illogical and the recruitment decisions of the club if they are questionable, but the long term health of the game in this country would be benefitted if the paying customers put equal passion into questioning the actions of the game’s rulers and the direction in which the English game is heading.
    The impression is that 99% of football’s followers in England are satisfied if their team is challenging for honours and winning more games than it is losing. Every couple of years the fan has a moan when England is eliminated at the early stage of a major international tournament, but the disappointment is soon forgotten when the new League season starts. This contrasts sharply with the reaction in other major football countries where a national team has performed badly and in some countries, especially one thinks of Italy, the returning team is met with hostility at the airport and hails of rotten eggs and tomatoes. In those countries serious questions are asked by the fans of the country’s Federation and FA but here the passion is reserved for the fan’s club.
    We need to awake from our slumber and demand answers and action. One encouraging sign was the reaction of some West Ham supporters last season who let it be known that, despite their team achieving a safe mid-table finish, they were not happy with the style of football that had been served up and would not tolerate it any longer. Improvement in style has been been shown this season, encouragingly in that it is good that the fans were being listened to. I even heard a West Ham fan phone into a radio programme recently when he stated that the recent reintroduction of Andy Carroll, following injury, had already shown hints of a return to a more direct style, unpopular with traditional West Ham fans. The fan who phoned in was taken to task by the programme’s presenters for lack of patience, but i thought it was good that someone cared stronly enough about the game style rather than just the result.
    That has to be everyone’s attitude if we are to improve English football.

  16. I believe the grassroots have seriously withered away in this country, and may never return to previous levels.
    A number of reasons have contributed. Changing work patterns, a demand for better facilities, inadequate health care and treatment of injuries, escalating costs, fractured family units, more variety in leisure, even poor management and coaching methods have influenced a generation of this country.
    The FA have tried various methods to promote football, but with (now billions!!) of pounds sloshing around the premier league, its fair to say they have become distracted, and now resemble many government departments. Promoting flagship policies, whilst the majority experience the reality.
    As rightly put earlier the England International teams performances over the past few years have been appalling, and when the costs associated with running those teams compared to other countries are highlighted, demonstrates again failure.
    As a country at all levels, we do accept mediocrity as great, and the results are ever decreasing standards and numbers of participants.
    .

  17. Hi John….It is alarming when young players of 15 and 16 years of age cannot recognise situations, as was the case in the coaching demonstration session earlier this week.The boys worked tremendously hard and played with intensity, getting the tempo up to match speed. But when the numbers were increased to 6 v 6 plus keepers the coach explained that the things he had worked on when the teams were in numbers of 2 v 2 and 3 v3 (plus keepers) no longer were happening because of this failure to recognise overlaps, spinning into spaces, third man runnning etc. So he had to reduce the playing numbers again in order to correct this situation.
    The recent flurry of activity in the transfer window sees more foreign players coming into the Premier League which again indicates the lack of real quality amongst our own players. Our problem seems to be the difficulty in getting a transference of the work done in training into the game situation. I feel that the over-use of drill type coaching has failed to enable those boys to recognise the siuations when they arise in the game and is consequently having a very detrimental effect on our development of the next generation of players who we dearly hope can bring us international success.

  18. Hi Steve. You are absolutely correct. The boys were great with their athleticsm and their individual skills were ok. What was an obvious missing quality was — ‘Game understanding’ the recognition of situations and being able to adjust the tempo of a game. Coaching in this country has produced ‘Bull-in-a-china shop’ footballers. –all haste but don’t know where to go!!

  19. It is noticeable how many references are being made in various quarters at the moment about how a player’s environment has benefitted the development process. A Sunday newspaper interview with Diego Costa last weekend revealed that his coaching development in Brazil provided him with no formal coaching as we know it, but a tight, pressured space in which he learnt how to guard possession of the ball and make his own space. His first introduction to team structure did not come until he graduated into the junior team at his first professional club.
    Similarly, Neil Lennon has drawn attention to the skills of two young players who he has worked with since becoming manager of Bolton. What he thought marked them out from the rest was an ability and hunger for the game that came from having played in the street during formative years. In their case, it probably came from playing in tight, cage-like areas but producing the same effect. Neil Lennon made a point of saying that it was far more important to develop players in that kind of environment than in spending millions of pounds on acres of immaculate pitches such as those we can see at St George’s Park.

  20. Hi Steve and all ‘Keeptheball’ followers: One day, God knows when, this country will(might) wake up and listen to those of us who have fought for a different development process than the ‘artificial, choreographed, going nowhere’ schemes that have been introduced as failed replacements for the ‘street game’. I’m doing a session for the lfca later this month in an attempt to display a small area game that should be the new ‘street football’ replacement — HomeBase 1-2-3.

  21. I have recently read a quote from Rankus Ankersen, author of “The Goldmine Effect”, –
    “The great ages didn’t contain more talent, they wasted less.”
    This could be a salutary lesson in regard to the misguided approach in the coaching of young players.

  22. Hi all. It’s truly amazing how the game in this country lacks basic game understanding by players who are receiving huge salaries. In conjunction with this is the fear and impatience displayed through the lack of individual skills is frightening. Where is our national game — ‘invaded by foreigners’ going to end up?

  23. Hi all…..I wonder if the “foreign invasion” need necessarily be a bad thing for English football. Since Mauricio Pochettino has worked in this country, he has been responsible for the promotion of promising English talent to the first teams of both clubs at which he has coached – Southampton and Tottenham. Some of these players have already won England caps and look to have a good future. He works on a high pressing game with very quick transitions and, by all accounts, he works the players extremely hard to raise the necessary levels of fitness as high as possible. But he has also increased the players’ game understanding and a quote from Southampton right back, Nathaniel Clyne, which I read, provides an insight into his methods – “He’d have us pressing high, receiving the ball in difficult situations, keeping possession and basically having the confidence to play football rather than being afraid.The understanding in our defence was down to our training.It took my game to another level.”
    Now that Ronald Koeman has succeeded Pochettino at Southampton and appears to be also proving his worth as a top class coach, then perhaps even more good young English players will force their way into the first team.
    I think that it is significant that Clyne talks about “having the confidence to play football rather than being afraid.” This brings in the element of bravery which John has referred to many times on this blog and in his book.

  24. Hi all. Coaches must be brave and allow young players under their tutelage to develop as iindividuals and to support players who show the ability to be creative with the ability to change games. I have recently seen the opposite of this with a young player ‘disciplined’ for attempting to be individualistic. Even Messi, fails at times but his teachers allowed him to proceed through the
    development periods into senior football irrespective of mistakes on the way. We can’t produce anything resembling a Messi-type player we’re more interested in producing ‘|Robot Footballers’.

  25. Yes, we have been producing robot footballers for years, even in the days of street football. I recall as a young boy seeing talented young players, who had learnt the game on the street and were then snapped up by clubs, doing endless lapping of the pitch as their morning’s “training”. They always finished with 5-a-side games and at least they got some coaching then. This was ‘coaching in the game’ which the better senior players provided as they talked the young players through the game, giving advice and helping them at every opportunity. This was how coaching was done then, and some of the senior players were in fact effective as coaches in this way and passed on their experience and knowledge. But there was no actual formal coaching and the training at most clubs consisted of little more than interminable lapping of the pitch. The apprentice professionals also got an extra ‘treat’ in the afternoons when they were given the job of sweeping the terraces!

  26. Hi Steve. What you say is correct. However, the differnce between then and now is that the boys in the past had gone through the development of the street which had provided most of the qualities required for the game. This period of ‘natural’ development no longer plays an important part in the upbringing of young players of today.

  27. There are now nine English managers in the Premier League. This must be the highest number for some years and perhaps indicates that our coaches are catching up in their tactical and technical abilities with their foreign counterparts. However, closer examination reveals that five of these are with the bottom five clubs. Following the recent appointments of Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew, Chris Ramsey and Tim Sherwood to clubs in serious danger of relegation, it seems that club chairmen and boards of directors feel that English managers are still capable of an effective short term job necessary to avoid the dreaded drop. The crucial period comes when relegation is avoided and the manager/coach must then show his abilities in leading the team along a well planned path with a clear philosophy and steady improvement, year after year, to the point where they are challenging the elite.
    In the Premier League era, we are still to see if an English coach can meet this challenge.

    • Hi Steve.The repetitive mediocracy displayed throughout our game in comparison with much of skills seen in foreign games is clear eveidence of the lack of both creative coaching and management. Players here show more athleticism than football ability. Boring. boring, boring represents a large percentage of games at all levels in this country. Where’s the individual artistry, where’s the flowing team play in our game? \not available

  28. Hi John.
    Great blog and I enjoyed reading your book recently as well. Some interesting thoughts here.
    I was at the Coaches Conference and the introduction of the England DNA…I think it was a move in the right direction, but as you say, there is a long way to go.
    I was also at the LFCA session last month, and it was interesting (or should that be worrying) the way the players struggled with the increased numbers – it wasn’t as if they had limited technique, some of them had already shown a full array of step-overs etc…, but they didn’t seem to have the awareness of when to use it, particularly when the challenge became more difficult.
    I remember another LFCA session a couple of years back with a couple of the Arsenal coaches, and the question was put to Steve Bould as to why Arsenal didn’t have more British players coming through their academy, and he answered that he would love to bring through more, but they just weren’t good enough. This is where the ‘foreign players’ stuff drives me up the wall…we can bring in limits on non-home grown players, but it’s no good if the product being produced (ie young British players) is not good enough. It’s not like we were winning things as a national team prior to the Premier League. The reason clubs buy from abroad is that the player, if they settle ok, are technically stronger and cheaper!
    Looking forward to your Street Football session next week, John.

  29. We have just had the half term holiday week and it has come to my notice that many young players, still in school education, have been flitting around from one end of the country to the other, in order to take part in ‘trial’ matches and improvised coaching/training sessions at clubs at the lower end of the League spectrum. They come under the watchful eye of various club representatives, scouts and agents who deal in the placement of young players with ‘professional’ clubs.
    However, the pro clubs at which they are hoping to receive a contract, in the form of the scholarship scheme, are a good deal lower in status in many cases than the club at whose academy they have trained for a number of years. So a boy who has been in the academy of a Premier League club in London now finds himself in a scramble to get a place with a League 2 club in the North or Midlands, and it may, in some cases, be a club in danger of dropping into the Conference.
    There seems to be a familiar pattern emerging. The boy from the Premier League club finds his path into the professional ranks blocked by an influx of foreign players in the 16 – 18 age group. The vital 5 – 12 age group work of technical skill development was not used properly, due to an inability to compensate for the loss of ‘street football’ learning with a coaching methodology suitable to take its place. This puts the English boy at a severe disadvantage in the 13 – 16 years age range when his work should move on to game understanding/tactical work at which the foreign youngster proves far more adept and so they are then imported from France,Spain, Germany etc. blocking the pathway of so many English players after their 16th birthday.
    When you read the career details of so many young players in the lower divisions and senior semi-pro leagues, then you are struck by how many of them had a number of years in the academies of Premier League clubs. I wonder if that will be the fate of many of the young players who have been going through the trial process during the last week.
    Of course, getting a pro contract at a lower league club doesn’t have to be a disappointment compared to ‘what could have been’. The young pro can still force himself back up the ladder by his commitment and dedication but he needs the benefit of top class coaching at his club to help him. MK Dons and Crewe are examples of two clubs lower down the food chain who are proving really good on the coaching/development of players. But we need more clubs with the ability to do what they are doing, or else so much of our own talent just goes to waste.

  30. Hi all. Steve is correct i saying that so many of our young players have been let down by the inadequacy of junior development. A lack of understanding of the learning and playing standards that should be attained at different age levels has meant playing ability has been reduced and mediocrity has been the level achieved by the time senior levels are reached…….and this is too often referred to as GREATNESS!! Hype has produced false standards into our game and we are suffering the consequences. We should remember, poor teaching produces poor playing that in term produces failure at all levels. England u/17 (0) Holland u/17 (7) !!!

  31. Hi John….The heavy defeats that England U17s have suffered recently against Holland and the USA certainly come as a shock, bearing in mind that it was the U17 team which won the UEFA Championship in Malta at the end of last season.
    Ironically, it was Holland who England beat in the Final, after a penalty shoot out. I have checked the teams and the present U17s is a new squad and so presumably the current crop are somewhat less talented than the last one. However, I recall that the success in last season’s tournament came largely from a hard working attitude allied to some players of ability and good athleticism. We did not play the opponents ‘off the park’ with class and skill, as they now appear to have done to us.
    My feeling , though not having seen these latest matches, is that we have have again been shown up for lack of game understanding in the 15 – 16 age brackett. Lack of technical ability, which should have been developed in the 5 – 12 age group, has been neglected or not coached properly, so that when they progress into the ‘young adult’ age then the usual ‘papering over the cracks’ results in embarrassment against foreign teams with a far superior development process.
    When one of the teams to give us a hammering is the USA then, as in the recent example of much improved playing and development standards in Australia, it can be seen that we are now even falling behind countries which until recently we dismissed as unimportant ‘also rans’ of the game.

  32. Having returned to UK recently I can now see the deficiencies discussed here,
    ” Lack of technical ability, which should have been developed in the 5 – 12 age group”
    ” inadequacy of junior development”
    ‘ loss of ‘street football’ learning ‘
    ‘lack of both creative coaching and management. Players here show more athleticism than football ability’

    English footballers is now seen as a backwater in terms of developing players and so players are better off moving to Europe .

  33. Hi John,

    As usual you have got it spot on. In my recent book, Play to Learn and Learn to Play I’ve written a chapter on Attachment and Detachment which explains there must be a connection (or attachment) in everything we do when learning the game. As I explain in the book, a kid starts learning to read with Spot the dog, progresses to Postman Pat, then on to Enid Blyton or Horrible Histories, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and eventually Shakespeare. Why is coaching football any different? However I have delivered in most Academies in this country and all I see is Detachment and little Attachment. There is no connection between one age group and the next, essential material is either repeated or left out altogether and the programme is usually sparse, with many of the coaches just filling in time.

    It is also essential to get the ear of the parents because much of the technical work and movement skills MUST be practised as homework. Most parents are keen to help but we tend to treat them as unnecessary intruders, keep them behind the fence and never involve them in their kids learning. What a wasted opportunity!

    If only you and Roger Wilkinson had got the job 30 years ago of writing and developing the FA courses because football in this country would look completely different if you had. Instead we have simply gone backwards because we don’t understand how kids learn. What did Dan Ashworth learn when working with you – not much by the look of it!

    The Premier Skills programme, written by you and Roger is the best one I have seen. Why isn’t it the basis for the FA coaching programme because it shows how to coach through Attachment and not Detachment!

    Mick Critchell (author of Play to Learn to Play – A Fresh Approach to Coaching Players 5 to 16)

  34. It is many years since Ajax produced their TIPS guide to what they looked for in young players – Technique, Intelligence, Personality, Speed. These qualities should initially be developed in the 5 – 12 age group. Unfortunately in England we neglect vital work in the early years coaching and so we are always playing catch-up and usually, as John says, “papering over the cracks”.
    Incidentally, Ajax always considered the most important of the four qualities to be Intelligence.

  35. I was a little disappointed with the standard in the televised Under 21 match on Sky Sports earlier this week between Liverpool and Chelsea. These are two clubs who get some of the best young talent because of their reputation and standing in the game but other than a few players, I did not think there were very many who could have a dramatic effect at senior level. Solanki has already had a taste of 1st team action for Chelsea and Wilson and the player who scored the second Liverpool goal have talent. But I did not see real examples of individualism which should have been worked on in their early years, as focused on Level 1 of the Premier Skills methodology. Not many young players, when in possession confronting an opponent, move the ball to shift the opponent and create space, as John remarked on in his recent session at the LFCA. So the approach is too static and solutions are sought through athleticism and pace rather than skill and invention.

  36. Hi Steve. thanks for the comment regarding shifting the ball and you shift the opponent. Yet there are a bagful of situations that young players should be exposed to during the early stages of development——but they’re not getting them because the coaches don’t know about them and haven’t introduced them into the work.

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