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.
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.
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!