Unattainable Excellence

By John Cartwright

Our Coaching and Development Programs, past and present, have set learning targets far too low throughout the development years. Consequently, by the age of 16+ our young players are only capable of producing mediocre standards –excellence and ‘greatness’ are unattainable.

The ‘Golden Years of Game Learning’, have not been a time in which our young players have received a sound football education and on reaching senior levels of the game they are forced to rely largely on physical qualities to ‘camouflage’ their serious lack of skill and game understanding.


Any subject, Academic, Sporting etc. should engage children in a progressive, learning ‘pathway’ from Nursery to University – some may attain the ultimate status, whilst many will have only reached various lower levels but all should be given the best chance of reaching the top should they wish to. There are questions asked regarding the lowering of standards for subjects in our national education system with the gradual ‘dumbing-down’ of exam. levels mentioned and this has caused regular friction between Govts. and Teaching Unions on the matter over the years.

Our national game has experienced similar destructive influences on development with criticism concerning coaching methods from various sources over a long period. After the demise of ‘chaos learning’ acquired from practice-playing in street games the introduction of ‘structured coaching and development methods’ has never recaptured the reality and spontaneity of street football thus, playing standards have been compromised to such an extent that the game is ‘hyped’ to raise mediocre playing standards to false, higher levels.

By the age of 16 a young player should have acquired substantial ability to play the game; physical maturity, further playing experience and social interactions are still ahead but in the main, the rough ‘diamond’ needs only to be polished before it is set in gold and displayed to the waiting football world.

"The Future Game"

“The Future Game”

We cannot produce the ‘dazzling diamonds’; at best our so-called diamonds are only to be used for hard labour – industrial usage! Our game is stockpiled with domestic football ‘labourers’ that are used to support the ‘stars’ from abroad. These ‘imported players’ have developed through either (i) a poverty background or (ii) through expert football development methods. ‘Poverty produces players’ is a true statement and can clearly be recognized here in the past with street footballers and still continues today with players from some of the world’s poorest countries; or from long term development structures in countries like Holland, Germany and Spain where excellence, even greatness is an attainable target.

Our football targets have been set far too low for too long. Academics over the years, not true football people, have invaded our world of football development and made it a classroom, ‘choreographed’ show that requires mundane, group organization above individual brilliance. The coaching hierarchy have introduced a ‘robotic’ playing presence into our game —-  an ‘amateur’ lack of quality — a mediocre, boring ‘sameness’ — from junior to senior levels.

Billions of TV money is being given to the English Premier League; where will it all go? Irrespective of so-called promises of some of it for junior usage, the vast majority will be eaten up with increased salaries and transfer fees etc. Facilities may see some of the cash but without a quality teaching methodology that has a ‘pathway’ to excellence we might as well return to bare feet and a tennis ball for better ‘home-grown’ players for our game.


22 thoughts on “Unattainable Excellence

  1. Hi John….The 16 year old players you worked with on your LFCA session a few weeks ago confirm what you say. They were athletic, strong and enthusiastic, but when they were introduced to the work, using their hands in the first place to assimilate the work, they played it like rugby and the techncial features were not produced as they should have been, due to the over-physical approach. So many players at various levels in this country cannot produce such technical skills because they were not introduced to them at the ages when they should have been, i.e. 5 – 12 years. At 16 the young player should know where to place his body to protect the ball, but so many do not. Running with the ball on the screening foot by an English player has practically disappeared since Paul Gascoigne played. I can’t remember when I last saw a take-over performed by English players.
    From what i see, we are producing generations of players for the semi-pro leagues, or the lower divisions of the Football League. These players are fast, powerful and strong, and these physical attributes have been encouraged and developed since their earliest introduction to the game, at the expense of skill and craft. This is good news for the legions of foreign stars around the globe, who know that their fortune is assured by 5 – 10 years of playing in the Premier League, but it is bad news for anyone who yearns to see England regain a prominent place at the forefront of the international game.

  2. Hi Steve. I am extremely concerned about the future of our game. Huge amounts of money that can be used by recipients to increase their ‘foreign playing stock’ will reduce further the already slim opportunity for poorly prepared ‘home-grown’ players. Where will our national players be selected from in the end——the Conference?

  3. Hi all. At last the truth about the quality of the game here, ‘Punditry honesty’ has had the guts to speak out about our game being —- miles behind our foreign opponents! Let me add to this by saying that, ” it isn’t going to get any better either”.

  4. So HOW BAD is the FA’s development process when Englishmen cannot get into – on merit – the best of the Premiership whom are facing off in Europe and getting knocked out?

    In the past it was British payers who were getting knocked out, BUT now they aren’t collectively good enough to get into a ‘foreign’ Premiership side to be knocked out!

  5. PSG displayed superb technical skill and far superior game understanding in their defeat of Chelsea in last night’s Champions’ League tie. But only 2 of Chelsea’s 18 man squad were English (Cahill and Terry). Only one member of Mourinho’s first team coaching staff, to the the best of my knowledge, is English, (Steve Holland).
    The pace of the game in the Premier League is still considerably faster than that of most other continental leagues, in spite of the fact that something like 70% of the players are foreign. The fans want a fast-paced game containing many crosses and goalmouth action. So not only are we failing to produce our own skillful and inventive players, but those whom we are importing from abroad are being fitted into a fast-paced game which does not allow them to fully exploit their skills.
    It would be interesting to know how many of those PSG players would be allowed to fully produce their quality if they came into the Premier League. According to Mourinho, his training sessions at Chelsea are more demanding than the matches in French Ligue 1. A few weeks ago, playing for Monaco, Berbatov, in the twilight of his career, led Arsenal’s defence a merry dance with his intelligent movement and creative play. After indifferent years at Man Utd and Tottenham no Premier League club apparently wanted him and so he is winding down his career in France.
    So like PSG against Chelsea and Berbatov against Arsenal, players of real quality can dictate the pace of the game and lead their team to victory.

  6. Hi Steve. I did a ‘Blog’ some time ago that relates to game speed and spectator/media demands on the game. Speed is an essential part of the game — but only a part. Being able to recognize and use speed correctly should be part of development information—it isn’t! Coaches aren’t provided with suitable info., so players don’t get suitable info., spectators are totally unaware of the importance of the info. and demand all-out effort all the time. The Media also, don’t either know or understand the importance of the info and fail to educate their readers about the subtle use of speed as a vital part of the game— so we ‘fire on all cylinders’ all the time. There is a relavant saying; ‘all work and no time for play makes Jack(football) a dull boy(game)–How true!!!!

  7. Although breaking away from the current subject, I have noticed that when David Silva scores a goal it is rarely the result of slamming the ball into the net. He places the ball into the corner of the goal, having checked the keeper’s position and then puts the ball into the most difficult area for him to reach, even with a full length dive. He ‘passes’ the ball into the net. His team-mate at Man City, Sergio Aguero, also scores many similar goals.
    So many of our goal-getters lack composure in these goalscoring positions and become over-excited and rushed when similar opportunities arise. I feel that unsatisfactory shooting practice, when balls are served in for players to run forward in turn and ‘hammer’ shots from long distance, is unrealistic and fails to produce the ‘natural’ goalscorers which we used to get in the days of street football.
    Developing composure and checking the keeper’s position must be higher up the priorities in the armoury of young players.

  8. Hi Steve. I saw a very talented young player recently(Foreign) who created several excellent chances for himself to score. Each time he ‘blasted’ the ball instead of ‘placing’ the ball and he failed to score. It would only need the coach to suggest a more ‘cultivated ‘ type of finish for this player to produce a ‘hatful’ of goals…………. but nothing gets said and the problem goes on unsolved!!

  9. Hi all It’s about time we started recognizing what TRUE greatness is with regards to football. While we continue to call mediocrity as great we will continue to fail as a football nation — did anyone see Messi against Man. City –he’s at the level one calls great, not the Media backed pretenders we are told are superstars! Honesty has not been apparent in player descriptions and game quality here for decades. Without honesty one develops corruption, greed and selfishness — does this remind you of anything?

  10. Hi John….I believe that we have been calling mediocrity great in England for a long time – back to 1966 in fact. England won the World Cup with essentially a mediocre team, but it suited large parts of the media to label it as great. The Brazil and Real Madrid teams prior to England’s success were great, as was the Brazil team of the following World Cup in 1970, but it was in the interests of many people within these shores to put a similar marker on England because there was much money to be made for many people, by cashing in on the resultant football boom in England.
    The introduction of the Premier League has really pulled the wool over many peoples’ eyes and is a massive con trick by the media, especially the Sky Sports company. The vast sums of money which have been thrown into the game by the wall-to-wall TV coverage has blinded so many fans into believing the hype that is continually poured out about the alledged strength of the League.
    The reality is that not a single English team has progressed beyond the last 16 of the Champions’ League or a similar round of the Europa League.
    In recent years the word great has correctly been applied to Barcelona,and especially to Lionel Messi. We have been privileged to have watched and studied football whilst this great team has been at its zenith. During the same period we have also seen superb play from Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. But can we really attribute the word great to any English team when you consider that not even the Arsenal ‘Invincibles’ or Man Utd of the last 25 years were anywhere in the same class?
    We now have a Premier League where, though the games may often be exciting in terms of dramatic come-backs and last minute winning goals, but the the football is, at best, ordinary. The Match of the Day ‘Goal of the Month’ competition should be re-named ‘Kick of the Month’. It’s usually a long range shot which somehow finds the back of the net, when it could just as easily have landed in the road outside. I find that when the programme digs a goal out of its archives from the last 50 years, there is more chance of seeing a goal which was the result of a flowing move down the length of the pitch, even though the pitches on which the game was played were either a ploughed field of mud or a hard baked concrete-like surface without a blade of grass visible!
    The word ‘great’, when applied to football, must be used sparingly and, as the TV commentator said at the Nou Camp this week, when we are “in the presence of genius”.

  11. the Premier League is overrated most of the goals scored come from defensive mistakes not great attacking play and s the english players that play in it are overrated to. apart from rooney & wilshere how many true world class players do england have and watching the under 21’s it doesnt look like we have any coming through

  12. Hi Steve. I think you have described exactly the dire situation we have here at the present time. The problem now is …….. having recognized the problem, how can we recover from it when so many ‘poisonous influences’ have become involved?

  13. Friday night at a Premier Skills training session, I allowed a new coach to take over as I had to deal with new kit and parents. Once I finished I came back to a session where some kids were messing around, standing waiting for a turn. The coach had put on a defending session, learning to close down space. Not wanting to offend the coach, I said nothing to him, just asking what he was doing. The session he was putting on was shown to him by a FA tutor on his Level 2, very recently. Never has The quality of a player been so reliant on our coaching methods,as the kids are only exposed to structured sessions. If our coaching methods do not excite, teach and develop a love of playing the game, then our FUTURE GAME will not have a future to look forward to.

    Since learning the Practice Play methodology, the standard of coaching has greatly improved. Nothing is perfect, we are dealing with children, but the days of having kids standing around have disappeared. Kids now play only stopping for a drink or coaching.

    This country has the ability, I am seeing kids doing things with a ball that my generation never did.

    It is now down to Premier Skills to show coaches what the work can achieve if taught correctly.

    • HI Dave. I have said for a long, long time that we have excellent talent available here but the coaqching of players through national development sessions has produced a mediocre ‘sameness’ to our game that will be difficult/impossible to erase whilst questionable low performance standards are deemed satisfactory.

  14. Judging by Greg Dyke’s comments concerning the proposed increase of English players on the books of our Premier League and Football League Clubs , the belief still seems to be held that we have talent in abundance. He seems to be suggesting that the talent just needs the opportunity to be given a chance in the first teams of clubs, especially those in the Premier League. But he, and others like him who are the decision makers, need to be made aware that young players of 16 upwards have neither the technical skill level, nor game intelligence, which should have been developed 7 – 8 years before. Just restricting the numbers of foreign imports into our game does not rectify poor development/coaching methods in our game.
    No-one from the higher echelons of the FA ever pin points this fact and so all we get are more number-crunching statistics and graphs, as evidenced today in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ following Greg Dyke’s latest pronouncement.

  15. Well surely Trevor Brooking knows and presumably they were on talking and had regular access over a morning cuppa! No excuses.

  16. Well surely Trevor Brooking knows and presumably they were on talking terms and had regular access over a morning cuppa! No excuses.

  17. Hi Steve. Our game is directed by those who have no appreciation of the real needs of the game here. They fail to recognize the huge difference in standards between here and other senior football nations. Money alone will not make the difference nor will ‘tweaking’ player importation methods. It’s TRUE ‘home-grown’ player development methods that needs a thorough overhaul and improvement. But what do we know, we learned the game and played it and have been in it all our lives —– those who control the game have ‘arrived’ on the scene from different backgrounds—not football ones!!

    • Hi John and Steve,

      The only sense and conceiveable truth is that players WILL ONLY develop properly in a coaching method which places its focus on the acquisition of a high level of individuality – that used to be developed on the street. Until the FA understand that this is the only thing that matters and reconstruct their coaching scheme in line with the philosophy of Premier Skills will England produce the quality of young players that we see in what John terms the Senior Football nations. Someone must listen.

      • Hi Brazil94. It’s such a shame that real football people have not been determined enough to force themselves into senior positions at the FA. For too long important decisions on development have not been taken and it has left us unprepared for the future.

  18. Hi John and Brazil94…I think that one of the strengths of German football is the way in which former players gain key positions in the administration and running of the game in that country. Rumminege, Hoeness and Sammer have been highy instrumental in the direction that Bayern Munich have taken for a number of years and Pep Guardiola has said what an honour it has been to have them as his bosses. Beckenbauer has been similarly effective in various roles at the DFB.
    In England players were regarded for many years of use only during their playing days, unless they wished to remain in the game after hanging up their boots, as a manager or coach. I am sure that many players could make a major contribution to the running of the game in this country and help to push through many much needed changes. But, as John says, they must force themselves into these key positions, rather than taking the easy option of the TV pundit’s chair, should they not wish to take the plunge into management or coachng.

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