The £750 million spent on rebuilding Wembley would have been far better spent on completing the national football centre and on coaching...

A day out at Wembley is, no doubt, a special and momentous occasion for anyone. Whether going to see your football club compete in a cup final, going to watch a music concert, or to cheer on the Three Lions with 90,000 other passionate Englishmen and women, Wembley is depicted as a Mecca for English football and English culture. Whilst this is an impressive structure to look at, and I’m sure it is to be in, I’m not entirely convinced that we really need it, that it should have been built where it is, or that it should have been built at all in the first place. The new Wembley does not have the same appeal or air of romanticism about it as the old one did, and the English national team has never looked completely comfortable in this new arena, or look like it could be somewhere that could truly be called home. Put simply, it’s just not the same anymore. The new arch-inspired stadium, whilst impressive and imposing, lacks the romanticism of its forebear.

                                                                                (Source: bbc gallery)

 

As Alun Evans has already pointed out on this website in his article ‘The Footie North/South divide or why we don’t support England’, there is a bias towards the south in terms of the English national team and the FA. Why is it, even if national football stadium was to be rebuilt, did it have to be built in London? By doing this English football fans in the North and the Midlands, who have just as much right to support the country as those in the South do, have to put up with the time and cost of travelling down to London and then put up with increased prices when they get to the game.

If the stadium needed to be rebuilt, which I’m not convinced it should, then it should have been built just outside of Birmingham or an equivalent city in the Midlands, thus making it fair for all football fans, from all over the country and from all walks of life, to get to the game and support England. Alternatively, there is a case for saying that it should not have built again in the first place. If we look across the water and look at the recent final round of European Championship qualifiers, we see that Spain played Scotland, not in Madrid or Barcelona, but in Alicante at the stadium of Hércules, a team now playing in the Spanish second division.

Similarly, the Italians played Northern Ireland not in Rome or Milan, but in Pescara on the Adriatic coast, at the stadium of the Serie B side Pescara. The Netherlands meanwhile, played their qualifying games in Rotterdam, Eindhoven, and Amsterdam. As for Germany, they played their final group game against Belgium in Düsseldorf, and played their other home matches in Berlin, Cologne, and Gelsenkirchen. As can clearly be seen, none of these European heavyweights have a designated home stadium, meaning they juggle their home fixtures around their respective countries.

In the process of doing this, it means that fans from all over the country get the opportunity to see the national team play at their closest significant stadium. This practice occurred in England in the interim period between the two Wembley’s, so why could that not continue? Old Trafford, St James Park, Anfield, Villa Park, The Emirates Stadium, Eastlands, Hillsborough, City Ground, St Mary’s; England has plenty of football stadiums in several different large cities with over 30,000 capacity, and the FA could quite easily organize international fixtures around the country like other leading European nations do. Instead we are left with Wembley, indeed an impressive modern stadium fit for the 21st century, but fundamentally flawed in several ways.

This brings me nicely onto what the £750 million could, and in my opinion should, have been spent on. St George’s Park, the pioneering English national football centre (NFC) at Burton upon Trent, with 12 football pitches, sports science facilities, medicine facilities and a hotel, with £25 million currently spent on it and expected to cost £100 million, is at present unfinished.

              Work in progress: St George’s Park in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire. Source: Guardian.co.uk

 

By my basic mental arithmetic calculations, England could thus have had SEVEN coaching facilities like the one planned at Burton, instead of building a new Wembley stadium. England must take the lead from the continent in terms of professional football coaching. As Sky’s Revista de La Liga has highlighted, Spain currently has 23,000 UEFA qualified coaches, whereas England currently has just 3000. Moreover, there is one UEFA qualified coach for every 17 players in Spain, compared to one for every 812 players in England.

These are profound statistics, and based on this, it is easy to understand why Spain is the blueprint that England must follow. It seems that players in Spain learn how to play the game first, and how to play the game the right way, before they learn to win. Because of course, as we have seen countless times over the past few years with the contemporary FC Barcelona and Spanish national sides, if the game is fully understood and played in the right way, then winning is inevitable. As a result of this, the Spanish are currently European Champions at under-19, under-21, and senior level, whilst also joining the elite few to have become FIFA World Champions, and few would bet against them winning the next European Championships in Poland and Ukraine next summer.

The Spanish have the Ciudad de Fútbol on the outskirts of Madrid as their coaching and training facility for the national team and for the training of professional coaches. In Catalonia, the famed La Masia academy has done wonders for FC Barcelona and consequently for Spain in recent years. Similarly, the French can boast the facilities at Clairefontaine near Paris as the pinnacle of 12 coaching facilities that the French Football Federation can call upon for players. Moreover, the Dutch have the KNVB Academy at Zeist to help continue the total football approach that the Netherlands has employed in the past. In addition to this, the Italians can look to Coverciano, built in the 1950’s near Florence, facilities where current England manager Fabio Capello studied and who had personally highlighted the importance for England to follow suit, “This (NFC) is a much-needed facility and through my own experiences at Coverciano in Italy I understand the importance of the centre for England”.

As for the Germans, the decision to begin focusing on the development of youth and shy away from elder players was made in the aftermath of the 3-0 defeat to Brazil in 2002 World Cup, where they finished as runners-up. The success of this emphasis on youth was clear in the 4-1 rout of England at the World Cup last year, and the wake-up call for reform that English football has needed for so long now. The NFC chairman, David Sheepshanks, highlights the problem in the English game well, “Every single leading European country has a national football centre - even Bulgaria - and we are the only leading European country that does not. Every country that has won the World Cup has one apart from us…

The 'Special One' José Mourinho said he was staggered we did not have a national football centre and Arsène Wenger has said he could not imagine that the country does not have one." Such comments can be allowed to speak for themselves. The point here then is clear. All of these powerhouses of European football have centres of education for players and coaches, and almost all of the above countries are better than England at present. Frankly and honestly, if England play any of these countries at the European Championships in a years time, an English loss will be the most likely result.

The FIFA rankings, which admittedly can be flawed at times, puts England 8th at present, below Spain, Holland, Germany, and Italy, whilst France at 14th, beat England in a friendly at Wembley last November. Hindsight is, of course, a wonderful gift, particularly in this instance. But the continent has shown England the way on this matter, and I for one hope that the FA starts putting this positive rhetoric about youth development and coaching into action sooner rather than later. I only wish they’d done so 10 years ago.