One man’s opinion about how to play the game laid a country in ruin & the results have been seen for years since.

They say football is a game of opinions. That is true. Yet when one man’s opinion about how to play the game was taken on board, a country was laid in ruin.  The results were seen for years to come.

We have just witnessed Spain make history and win their third major tournament in a row, they are unquestionably the best international side in worldfootball today, and perhaps ever. Yet it is not luck which has taken Spain to the top of world football, it came from a vision, excellent effciency, implementation and patience. In twenty years Spain have developed a style and a culture which has captivated both hearts and minds and which has made the Spanish model one to replicate for nations all over the world.

England too had a vision, which was laid down in the 1980's and which was implemented like that of Spain, the only problem was that the vision was wrong and the method behind the vision was a misunderstanding which would have implications for Engllish football still seen today. And the reason why England have not won anything and instead have increased the gap between the top of theirselves. 

A bit of history

In the 1980’s Charles Hughes was the director of FA coaching for the English Football Association. He authored the FA's official coaching manual and put in place what was to be the biggest disaster ever to hit English development. Hughes was an advocate of long ball tactics, ideas developed and taken on by notably the failed England manager Graham Taylor. His concept was that more goals were scored from three passes or less, meaning too many passes results in less goals. This complete over simplification of the game has resulted in the stagnation and ultimate failings of the England national side.

The irony is that Hughes went against the style of football being played at that time; Liverpool were dominating Europe with pass and move football and Michels had created a style for Ajax and Holland which was described as the beautiful game. The Brasilans and Argentinians were playing excellent attacking football like they are renowned, yet the ball spent much more time on the floor with these teams than in the air.  In the late 80’s Michels protégé Johan Cryuff  took totalfootball to Barcelona and the rest they say is history.

Imagine what our players could have been like if we had developed a style like this? Total football requires technical masters, without which they could not have played this way.  Possessing the ability to receive and pass with precision, to dribble and beat players 1v1 and to continually support and move for each other, these are the requirements for excellent football. The culture of Holland and now Spain, has been on developing technical players in order to play this way. A focus on technical development became their method of coaching.

What does an English player possess?

English players have been developed based on Hughes' style. A style based on long ball; requiring a goal keeper or defender to have the ability to hit 60 yard balls into the opposition half, similar to trench warfare. It then required a giant of a man to take this ball out of the air, usually flicking it on and then it needed brave men to win the battle for the ball and hopefully, stick it in the net. Statistics show that 80% of long balls are intercepted., yet this was overlooked. It is crazy to think that this was taken on board and that this was the tactic employed by many managers. 

Even more worrying was that young players were being targeted and developed based on these attributes. No wonder we have never been keen on small, technical players, they did not fit the requirements of long ball football. Thus, they have never been developed en masse.

There have always been excuses for the poorness of our players; the manager, the weather and even luck! Yet for all these there was one problem which was not addressed fully, a flawed philosophy which underpinned the poor quality of coaching in youth development.

The Dutch have always prized technical ability of all else and so they have continually developed players fit for the game. We now have seen Spain develop players capable of playing sublime football and winning. We have seen Germany develop technical, quick players capable of playing at the top level. And the South Americans will always develop technically quick players as their culture demands more than seeks this. And so now we have wokenup to the problems that have destroyed the English game for so long. 

The FA

The FA has invested a billion pounds into the new Wembley. The new training centre at Burton cost £100 million. Would it not have made more sense to develop ten centres around the country instead of build Wembley? Something similar to that of Germany and France with their centres; their most famous being Clairefontaine. Surely if the FA had a real desire to improve the standard of players and coaching in this country then this would have been much more beneficial? This way improving coaches and players with state of the art facilities around the country and not just in one central location.

Why did we need to build a new Wembley? What a waste of time and money. We have these monuments as way to verify our standing in the world, yet fill it with mediocrity. In Germany there is no national stadium; games of the national team are always in different cities. This allows more people to see their team and allows more money to put in to key areas.

The FA will say that they have "skills schools" around the country looking to improve players. Yet The FA skills programme was initially set up to work with Elite players, in order to improve their technical skills. However a lack of funding prevented this Elite development from happening, instead Tesco funded an inclusive coaching network where all types of children are coached. This is great, but where is the original Elite level coaching required to take players to the next level?

If we had invested more incoaching then maybe England would have already have more players of the required standard. More coaching schools could have produced more quality English coaches and managers and perhaps even more options for an English national manager. Quite simply The FA have failed the players for not investing in the right thing. New facilities are great, yet when the coaching is mediocre then what point is it?!

Why is talent in this country not being developed to a good standard?

Are English just not good enough or is the result of a highly marketed and highly financia league restricting the access required for English players to develop? Most English players are simply not good enough, and so questions must be asked of the academies who are producing these players.

Players in England are behind the levels of other countries. We develop athletes, putting too much credence on strength and speed and not enough on technical ability or intelligence. We restrict creativity and produce one dimensional players who are predictable and slow. We don't do enough in schools to develop movement, resulting in a lack of variability that footballers require in order to  turn, pivot and change direction at rapid speeds.

Our players lack the key technical skills to cope with top level football. The modern player needs an impeccable touch with both feet and any body part. They need to play off one or touch and have the understanding of where their options are before they receive the ball. They also need to know how to protect the ball and how to beat  a player. These are characterisitics of the greats today, Xavi, Messi, Iniesta. There is only a limited amount of English players with these abilities. 

We lack the coaching skills required to develop technical skills well enough and instead look to develop technique in isolated practices. By developing skill in game situations players will be able to make better decisions in games. Isolated practice restricts players from being effective because they have not practiced under pressure and being faced with multiple decisions.  Watch Michael Carrick when put under prolonged pressure, he panics on the ball and rushes his play. You do not see this with Spanish players. It is because they have been developed to deal with these situations, to make good decisions with the technical skills given to them through coaching. This allows them to adapt to a situation. They are a product of their development pathway, and at this time, their model is more successful and sustainable. 

So why don’t we develop top players, those who have the necessary skills to play at the top level? It leads me to believe that we do not look to recruit or develop intelligent players. We develop players who are reactive, who rely more on the voice of the coach than their own brain. This results in slower reaction times, restricted anticipation and ultimately poor standards of performance. If a player cannot think quick he cannot make quick decisions, he cannot be improved further than his physical body allows. A smart player though is able to be taught the game, to understand about reading the game, anticipating the play. It is these players we need to find and develop; size is not the issue.

Academies, the best standard?

In academies now The FA are looking to implement the new youth modules in order to improve and produce expert teachers of the game. Firstly, they are charging for these instead of making them free, if they believe they are important then every academy coach should be given the courses for no charge. Secondly, they are not focusing enough on genuine technical development, instead they focus more on enjoyment. Now, I don’t disagree with this but at academy level the players are not being challenged enough to move to the next level. It is the foundation, grassroots coaches who need these modules more, they need to learn how to develop players, to teach them. Many coaches know "what" to coach yet do not know "how" to coach. 

Perhaps academies are not producing players good enough for the team because the wrong coaches are working in these environments? The role of a youth coach is that of a teacher. Do these coaches possess the skills needed? Do they have the ability to bond, to be understanding to the players needs, to resonate with their feelings and emotions. Can they communicate the right way? Are they compassionate? Can they be positive and challenge their players? 

These are the key characteristics required for youth coaches to develop all round individuals. Too many coaches are negative and authoritative, they lack understanding and compassion. This is why many kids between 12-16 lose the love of football and do not move to the next level.   

Give English a chance

In the pro game in England teams have decided not to develop players but buy in already proven talent. The English Premier League has become so international, and so success driven, that it seems difficult to produce players through these teams.

What has been done to rectify this? The Germans realised they had a problem in 2000 andaddressed it, The English FA and Premier League have done very little to rectify the problem. There are no rules on how many English players have to play for teams in the league. This has resulted in only 38% of players in the league being English. By developing our own players teams would reduce costs as it is much cheaper to develop talent than buy it and our national team would surely benefit.

If we don’t give our young players the chance to develop up to the age of 23, then we are doing a disservice to our national side and to the development of English talent. Young foreign players are being brought over, especially by the top teams, at the expense of our own. This is simply not right. It is not right for the English players development and not for the foreign player; being moved to a new country at 16 and expected to adapt is not ethical. For all the Fabregas’ of this method, how many have been ruined by this vicious and soulless pursuit of the next Messi?

Would it not be better if young foreign players were not allowed to move abroad until they were 18, more in line with university age, where a player is now a young adult and not an adolescent.

I can understand why top level teams rely on foreign players now, because they believe that English players are not good enough. So more rules need to be implemented to improve the standards of coaching and give more English players a chance to gain the necessary experience in senior level football.

The Premier League, if they genuinely did care about the development of the national side, would make the teams use the 6+5 rule to play English talent weekly, resulting in a minimum of 6 English players playing each week. The current rules enable foreign players to be classed as home grown and allows teams like Arsenal to field non-English sides in the Premier League. How is this helping the national game improve? The future

From abroad we appear a shambles; pristine  new stadia and a manager on £6 million a year yet possessing poor levels of coaching at grassroots and academy level. The FA build top down instead of bottom up and it shows everything that is wrong with England. Too much money at the top trying to fix problems that need addressing at the bottom. Our teaching standards are very poor, throughout all areas. The results of which we are seeing in our children through lack of skills and motivation, apathy and poor attitudes.  We are not producing enough high skilled adults for the modern world and thus we are letting our current and future generations down.

So what is to be done? New plans have been put in place by the Premier League and  FA to improve coaching and development of young players. They believe these plans will develop more players capable of playing at the top level. Will it be enough to compete with nations like Spain? It will take much time and patience, of which we struggle with, especially in football. Changes need to happen in schools, teams, academies and importantly in the psyche of the country's culture. We are moving away from the era of Charles Hughes, yet it is has taken much heartache and frustration, perhaps a new dawn is upon us, yet don't expect to be competing with the top nations for another 10-20 years, by then who knows what football will be like.