The Whitehouse Address puts down a blueprint for the future of English football

 

St George's Park Legacy; developing coaches capable of developing players for the future

2012 has the potential to be a landmark year for English football. With the changes in youth football being voted in and now with the opening of the new football centre St George’s Park, many believe that English football is finally at the stage to begin competing with the world’s top countries. It is argued that English football can now look to develop world class players who can make the English national team successful. Unfortunately, there is much needed to address to make England capable of being successful.

A new building is not going to change the development of our players. The changes will come from the quality of the coaching across the country, from PE in schools, from grassroots, to elite academies. Unfortunately, we have been left behind by many of the top countries across Europe in terms of development. 

Although each international tournament brings about the same issues and concerns, very little changes each time. While Spain sought to improve their standards in the 1990’s and Germany saw their own failings in 2000, England continually “sees” the problems yet has continually failed to address the issue. 

The issue was not the manager (although world class English managers are rare), the issue was the players and their ability to compete technically and tactically with some of the best in the world. With the new centre the new Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) there is a sign that changes are happening. 

However, the players of the present are not those that can be affected. The key was always to improve the foundations of youth development. Our lack of technically efficient and tactically inept players has been the biggest obstacle and concern for the development of top players and England's success in international football.

Issues with coaching at grassroots academy level has affected the development of quality players. Yet a big issue has been the scouting of players from grassroots to academy football. Too much emphasis on physicality and strength over technical quality and intelligence has resulted in the limited number of players coming through the “system”. Many changes need to be made at this level in order for more English players to become professional players.

Changes at the top needed

If the FA are serious about developing a new generation of players then they need to work with the Premier League to increase the number of English players playing in the Premier League. In Germany and Spain there are 60% domestic players playing in the league, in England it is 38%. This is simply not good enough. 

It is also worrying how few English players play in the Champions League and abroad, especially considering over 80 Spanish players were part of the Champions League last year, followed by French and Brasilian players.

The issue of English players comes from over priced value and wages, meaning that most English players are simply not viable options for many foreign sides as well as English ones. When you see players like Cazorla and Kagawa going for the same price as Rodwell , Henderson and Downing, then you see there is a real problem with the valuation of English players.

Now, I cannot imagine the prices of English players going down and what needs to happen is that English players need to become better, both technically and tactically. In order for this to happen there needs to be improvements in the coaching of our youth players; technically, tactically, physically and psychologically. This article will assess the importance that coaching will have on the development of England’s next generation.

Universiality 

The modern game requires interchangeable footballers capable of operating wherever required. Arrigo Saachi, one of Italy’s best coaches believes the game of the future will require positional freedom and variability. He believes universal players are the future of the game. In his book Inverting the pyramid Jonathon Wilson posits that the future of football is "universality". 

Andy Roxburgh, Uefa's technical director believes the game is heading towards a 4-6-0 where there are four defined defenders and in front of them six midfield players all of whom can rotate, attack and defend. They would therefore need to attack, run and tackle all over the pitch. As we saw from Barcelona and even more so Spain the Euro's, there are sides already ahead of the rest in terms of preparing for the future of football. You can argue that a 2-8-0 is a realistic possibility. 

Thus, if we are aiming to produce players suitable for the modern game, then we will need coaches who are capable of preparing these players correctly  As the game evolves, coaches need to do so also. 

Foreign influence

Young coaches like Mourinho, Villas-Boas, Guardiola and Klopp  have come onto the scene in recent years with new ideas, new methods and beliefs of how the game should be played, of how training should be and how to develop players and teams. What is clear from this list is they have been successful, their methods have worked, their players have developed and improved through their work. So what can be learnt from these coaches?

The foreign influence on English football has benefited the game without doubt. Overseas players brought culture, lifestyle and improved nutrition. These foreign players showed a dedication to practice and self-improvement which was not a common feature of the English culture. They brought skill, craft and vision which was unknown by many English players.

Foreign coaches brought new methods, styles, tactics, details and tactical flexibility. They improved the quality of the game and made the league better.

Yet the influx of these players has meant a decreasing number of home grown players and coaches. The recruitment of young players and foreign coaches has restricted and hampered the development of English coaches and players from progressing to the top of the game. England now needs to develop players and coaches who match the foreign talent who right now are better.

The FA need to organise their priorities 

It is clear to me that in England the majority of coaching is still very amateur; shooting drills with 16 players and one ball are all too commonly seen and fitness training with 9-12 year olds without a ball in sight are restricting the development of our young players. 

It is resulting in a reduction of contact time with the ball, meaning less mastery of the ball, less technical ability and thus poorer games lacking in skill, quality and confidence with the ball. 

Youth coaching should not be seen as a volunteer activity but an important and essential part of building the foundation of our next generation. So when you see £100m going into a beautiful new facility and £900m spent on Wembley, not forgetting the £6m a year contract of Capello, one wonders whether the FA are serious about developing the next generation or more concerned with making money from and for their sponsors. 

There needs to be more money put into the quality of delivery to young players in order to improve the quality and standards of young players giving them the tools to play in the modern and future game.

If the FA are serious about “coach development” then they need to reduce the cost of their courses to make them accessible and affordable for many more grassroots coaches. Right now coach education courses are elitist and are restricting the development and understanding of many coaches and thus are hampering the development of many young footballers. 

 In England we are seeing a new generation of young coaches coming through, these coaches have a drive and desire to develop technical players. Their love of football and desire for coaching has come from seeing players like Messi, Xavi and Zidane and thus makes them see the value in technical skill and efficiency. It is these coaches which are the future of the game and who need to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding of the game to become world class coaches and importantly teachers of the game.

Developing players of the future

The players and teams of the future will need to be capable of having technical excellence, that is from the goalkeeper throughout the whole team. Goalkeepers especially need to be excellent passers, they need to have world class control as well as being good with their hands. Are coaches doing enough to develop them as footballers? 

Modern coaches need to develop their players and teams to be tactically astute, to play expansive football, to teach them the correct movements. As well as this coaches should be teaching their players the art of the attacking and defending; with real detail both individually and as a team. 

The importance of the modern game is that players are capable in attack and defence and thus have the necessary technical and tactical skills to be effective. Are we developing our players to be capable of playing in the modern game? 

This is why clubs are looking abroad for talented players, because we are not doing well enough at developing players capable of competing with the best in the world. If we don’t improve our standards, if we don’t strive and aim for excellence and not just mediocrity, then we won’t have a chance at producing players capable of being world class.

Fixation on fixed positions in a evolving world of fluidity 

We are seeing already that as the game is evolving, changes in roles and positions are becoming more fluid and flexible. However, in England we are still seeing fixed positions offering no variation or creation. 

Flexible systems are replacing the rigid units and it is no surprise to see English sides struggle against teams who move between the units. In order to meet these fluid changes we need to develop players who understand how and when to change roles and positions. Are our coaches willing to allow our players and teams to experiment and be creative, or, is it safer to keep fixed formations and achieve "results", instead of developing smart, intelligent players capable of playing in numerous positions and systems. 

We are amazed when we see foreign players move from their “role” and then wonder how they find such time and space. They are modern players and English clubs have not done well enough to produce these types of players. We needed more Scholes type players, players with craft, vision, movement and game understanding. Why we haven’t produced more is a real indictment of English football, especially when he is lauded by players like Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. 

 Are we not paying attention? Are we seriously burying our heads in the sand while the rest of the world sees what modern football and the future requires?

The modern game is showing us where the future of the game is heading

In the top levels of today's game players are reaching 90% pass accuracy rates. They are in possession an average of 2 seconds and are taking an average of 2 touches. This means decisions need to happen in a matter of seconds. 

The best players, for instance Xavi, can deal with the ball under pressure, can play off 1 or 2 touches and can find a pass effectively 90% of the time. His conversion rate of 97%in the Euro 2008 final was simply memorising. In the Champions League 84% of passes played with one touch are successful. Can our players do this and are our coaches providing the right coaching and guidance to help produce this? 

For coaches then what lessons can we take? There are more passes in the game today, of which more are accurate. The game is played at a faster speed as players are required to play successful  1 and 2 touch passes. Importantly, there are more and more successful forward and sideways passes, meaning that positive play is becoming the expectation of players.  

Now as youth coaches we need to understand that in order to get to this level players need to make mistakes, need to try to things and develop. Too many coaches however are unwilling to allow mistakes and thus kill the creativity of their players. They take away their imagination and create robots which results not in fluid footballers but in the English fixed style which has been the cause of our lack of success.

What does this mean for players?

As space and time is reduced the future player requires less time on the ball, has less time between passes and needs less touches. As well as this the game of the future will become much faster in terms of speed with and without the ball. Player movement, decision making and technical skill needs to extremely high in order to cope with the demands of the game. Are we preparing our players to handle this level of play?

Without a doubt the game, players and coaches are becoming more intelligent. Tactical nous is becoming an expectation not a bonus. It will be important for coaches to educate their players, to teach them about the game and not just “train” them. 

Academies should be seeking players who are intelligent and who have a passion for the game and who want to learn. Too often players who lack the intelligence for the modern game are being recruited because they are “effective” yet the lack the mental skills required to become professional. Where is the logic in this?! 

The game is heading towards brains and skill over physicality and brute strength. English clubs, academies and scouts should take note. Billy Beane at the Oakland A’s was right, he came to the realisation that the "old school" scouts are looking at the wrong players!

The need to produce creative players

This past summer over £80m was spent on playmakers. Add in Silva, Aguero and Nasri in the past few years and you are looking at over £200m spent on this type of player. Are any English? Of course not. 

 The playmaker has become the key to unlock strong defences; with skill, vision and creativity these players like Hazard, Cazorla and Kagawa have become essential for sides trying to compete with Man City this season. 

The modern playmaker however is not just a classic number 10, no, that role has seized to be effective due to the introduction of the defensive midfielder to counter this player (of which many English sides still have not learnt the importance of this role). The playmaker has become a universal attacker, roaming from the flanks, between the units, going beyond the defence and at times dropping into midfield. Remember that Pirlo was moved from a trequartista to aregista in order to be more effective.

It is very difficult to mark against this type of player because he is so fluid. The world’s best must be Messi. His movement, speed, skill, dribbling and finishing have made him the world’s best. His positional freedom allows him to roam and find spaces. 

If some of the world’s best players are similar in build, skill and intelligence then why aren’t we creating more in England? I see perhaps only Wilshere and Oxlade Chamberlain as genuine universal attacking players. It is again an indictment of academies and the English culture to restrict the development, to limit the creativity and most times look upon a skilful but “small” player and make the opinion that they cannot deal with the English game. 

Look at the top sides and see how well their “small” players are doing in England in the one of the most "physical" leagues. Coaches need to do more to develop the creative players, they need to support their development and allow them to make mistakes. It is these players which can changes games, which can unlock defences and which are so highly valued. Learn from Barcelona, from Dortmund and Man City, see what creative players can achieve.  We in England need to do more to bring these players through.

Athleticism, a key attribute

I have criticised the English game for promoting physicality over skill and so we have seen giants in youth football and the restriction of creative players. Yet the role of being athletic cannot be ignored. The future game will see a significant enhancement in the athletic capabilities of players and thus coaches should be aware of this and seek to enhance it with their players.

There will be increased physical demands in the future due to the speed of the game, a higher tempo of ball movement and faster opposition will mean speed and endurance will be paramount. 

As the ball is kept in more and games are longer and thus players will cover more distance. More distance and higher speeds mean more sprints at higher intensity’s. The game will lead to players needing to cover between 12-15km a match, at different speeds and directions. Thus the training of players to be capable to deal with these demands will be very essential.

The ability move to with speed with the ball is also a key part of the game, this applies for all positions. The future game will require physical training to be position specific, this may mean position specific coaches. 

Coaches will need to make their players have the physical capabilities to handle the modern game. Agility, Balance and Co-ordination will be vital for players to turn, cut and challenge. Elite players make 1400 directional changes in a game and thus more work on Speed, Agility and Acceleration will be vital.

School’s are a vital part in making sure our youth are prepared physically for the teenage and adult years and PE quality and standards will need to be vastly improved in schools to create more athletic children.

The requirements of the future player

A young player will need to excel technically, tactically, physically and psychologically.

       Technical – versatility, basic skills and techniques, excellent passing, receiving and retention skills, ability to create time and space, intelligent passing, running with the ball, intelligence, ability to operate at speed, turn with ball in varying ways and at speed, 1v1 ability attack and defend, two footed, proficient in limited spaces, instant touch technique, defend individually, creative

       Tactical - Intelligent for self and team, understands role and responsibilities, strategy of attack and defence, versatile an comfortable in different positions, anticipates rather than reacts, follows development of play – builds mental pictures, effective decision making prior to receiving the ball, assured and intelligent decision maker, retains and protects the ball effectively, understands how to gain tactical advantage

       Psychological - coachable – eager to learn, controlled and adaptable, reliable and self-disciplined, winning mentality – does not concede defeat, understands the game, good spatial awareness, quick to respond, deals with failure, disappointment, criticism with resilience and positive outlook, intense desire to succeed and play with confidence – not afraid of making mistakes

       Physical – agility, speed, strength, endurance, acceleration

The player of the future needs to have;

  • Technical mastery of ball/awareness/creation of time and space

  • Highly skilled technical players with mastery of the ball

  • Requirement to release the ball accurately and instantly over a variety of distances using both feet and any surface will be vital

  • Controlling the ball under pressure with assured first touch will be paramount

  • Awareness and vision to formulate the pictures before they receive the ball

  • Composure, vision and spatial awareness

  • Capability to operate in congested areas with speed and precision, ensuring the protection of possession at all times will be crucial

  • Develop creativity and expression

  • At the highest level we need to have the craft to disguise intent with all their techniques

  • Players need to have the ability to receive the ball and exchange passes with others whilst moving at optimum speed

  • 1v1 effectiveness - players that can eliminate an opponent either individually will be priceless

Coaches need to develop English players who are possess all these skills, we need to create universal player possessing all the core skills footballers require.

As a coach can you develop all these aspects with each of your players? If you wish them to become an elite footballer, capable of competing with the world’s best then as a coach you NEED to do more to develop all these aspects with your players.

The evolving game

As the game continues to evolve along the present lines, the teaching and coaching of our players must evolve with it.

In this country we must aspire to lead the game in the development of our players by looking forward and anticipating the necessities to participate at the highest levels.

The game is becoming much quicker, more technical, tactical, physical and mental our players will need to adapt to the needs of modern football, or we will continue to see more foreign players coming into the game. 

If our English players were good enough then clubs would not need to go abroad would they? Quite simply we have failed our young players for too long and we are wondering why we are getting further from the best. It comes down to what we do with our players; average coaches, with not enough quality, detail or knowledge have ruined many of our players. 

Academies are learning from their errors and the EPPP is starting to see major changes coming in and a more holistic method of teaching young players is being seen. However, academies need to seriously consider the standards of their scouting which is not looking at what is required for the modern game, instead it is looking for the short term and not seeing a players potential. Too many potential Xavi and Messi's are being ignored and rejected due to their size and age (birth effect is a big issue infootball). Scouts need to evolve as much as the coaches in order to develop the future of English football.

As coaches we must seek to anticipate how the game will change at the highest level and lead the way in young player development. As this article has shown, there are many aspects which need to be addressed to develop the next generation. Are coaches willing and able to make this happen?

St George’s Park intends to develop the next generation of teachers of the game. It is an admirable and necessary wish, yet why make the education of coaches so expensive? If they are serious about improving the standards of coaching and thus develop better players, then they need to look if they doing all they can to make this happen.

The future game will need intelligent players and coaches as the game itself  becomes more intelligent. Flexible and fluid systems requires flexible universal players who possess the relevant technical, tactical, physical and psychological requirements needed to be a player for the future. 

As coaches we have the future in our hands, this is a massive responsibility and one we should take real pride in. Our young footballers look to us to teach them skills, make them better players and allow them to be creative, what a role we have. Yet are you capable of this role? Coaching has an influence on young children much more than just football, thus your role as a coach is also that as teacher and parent.

St George’s Park is an impressive centre, yet it is not the facilities which will produce the next generation of English players. World class coaches who can in turn produce potentially world class players is what is required. This will be the legacy of St George's Park.