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England U21s -- Strength in depth

Tactics And Analysis 6 days ago
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Oct 11, 2013

Brooking: Looking to the future

In the second part of his exclusive interview with ESPN, the Football Association's director of football development, Sir Trevor Brooking, outlines the plans that have been put in place to reinvent the English game at grassroots level and defends the criticism his plans have attracted.

When Sir Trevor Brooking concludes another decade might pass before England have a realistic hope of competing with the game's major nations in a World Cup tournament, gasps of despair are the predictable response.

After all, Brooking has been in his position for the best part of ten years, and many believe he could (and should) have done more. Yet, after admitting in the first part of his exclusive interview with ESPN that the FA had "no structure at all for grassroots football in this country" when he first came into office, the defence of his personal record as one of the key decision-makers in English football is given some perspective.

"I appreciate people want to see results for what we are doing right now and are not satisfied with just positive words for a hopeful future," begins Brooking. "It may sound as if we are trying to sidestep the issue by saying we need to look a few years down the road for improvements, but that is the reality of the situation we are in.

"The ultimate aim is to reach a point where we have an England national team that goes to a World Cup finals and feels as if they have a chance to win the competition, yet that cannot happen overnight, and the structures we have implemented during my time at the FA need to be given time to deliver the results we are confident they can offer.

"Ten years ago, we did not have a structure that had input into grassroots coaching, how young boys and girls played the game and the format of the matches they took part in. It has taken seven or eight years to cut through all the politics you need to work around to implement changes to reach the point we are in 2013.

"Now we are recognised by UEFA for having one of the best setups for grassroots football in Europe, with our wide-raging programme giving English football a chance to progress in the future, but there are still so many areas that can be improved.

"To go from the position I found when I came to the FA, to the position we are in now, confirms that we have made some great progress in the last decade. Hopefully the benefits of those improvements will be felt in due course."

Brooking was eager to reject the suggestions that funding for grassroots football in England has been cut in recent years, with the 800 million pounds that has flowed into the pot earmarked for the development of the game from the Premier League, the FA and the Football League this century a sizable amount that should have helped to identify and nurture homegrown stars.

However, that talent pool has not flowed with any kind of fluidity, with Brooking suggesting the absence of technically efficient England players stems from the coaching they received in their formative years.

"There is a shouting and hollering culture of coaching that is prevalent throughout large sections of grassroots football in this country, and that is what we are keen to address as we look to move forward," states Brooking, who won 47 caps for England during his celebrated playing career.

"We did a survey of young players a few years back and what we learned very quickly was that most of the kids didn't care where their team was in the league, but were playing the game for the joy it gave them, the camaraderie with their friends and the banter that you get being part of a team.

"On the other hand, their parents were obsessed with winning and getting their kids' teams up the league. That pressure to follow that line of thinking takes the fun element of the game away from kids to the point where they can lose interest in playing.

"We believe that the teaching these young players get is crucial to their development. Many of these coaches will go on an FA coaching course, listen to ideas of focusing on first touch control, encouraging teams to play out from the back and not hit long balls and appear to embrace everything they hear.

"Then a few weeks later, we send one of our mentors along to see how they have implemented these ideas and we see these same coaches who looked so impressive on our of our courses shouting and hollering on the touchline, playing big men up front in their team and lumping the ball long. They get caught up in the 'win, win, win' mentality and it's not what football should be about for kids of that age.

"We now have a coaching structure in place that we want everyone working with young players in this country to be a part of and that is designed to fundamentally change the mindset of the way we go about coaching our young players, whether they are at an elite level or playing the game for fun.

"We want the focus of our coaching for kids to be on honing skills, enjoying the game, and from there you can identify the boys and girls that have a bit of talent, coordination skills and try to encourage them to move onto the next level. We want to take the pressure out of it for kids and encouraged the gifted players to emerge."

Brooking believes the pay structures of coaches working with young players affiliated with Premier League clubs also needs to be addressed, yet he is eager to ensure any increases in salary packages coincides with improvements in quality.

"You see some coaching positions at Premier League clubs being advertised with a salary of 15,000 pounds a year and that is just not going to attract the kind of quality people we are looking for," states Brooking. "The money is there to spend, but we just need to encourage them to use it.

"Our Elite Player Performance Programme is an initiative that we believe could reap great rewards, but we need to get coaches in position for the 5-11 and 12-16 age groups that will develop their skills and understand how to manage the transition from seven-a-side and nine-a-side games on smaller pitches into the full 11 versus 11 matches.

"I believe we need clubs to pay their coaches 40,000 pounds per year and as there are two needed for each age group, it means clubs putting some investment into quality coaching and trying to develop talent from within their own setup. It may cost 200,000 pounds a year, but we believe the rewards will justify that investment. A few clubs in England are embracing this idea now and if they get results, I'm sure others will follow."

The truth must be that Brooking and his FA comrades are still trying to catch up with the likes of Spain and France by planting foundations that will allow English football and, ultimately, its national team to flourish in the not-too-distant future.

While it is easy to lambaste the current curator for efforts that will only be given a conclusive judgment long after he has left his current post, the cynics of the Brooking era at the FA need to reflect on the base from which he started.

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