England’s chronic shortage of talent
LONDON: Of the 220 players who started Premier League games last weekend, 84 qualify to play for England. That’s 38 percent.
Should England stumble at next year’s European Championship the focus will be on the native talent shortage, its causes and what to do about it.
In La Liga, by comparison, last weekend’s percentage of players available to Spain manager Vicente del Bosque was 60.5; in the Bundesliga the domestic player figure was 53 percent.
Statistics such as these may alarm Fabio Capello’s successor and the FA, but as Ged Roddy, Director of Youth at the Premier League, pointed out: “If we don’t do something, it won’t be 32-38 percent in five years’ time, it’ll be 20 percent. We have to move now.”
The fear of a worsening ratio for the next England manager to cope with is one reason why Roddy and academy managers such as Brian Mcclair at Manchester United and Alan Irvine at Everton are part of a two-year consultation with numerous parties, including the FA that has produced EPPP – the Elite Player Performance Plan.
The plan is contentious because, as the word elite suggests, the intention is to streamline the academy system. This is a historic crossroads.
Clubs of the scale of United and Everton are assured of Category 1 status, and there is anxiety in the Football League that these clubs could poach young players for far less money than they can now – which is why 22 clubs voted against EPPP. Clubs such as Leeds United are outraged.
Roddy said: “In the next four years we will be spending £320 million on youth development directly into the clubs. I don’t care whose statistics you look at, that is a lot of money, a seismic shift in the way we approach youth development.
“Clubs will still be able to sell players on, by the way, if it’s mutually agreed.”
It is the lack of mutual agreement on the value of a teenager that troubles the Football League. The new payments are in accordance with Fifa, the hope being that this will encourage a domestic club to recruit a 16-year-old English player over a – previously cheaper – foreign counterpart.
From one angle this is about boosting domestic percentages; from another it looks something like theft. Mcclair noted that 70 clubs voted for EPPP. As a United employee, he could be said to be partial, but, like Roddy, Mcclair’s perspective is simultaneously narrow and broad.
“Thirteen or 14 years down the line from the beginning of the academy system it’s right to have a review,” Mcclair said.
Howard Wilkinson was then the FA’S technical director.
“Howard Wilkinson was the original power,” Mcclair added. “He had the FA behind him. They did a first-class job. They looked at the French system and what Howard envisaged was that there would be 10- 12 elite academies throughout England. Right away that got diluted. There were about 40 who applied and 40 got the licence.
“Lilleshall worked in that it produced Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, Alan Smith, Wes Brown and others, with the added value that it had some academic curriculum.
“Howard’s vision was that you have Lilleshall regional – 8-12 of them. But you had 40. Other clubs had centres of excellence. You end up with everybody chasing the same boys.”
Mcclair’s argument is that, rather than have the best 200 boys divided into eight academies, over 1,000 boys were spread across England.
“Had Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, for example, been together in a working and educational environment since they were eight, then there’s no doubt they’d be better than they are now,” Mcclair said.
Irvine agreed: “The individuals develop the group and the group develop the individuals and the quality goes through the roof.”
Mediocrity does not provoke such spikes, and Mcclair said: “That was Howard’s vision. He had two things: to improve the quality of English coaching, and without doubt that has happened. We have more qualified coaches at all levels.
“The second part was a ‘better quality of English player’. I’m not sure if that has happened. It’s been brilliant for the average player. But it’s not been elite.
“You could say phase one has improved the average player – and the facilities. There’s also a cultural change in that you can have a coaching career – it amazes me that nearly every time I’m interviewed I’m asked if I want to be a coach in the Premier League.
“It’s a bit upsetting because at United I’m working with the likes of Tony Whelan, who’s been doing this for 30 years, and Jim Ryan, Paul Mcgui n n e s s . This is important work.”
Elitism, education and England – this does not exist in a vacuum. Globalisation has helped make the Premier League rich enough for its clubs to buy any foreign player they want.
There was 1995’s Bosman ruling too. At the same time British society has become more sedentary, PE in schools is disappearing and the motor car has killed street football.
Other aspects of traditional working-class football culture are vanishing: the Bolton Combination once had 10 divisions; now there is no young-adult Saturday league in Bolton.
At Under-7 to Under-18 level the Bury and Bolton District League is booming, but it is regimented to the extent the head of the Lancashire FA, David Burgess, described it as “not pure football the way we once understood it, but different formats of the game – not the conventional male 11 v 11 Saturday format”.
Wayne Rooney was called the last of the old street footballers who once populated English football and those skills, nous and physicality are having to be imported into academies. “The kids don’t play it now,” Irvine said. “We are having to create the environment for street football, for running, jumping and climbing, things that you did because you didn’t have Playstations or televisions with 400 channels.
“Nobody plays 15- a- side on a postage- stamp pitch any more. That’s what we used to do, that’s why Glasgow had so many dribblers – if you passed it, you didn’t get the ball back for half an hour.”
Irvine, and even Roddy, have reservations about EPPP and they await the Premier League vote on its adoption. But future England managers will be grateful there is serious thinking about why only one of the top eight scorers this season – Rooney – is English.
“Culturally, the environment into which all of us go fishing, the talent pool, is under threat,” Roddy said. “School sport is in terminal decline where it is most important – primary education, junior school. For football that’s a dire situation.
“That’s why the ‘football family’ will have to look after their own. Otherwise that pool will continue to erode.”
These are big issues, some bigger than football. But then 38 percent is a big issue. – Daily Mail