A Crisis Of Coaching: England's Failing Football Factory

Greg Dyke made several valid points, but with the stuffed shirt nature of the FA still requiring coaching candidates to pull their socks up for exams, is there any hope?
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Greg Dyke made several valid points, but with the stuffed shirt nature of the FA still requiring coaching candidates to pull their socks up for exams, is there any hope?

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Both Greg Dyke and Stuart Pearce share a certain earthy appeal in their directness and unequivocal views. The pair may be heading in opposite directions but they share the same pessimistic, downbeat vision and opinion of the state of the English game. Whilst Dyke has arrived as the latest incarnation of the Football Association’s knight in shining armour, Pearce has been lurking in the shadows as a slightly menacing figure ever since he was shuffled through the tradesmen’s exit shortly after his Under-21 charges’ ignominious departure from the European Championships without a goal from open play and no points from a less than intimidating group containing Israel and Norway.

Pearce has been lambasted and pilloried for his outspoken comments on the structure of football coaching in this country. How dare he criticise? He has been painted as a disgruntled ex-employee and his views discarded as being those of a bitter and twisted man, hurt by his rejection. Pearce is no shrinking violet and could hardly be expected to leave the stage either gracefully or quietly. As a coach he may not be rubbing shoulders with the Mourinhos or Wengers of this world; tactical astuteness was never likely to have been the strongest suit for a player who rightly earned and revelled in the ‘Psycho’ tag but he has considerable experience of quite a few years in the bosom of the national team’s set-up and surely his barbed comments deserve some respect and consideration.

The point raised by Pearce about players being plucked from his Under-21 team and gobbled up by the full squad was a justified one. With the likes of Phil Jones and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain reportedly turning their backs on Pearce’s team they were doing themselves and English football a disservice. “Once they go through the golden ivory (sic) towers of the seniors”, complained Pearce, “they don’t want to come and play with the Under-21s any more”. According to Pearce, apathy led to both Jones’ and Oxlade-Chamberlain’s withdrawals from the squad for the Under-21 European Championship. That may be a bit strong and Jones in particular has vehemently denied this but what cannot be challenged is that the English Under-21s were weakened and boy did it show. Of course the result was that is that Pearce lost his job having been dealt a pretty poor hand by the FA and has every right to feel aggrieved.

One wonders whether this situation would have been allowed in some of the other leading European football nations. Spain put far more faith in their Under-21s, showing a greater commitment to putting out their strongest teams at this level than England. Spain won their fourth title at this level in Israel, with Isco and Thiago featuring, both of whom are strutting their stuff in La Liga for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively. Ditto Germany. Ditto Italy. So with countries whose national teams have performed admirably at senior level over the last few decades, winning World Cups and European Championships aplenty, if the FA thinks that we can afford the luxury of leaving out players who can perform at the highest level from the Under-21s and succeed then they are either barmy or deluded, and quite possibly both.

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Greg Dyke cannot be considered either barmy or deluded, a canny operator who cut his teeth in the media industry and reached the elevated position of Director General of the BBC is not a man to be trifled with or ignored. He has swept into the FA with not so much a breath of fresh air but more like a raging tornado. His opening gambit that “English football is a tanker that needs turning”, was harsh but fair. Indeed his forthright views, expressed soon after he took up his appointment as chairman of the FA, suggests that he will not be shy of grasping the nettle that so many have avoided in the past.

He has called a commission to look into the whole area of coaching at every level as he has identified that we are a long way behind the game. Whether this commission will have the desired effect remains to be seen. Premier League chairmen have agreed to participate in the commission but there needs to be a sea change in attitude to bring about effective change. When it comes to club versus country there is no competition and in the end Premier League teams have shown no signs of compromise. Imagine any of the big five agreeing to playing to the same system to benefit the national side; imagine is where it will remain as it is utterly unrealistic. But the Bundesliga, which is no less competitive than Premier League sees clubs making concessions to help DFB, and of course 2013 Champions League Final featured two German sides.

Henry Winter conducted an illuminating interview with David Unsworth in the Daily Telegraph recently about the lack of imagination in the English coaching set-up and the myopia that afflicts the entire organisation. For a man who was known as “Rhino” in his playing days Unsworth has developed his ideas about coaching in a much more considered and sophisticated manner than you might expect. He has put together a document detailing the need to be flexible and making comparisons with international coaching methods.

In Winter’s article, he reveals how he has taken time to study the Dutch approach to coaching which differs massively to our own with an emphasis on youngsters learning how to play in any position, enjoying a free role that harks back to the original concept of ‘Total Football’ as mastered by the likes of Cruyff, Neeskens et al. Less Rhino more ‘Refino’ perhaps. The concerning issue raised in this piece is that Unsworth’s views have not been embraced by the FA and indeed the only invitation he has received was from the Scottish FA, and thoroughly enjoyed the openness of their attitude to new ideas whereas the English FA’s main concern was to get the kit just right. Unsworth is somewhat sceptical of the true value of the new football centre in Burton.

“St George’s Park may be great but are they great coaches inside? I did my badges at Largs. I fell in love with the place. The people were fabulous, the coaches Donald Park and Jim Fleeting. A lot of English lads came up. David Moyes was also there. Jose Mourinho and AVB (Andre Villas-Boas) went up there”.

“I’m there next week, coaching the B licence coaches” Unsworth continued, “I should be doing that at St George’s Park. The FA course was too structured; all sorts of things like making sure your socks are pulled up. The Scottish FA are friendlier. They go out of their way to help you become better. It’s not a driving test”.

It is perhaps symptomatic of the previously misguided direction of the FA that beneath the gloss of St. George’s Park, which is admittedly impressive, there is something rotten in the state of Trent. So if English football is to emerge from the eclipse of the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ then surely the most pressing need is to be radical and revolutionary rather than conservative and staid. Maintaining the status quo is clearly a recipe for continuing the pattern of failure and Dyke’s brazenness should be welcomed as it may, just may, make the difference.