As we come to the end of yet another year in which success has been noticeably baron for our nation team in the nation’s number one sport, it’s time to look back and see if there are any signs we are moving forward. It has been a year that has been dominated by the opinion that it is time to ditch some of the older, veterans of the game and revert to a younger, fresher looking approach.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson as England manager and his subsequent decision to take a relatively inexperienced squad to this summer’s Euro championships seems to suggest that the decision makers in the game also have this opinion. But with another year added to the ‘years of hurt’ mentioned in the famous football anthem Three Lions, are we really doing enough to improve the game at grass-roots level and produce the young talent that our country so badly needs?
The English game
It is widely believed that the Premier League is the best league in Europe, possibly the world, and to play in it is a real privilege. But although the quality of the league has a great influence on the progression and development of players, it also breeds a great deal of competition. Don’t get me wrong, competition is great and sometimes it can be an important catalyst in getting the best out of a player but it is also making it harder and harder for our young lions to break into the game.
The best English players will always be attracted to, and picked up by, the biggest clubs from a young age but these clubs are also the ones that are in the market for the best players from around the world that are already established. With pressure on these clubs to succeed at the highest level year in and year out, they are tending to look abroad for the talent they require rather than blooding young English expertise and ultimately stunting their sporting growth.
In recent years the FA have put measures in place to try to prevent this from happening as much. For example, there is now a law that states Premiership clubs can only name up to 17 non home-grown players over the age of 21 in their squad for the season. But is this really going to improve football for kids in this country?
Money in the wrong areas
Another step that the FA took recently towards improving the standard of football for youngsters in England was the opening of St George’s Park, a new centre of excellence in Staffordshire to be used by all 24 of England’s teams. The park will also be used to produce more coaches as well as more sports science and sports psychology experts but although this will eventually filter down and have an impact on kids playing the game in our country; I can’t help thinking that the 105 million used to build this park has been plied into the wrong areas.
It may seem like the best idea is to develop the players that are already within the England system but that is not where the game needs addressing. It is all well and good-looking after the talent that we have already scouted but there is not an endless conveyor belt of players waiting to come through.
Instead, we need to put our focus and money on the numerous clubs and coaching systems that have the task of developing these youngsters form the first time they kick a football. This is where the game needs help. There is a severe lack of facilities, equipment and quality coaching for the next generation to be produced on the playing fields that are the foundation of our national game. Neglecting these areas will only lead to a decrease in kids getting into the game in the first place and then improving their abilities if they do. If this happens, it doesn’t matter how millions the FA spends creating elite centres of excellence, there will be no new talent to use them.
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Dominic Shepstone writes here on behalf of Sports 4 Kids. Their football classes for children are sure to help produce England’s next generation of young Lions.
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