Competing interests hamper youth development
World Cup 2010: Cape Town
Anyone searching for an illustration of the deeper problems in English football - highlighted again by this World Cup - should look no further than the game's response to a report by Richard Lewis, the chairman of Sport England, published three years ago.
The "Review of Young Players' Development in Professional Football" was produced when Lewis was still running the Rugby Football League and was supposed to provide a new structure for youth development in English football.
A brief history of what happened to his 64 recommendations is enlightening in the context of the debate the game is now having after England manager Fabio Capello's ageing side was taken apart by a resurgent young German team just over a week ago.
Lewis's key proposal was that a youth development group would be established and run by an independent chairman, free of the influence of the bodies which oversee the game.
In April 2008, after eight months of arguments and power struggles, the three bodies which run football - the Football Association, the Premier League and the Football League - agreed a compromise, with former FA technical director and Leeds manager Howard Wilkinson appointed chairman of a new youth management board.
After a few promising meetings, with some of the early ones even attended by Capello, the spirit of co-operation broke down. By January 2009, it had been disbanded, with Wilkinson never getting beyond the report's terms of reference.
Here's what Lewis proposed on the hot topic of club versus country:
1. In the best interests of talented English players, the FA and clubs should
continue to work together to support the production of talented English players for
2. Allow greater opportunity for talented English players to experience international
3. Full support and investment to be given in the drive to improve the quality of
coaching available at the very youngest age groups.
4. The FA to cement the long-term player development strategy and make
available a core national coaching syllabus to assist clubs.
5. A change in ethos in age groups 5-11 so that much more emphasis is given to
skill development and acquisition rather than an emphasis on results in matches.
This should include consideration for the enhancement of development centres
and their possible future licensing.
Speak to the FA and one of its biggest complaints is that, while the Premier League and Football League clubs do invest huge amounts of money in their academies and centres of excellence, there has never been a core coaching strategy aimed at delivering talented young English players for the national teams.
Interestingly, just before the World Cup, the FA finally produced that strategy entitled "The Future Game". Despite the FA having no power to impose the ideas in the document, it is hoped the clubs are prepared to adopt what it is proposing.
There is far more concern over the issue of specialist coaches for younger age groups. The German FA has more than 150 full-time coaches dedicated to working with these younger children, while the FA has only 20. The FA says it simply doesn't have the money to increase those numbers.
As a consequence, the number of hours of coaching received by English youth players in the academy system is way behind that received in other countries - and other sports and disciplines. The standard measure to produce an elite athlete is 10,000 hours between the ages of 10 and 18. A player produced by the English academy system would get 2,600 hours. A player coming through the system at Ajax will have received more than double that.
Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA's director of football development, has long argued that the key time for young players is between five and 11, as highlighted by Lewis. But the FA says it doesn't have the resources to tackle the problem. While the FA should undoubtedly lead, it argues that it is also a problem for the government, schools and clubs to deal with.
In fairness to the Premier League, who do far more than the Football League clubs in this area, it argues that the FA has a turnover of £200m and should be able to find money to develop coaching programmes. The FA, it says, shouldn't keep coming cap in hand to the Premier League and then expect it to dance to the FA's tune.
It should also be said that the Premier League, under its new director of youth Ged Roddy, is more enlightened than it has been in the past. Roddy has proposed four key reforms:
1. An academy grading system.
2. Encouraging the best players to train with the best in their region. A pilot scheme involving young players from Birmingham, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion is seen as a model to follow.
3. Increase coaching hours to the 10,000 hours standard.
4. For clubs to develop a deeper pool of talent.
This all sounds very promising, but what this boils down to is that the FA wants - and in many ways should have - the greater say over how young players are developed if the priority is the national team and winning World Cups.
The Leagues and the clubs are the ones spending the money and believe they shouldn't be dictated to on how they develop players and what the priorities should be.
In a little over a month, the Premier League machine will spark back into life once more and England's summer of misery will be forgotten.
But if England are to avoid another humiliation in Euro 2012 or in Brazil in 2014 then the lessons must be learned. Re-reading Lewis's report might be a good place to start.