Are club and country now working together?
As much as there is a growing sense of excitement about St George's Park finally opening its doors in August, there is also a feeling of what might have been.
Taking a tour around the 330-acre site last week, it looks as if the Football Association will be able to boast one of the leading national football centres in the world, but you also have to wonder what position English football would be in had the facility opened as originally planned in 2004.
How much better would a 25-year-old England regular be, having first trained at St George's Park as a 17-year-old? And what influence would a coach attending courses there have had on a five-year-old now in the throes of junior football?
The FA's director of elite development Gareth Southgate says it is "pretty pointless" to speculate about where we could be. Like a seasoned pro he is focusing on the future, and in the coming months youth football in England is set to undergo some fundamental and exciting changes.
Costing £100m, St George's Park near Burton will host all of England's 24 national teams in state-of-the-art training facilities and, perhaps more importantly, will be a coaching centre of excellence similar to Clairefontaine in France or Coverciano in Italy.
The elite turf has been laid next to an indoor pitch, with both mirroring the dimensions of Wembley.
Set in the rolling Staffordshire countryside, it will feature 12 pitches allowing England teams of all ages to train in close quarters, complete with a sports science centre, enormous spa and gym facilities, and a 282-room hotel which includes an England wing. Walking around the site, the plastering is done, the bathrooms are in and we even got to step inside the manager's room ('Harry's suite,' one builder joked).
As you stroll deeper into the complex it becomes more impressive. The elite pitch, which mirrors the dimensions of Wembley, has already had its turf laid next to an indoor pitch which has a unique bubble roof. Between them is a running track for warm-ups and rehabilitation and, on a crisp day as the site was bathed in winter sunshine, it was an inspiring glimpse of the future.
With 400 builders on site, it has come a long way since work began on 31 January 2011, the same day that Southgate was appointed. And both are making their mark on English football at the same time as the professional game takes on its biggest overhaul since club academies and centres of excellence were first proposed in 1997.
The introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), due to begin next season, will re-shape the football landscape by independently grading academies. And it will have as much effect as the FA's plans to delay 11v11 matches until under-13s level, the concentration on qualifications specifically geared to coaching youngsters or the new philosophy for teaching players.
Although there are many understandable concerns, former England defender Southgate believes this period marks a sea change as England's major football bodies begin finally to point in the same direction.
"At the moment it is one of the first times in many years that those bodies are sat around the table together trying to improve things for the better," the 41-year-old says.
Of course, there are many unresolved issues within the EPPP, not least how clubs will be graded among the four academy categories, and it will be a huge story in coming months.
I want to leave aside problems surrounding reduced transfer fees for the moment, as they have already been discussed in length elsewhere. Yes, there are many valid worries about the welfare of clubs' academy systems and whether it will lead to some closing down. That is a bleak picture.
But the fact remains that without this evolution, the desire to pit "best against best" would have remained elusive. For too long, the academy system has allowed teams with top quality players to be diluted by those of a lesser standard and something needed to change.
After years of clubs winning the club-versus-country battle, it seems that the future of English football is finally finding a higher place on the agenda.
It is not all rosy in Southgate's garden, though. The former Middlesbrough, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace defender accepts that the FA's influence over youth development is limited and in an ideal world the national association would be running youth football in its entirety via a number of regional centres. But he believes the FA can still play a crucial part.
"The Premier League are running the academy system with the Football League and that's a history I don't understand," he says. "We have to keep helping coaches and be a voice that they can turn to for help, and the types of courses and events we run at St George's Park will aid that."
However, with the clubs exerting their own way of playing, how much can the FA really influence English coaches with its own philosophy of producing technically competent and decisive players who can play a short-passing game?
"Individual clubs will have their own nuances on philosophies, but it is clear that the clubs at the top of the Premier League and in the Champions League all play a passing game," Southgate adds.
"They all play good quality football, they all have, and are looking for, players who are comfortable in possession of the ball throughout the team, so if you look at elite clubs in our country, that philosophy is actually there."
Whether that is the same for clubs like Stoke is another question.
The end result of all this should be that the cream rises to the top and, in that, there should be a tangible benefit to England football teams. But it does place a huge responsibility on the clubs and they have understandably put their interests ahead of the country's.
One thing is for sure: once St George's Park finally welcomes English players and coaches to the Staffordshire countryside, the FA will have the best evidence it can muster that it is addressing the problems which have plagued English football for so long.
"In any business there are no guarantees of results," Southgate says. "But if we don't build St George's Park, if we don't change the way that we coach kids, and if we don't change the formats of the game for youngsters then we are doing everybody a disservice."
Are we now entering a phase where the professional game and the FA can be trusted to work together to address English football's biggest issue?