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Inside Clairefontaine

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Mihir Bose | 15:38 UK time, Monday, 25 February 2008

It was as Gerard Houllier told me the story of how he had spotted Steven Gerrard that I began to realise the enormous differences that divide the English and French football systems.

Houllier told me the story in the bar of a Paris hotel the evening before he gave me a tour of Clairefontaine, the French football academy, which he runs as technical director of the French Football Federation.

The story went as follows:

He had been asked by Steve Heighway, then the Liverpool youth development coach, to come to a match where there was a promising youngster who it was felt might solve a problem position for Houllier in the Liverpool first team.

But during the course of this youth match Houllier’s eye was caught by another youngster: lanky, technically gifted, and capable of taking charge of a game.

Houllier asked who he was and was told he was Steven Gerrard.

At the end of the game Houllier asked a surprised Gerrard to report for training with the senior squad the next morning.

Houllier then went on to tell me how a year after his departure from Liverpool, as he walked into the Liverpool dressing room in Istanbul on the night of their epic 2005 Champions League triumph, Gerrard was the first to embrace him, call him “boss” and say it was his team that had won the Cup.

Now, of course, it would be wholly understandable that Houllier would want to present his time at Liverpool in the best possible light.

But the point about the Gerrard story was not just to embellish Houllier’s Liverpool CV. It was to demonstrate that in the English system players are often discovered quite by accident while the French have a system that leaves nothing to chance.

Even meeting Houllier at the Paris offices of the FFF, before he drove me to Clairefontaine, had revealed how very different the entire French system is.

I was only allowed into the inner sanctum of the FFF after I had deposited my passport with the receptionist. If this showed the security concerns in the centre of Paris then a tour of Clairefontaine, as Houllier took me round this lush, splendidly equipped academy, demonstrated why the French are not exaggerating when they call it the house of football.

This French house not only has five-star hotel facilities where the national team stay before matches but the sort of cuisine Gordon Ramsay would be proud of and budding players as young as 12 developing their skills under expert guidance.

The French believe that you need to get players young – one of the most remarkable of Houllier’s comments was that once a player reaches 16 a coach’s ability to improve him is limited, he can only improve another 20%.

In contrast to England, where club versus country is a recurring theme, the French have a system. I saw the French Under-21 coach instructing the coaches of first division clubs – unimaginable here.

As the French see it, the English don’t lack facilities but their attitude to coaching displays a distrust of anything planned or systematic.

Andre Merrelle works for Houllier and coaches the boys every day from 4pm. He took me to the changing rooms before we stepped on the training ground and it was clear his charges saw him as a father figure. He has been to various English clubs, proudly showed me his Blackburn shirt and just before we met had been entertaining Liverpool officials in charge of the Anfield academy.

“You know,” he said, “the Liverpool youngsters train four-and-a-half hours a week, my boys train ten hours a week. Liverpool’s training schedule is what a Paris amateur club might have.”

So is it all down to a distrust of planning and systems that the English traditionally have?

Houllier would not go quite that far but he did make the point that in France they would not dream of just appointing a player as the coach of a top team the moment he took off his playing boots. He went through the names – Bryan Robson, Stuart Pearce, Gareth Southgate – then wondered if a company would put someone in a top position if the person had no experience.

But perhaps it was best the English did not have a system because as we were about to part, Houllier, who had told me that the FA needed to get a Clairefontaine of their own, said he was frightened that if the English did get a proper system, they would be world beaters.

There was a twinkle in his eye as he spoke, making me feel that somehow he didn’t believe this would ever happen.


  1. At 05:44 PM on 25 Feb 2008, 7778818405 wrote:

    Houllier would like us to believe that he discovered the "unknown" talent of Steven Gerrard. The fact is that he had been part of Liverpool's youth setup for years and along with Michael Owen, who was in the same age group, it was known by all the coaches that he had a big future ahead of him.
    To keep claiming credit for this is completely disrespectful to the coaching staff, as is the fact he thought he had the right to go into the winning dressing room in Istanbul. Most of the players may have been bought by him, but if he had still been coaching them, they wouldn't have even got close to the final.

  2. At 05:47 PM on 25 Feb 2008, dandpl wrote:

    As ever Mihir Bose seems to have a thoughtful piece on the "state of English football".

    Oh for the French system.....I live in France and the sports facilities even in the small country towns are just the dreams of the English.


  3. At 05:52 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Nick wrote:

    I don't think you can say that they are run more by luck than judgement. I think in the past it might have been but it takes a very long time to develop and then see the results.

    Take Arsenal for instance. Their head of youth is Liam Brady and they also have Steve Bould and other former players to train the up and coming youth. You have also started to see the results with a lot of young arsenal players moving to other clubs either on loan or permanent. It takes years and we are starting to see results but you need to have time to do this and not a quick fix.

    They just have to become professional in all aspects of the their careers as well. Who would have believed that Spurs would be putting so much rubbish on their buffet tables for their players to eat!! How can a manager of a club let his players become more than 16 stone overweight and that was a foreign manager as well.

    I think we are about 10 years behind the teams in Europe if not more. Just look at the Dutch and how well they develop their youth.

  4. At 06:17 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Adam O'Connor wrote:

    I think this just proves what a problem English football has and instead of everyone writing about it something needs to be done and fast.

    I went to Spain on a holiday recently and we went through, what would be called a village here, and the size of their facilities shocked me very much. They had a 5,000 seater stadium and also a separate training facilities.

    This isn't to say that clubs need to improve but something has to change soon before we get the 39th game and then we start training overseas too.

  5. At 06:21 PM on 25 Feb 2008, ironmonger wrote:

    It's interesting to me that some English academies are so much more successful than others.

    Man City, Middlesbrough, Southampton and Villa to name but three are producing a large number of first team players.

    Other clubs have hardly produced a player of their own for years, while a third group (Liverpool and Newcastle) have frequently had strong youth teams, but don't seem to have a way of converting these players into first-teamers.

    I don't think it's to do with money or even the reasons Mihir alludes to. I think it has much more to do with the attitude of the club. Generally speaking, the more the academy is valued, the more opportunities young players will be given, and a virtuous circle is created.

    This is particularly true at Man City - who are increasingly attracting the best players by saying that not only do we have a strong academy, but that if you're good enough, you will either go out on loan or play in the first team in the Premiership. They are a logical choice for the cream of the crop - and that's why Richards, Sturridge and Johnson all chose to play there.

    I have deliberately not mentioned Arsenal - as I think their system is different to everyone else's, is fare more international and seems to operate outside the normal English youth team network.

  6. At 06:36 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Adam Gent wrote:

    Would Gerrard, Owen, Rooney etc be better players now if they had spent a few more hours per week training when they were 12.
    I think it isn`t how much time they spend training when they are 12, it is how much time they spend training together as a national team before each competitive match. Given 5-7 days rather than 3-4 a lot of which would be resting anyway, and there would be a bigger improvement, and more chance for understanding and partnerships to develop.

    As for "by accident" - if Houlier spotted Gerrard playing in the street then yes, but Gerrard didn`t 'accidentally' end up on the pitch in the youth academy. The whole point of the head coach watching the young players is to pick them out - it is as preconcieved and 'non accidental' as you can get.

  7. At 07:27 PM on 25 Feb 2008, John Fawell wrote:

    Arsenal are not a good example as their approach is to bring in foreign youngsters and not to develop the English game. We do need to be more national in our approach but the FA seem to be terrified of taking control and improving coaching and development down through the system to grass roots. Too many youngsters get no proper coaching and so many grass roots clubs are more interested in tactics and winning than developing skills and ability even at under 7 level.

  8. At 07:28 PM on 25 Feb 2008, paul wrote:

    four and a half hours a week !!? shouldn't that be per day ?. I'm truly shocked if that is correct. No wonder our players look so far behind other countries in the basics of ball control.

  9. At 07:29 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Mr Eko wrote:

    I've heard a few English people talk about the Dutch youth development, but they don't have a national centre either, it's down to the clubs. The main difference is that all Dutch kids play for proper clubs, not schools, with properly trained trainers and reasonable facilities. Practically all amateur clubs have agreements with the academies of pro clubs like Ajax or PSV and make sure that the kids develop in the right way even before they join their clubs. The first thing England need to do is get rid of the parents coaching the kids without proper training.

  10. At 08:07 PM on 25 Feb 2008, billy nixon wrote:

    as usual, mehir hits the spot. uk football coaching is still in the 70s. the administrators have no vision and are only concerned with themselves. there are numerous ex players allowed to leave football when they could be passing on wisdom.

  11. At 08:14 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Andy M wrote:

    "in France they would not dream of just appointing a player as the coach of a top team the moment he took off his playing boots"

    Is that why their league is so internationally successful and competitive then?

  12. At 08:38 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Jason Li wrote:


    Wayne Rooney, Osman, Hibbert, Richard Dunne, Anichebe, Vaughan, Jagielka, John-Paul Kissocks on loan at Gretna in Scottish Premiership, Rodwell youngest player in the UEFA Cup, and soon John Irving who plays centre back will be in the first team all in the last few years.A full 0utfield team.

  13. At 08:57 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Neil Tyrrell wrote:

    The brass neck of Houllier constsntly astounds me.
    To claim credit for the European Cup win and the development of Steven Gerard defies belief.
    To talk of him as some sort of football visonary is lauaghable.
    Biscan, Traore, Cherou, Diouf, Cisse... the list goes on and on. If there has ever been anyone less able to identify a footballer then i`ve not come across him.

  14. At 08:58 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Armando wrote:

    Is this the same gerrard houllier that failed to sign anelka on a permanent basis when had the opportunity? the same man that turned down cristiano ronaldo and instead signed diuf? the same man who described cheyrou as the next 'zidane'....great talent spotter he is *sigh*

  15. At 09:53 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Jay wrote:

    "[Houllier] did make the point that in France they would not dream of just appointing a player as the coach of a top team the moment he took off his playing boots."

    Two words - Didier Deschamps

  16. At 10:19 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Mark wrote:

    I totally agree with Gerard Houllier regarding coaching at a young age.

    I regularly watch 6-7 year olds as my son plays 2 times a week in this age group. The problem is very evident. Basic techniques are not taught well enough. The ability to pass accurately, control the ball well, and an understanding of space and movement are so important but are very poor.

    There are individual kids that are good on the ball and are naturally skilful but they are not developed properly. The coaches try to teach things that are not teachable but neglect the skills that can be taught to make good technically proficient players even by the age of 7 or 8.

    We need more qualified coaches outside of the clubs to not only scout for talent but to nurture and develop basic technique. We need qualified coaches visiting schools and running independent coaching sessions in private and public sporting facilities. Around the country.

    Then we build an academy for the crème de le crème and make them into very good football players.

  17. At 10:20 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Graham wrote:

    This is one of just a number of reports that highlight how far we are behind in this country, we still believe that screaming at kids on a Sunday afternoon will help them develop. As for The Football Association, the roots and branches review we were promised following the demise of Mr Mclaren where is it? Its about time The FA put a long term plan in place to a) develop the very best young players and b) develop out nations coaches. Furthermore I totally agree with Mr Bose's comments with regards to throwing the tracksuit at the ex pro (without a Pro Licence - Mr Southgate) and telling him to get on with it, what signal does this send out to aspiring grassroots coaches across the country. The Football Association need to start earning their money and making some tought but fair strategic decisions, for the future of the game.

  18. At 10:58 PM on 25 Feb 2008, salman wrote:

    yeh your right if you dont get the right coaching from the years of 6 to 12 no chance i was supposidly a wonder kid 10 years ago but the fa never trained me and know ive been offered a youth team place at burnley not the team i would have been predicted ( manu and arsenal ) when i was 6 so fa get it sorted at get more bloody scouts i know of 7 great players from my old school who have all got contracts from dutch , spainish and belgian teams and by the time they become professional they will have or will nearly be availble for those nations instead of this one and if you want to know im playing for my local team at the moment union fc

  19. At 11:18 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Andrew wrote:

    Didier Deschamps

    Retired from football 2001
    Appointed coach of Monaco 2001
    Champions league finalist 2 seasons later

    Sounds like M Merelle hasn't done much homework

  20. At 11:45 PM on 25 Feb 2008, Craig Darlington wrote:

    So Houllier discovered Steven Gerrard did he? Rubbish, absolute rubbish.

  21. At 12:40 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Mark Cox wrote:

    I worked within the youth academy system as a senior age group coach at Manchester United, Stoke City and latterly at Wrexham. I undertook all of my coaching badges culminating in an A Licence. In addition I was a coach educator for the F.A, CHILD PROTECTION AND 1ST AID TUTOR. Senior figures within the game admired my style of coaching (guided discovery) and I continued my CPD with further youth coaching courses as well as a university degree in sport science. I became disillusioned with the system for one reason - ex players were fast tracked through the qualification process obtaining passes often not deserved. Non ex players would sometimes fail a qualification three, four or five times leading to further expense and ensuring that available jobs went to the ones who were qualified i.e ex players. My point is " just because you have had a lot of operations it doesn`t necessarily mean you will become a good surgeon ". I put my money where my mouth is and set up my own coaching centres for players and coaches. Mark Cox

  22. At 04:11 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Vaughan Hauxwell wrote:

    You have disregarded the so called smaller clubs who have to use academies to find their future talent ,for instance my club Middlesbrough are proud to have fielded a full premiership side in a game against Fulham which consisted fully of academy produced players and which was the nucleus of our Fa Youth winning team , a team incidentally all born within a 30 mile radius of Boro. It is the so called bigger teams who feel the pressure of sucess who disregard local talent and bring in foreign YTS boys who are stunting the clubs and England national teams progress

  23. At 04:25 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Rod wrote:

    It's no big secret that the FA is only interested in money and not the development of English soccer players, which is considered to be the responsibility of individual clubs. The FA held one meeting in two years on this subject, so you can see how important it is to them.

    Perhaps the FA staff should all resign and let the local master race, the Scots, take over its management. You may well laugh at such an idea, but there is no doubt that they are far superior when it comes to management; just look at the Premier League for examples of Scottish management.

  24. At 05:26 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Koushik wrote:

    Well , the English football system could do with a few single minded people running it , with the kind of talent that they possess it's sad to see capello bemoaning lack of options. I agree that they are more lucky than planned...

  25. At 05:54 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Matt wrote:

    It is indeed pathetic to even think of claiming 'credit' for Stevie Gerrard. A blind man could have seen he was special. He could have been coached by Kevin Keegan and still turned out to be class.

    The system can never be judged by the Steven Gerrards. What is important is the 'good' players produced by the system, not the 'great' ones.

    That's why the system is failing. Not because of 'accidental' (accidental, my foot. Does anyone, for a second, believe Gerrard wouldn't be playing now if it weren't for Houllier's supposed spot?) scouting.

    And for proof, just look at the number of foreign players (not that I'm unhappy with them being in the game. They're here because they're better players. Which is great for them and great for us fans. It's not so good for the England side, though.

  26. At 07:34 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Mwoyo Chirandu wrote:

    The problem with the English is that they do not like to face the hard facts. Instead of complaining that Houllier claims to have 'discovered' Stevie G (to borrow from McClaren!), I thought people would be expending more energy on the merits of a properly structured youth system. Until these hard facts are faced and dealt with, England will remain a football side that fails to achieve big and wonder why they are not world beaters.

  27. At 08:16 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Dan wrote:

    England is not alone in giving players a top coaching job once they retire, it happens in Holland quite a lot as well: with Van Basten (national team, Ajax next year), Rijkaard (national team, Barcalona), Koeman (PSV, Valencia), as well as Jan Wouters, Gullit, Willem van Hanegem and of course Johan Cruyff.

    And it has worked quite well for them, same goes with some of the Italian, Spanish and Brazilian coaches; so why wouldn't it work in England?

  28. At 08:24 AM on 26 Feb 2008, mick wrote:

    I would agree we are run more by luck than judgement when you see how some clubs appear to scout these days. The days of watching youngsters in the park seems to be long gone, it is now the fashion to trawl the net wide and " waste" time accessing the qualities of boys with no specific talent other than their parents willingness to pay for them to attend so called schools of excellence.
    There is good football played up and down the country every week, be it at school level or in the many organised kids leagues. It is here that the next generation of English players are already plying their trade, as they have always done, the only thing that has changed is the way clubs scout them. It would have been unheard of that a boy might have been through three clubs by the age of 10 but it's happening everywhere and the only thing that's suffering is the most important, their confidence.
    The development of talent isn't an overnight occurence but the pressures of success and the financial implications of failure are so deep rooted within our game that its biggest impact is being seen at grassroots level. Successful national teams are willing to take the time to nurture future talent, if that is at the expense of competing at the top level then so be it but look at he impact they have when they are ready to compete.

  29. At 08:38 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Séan Coffey wrote:

    25 that is the number of man city youth playing playing football in england, if you read Fowler book you get an understanding of how much Hollier thinks he did. organised feed the world concert and let geldof take the credit. even take the credit for france winning the world cup

  30. At 08:42 AM on 26 Feb 2008, boboid wrote:

    It's not necessarily a case of finding good players accidentally, it's more about the lack of tecnically gifted English players. People go on about the current "golden generation", but can you seriously say that these players are better than the ones in the 1986 and 1990 England world cup squads? Hoddle, Walker, Waddle, Robson, Lineker, Gazza and Beardsley would breeze into the team today. Lampard would not have made it into the first team all those years ago. Then, of course, when England does have great technical players at its disposal, such as Matt Le tissier, he doesn't get picked. They stifle creativity in this country.

  31. At 09:35 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Matthew wrote:

    Houllier's story (oft repeated) is absolutely absurd. The whole club knew that he was extremely promising and a likely first team player who was likely to graduate. Here was a player who had already won an FA youth cup and England honours.

    Steven Gerrard admits this in his autobiography despite his fulsome praise of GH.

  32. At 09:35 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Dave wrote:

    Here at the Boro we seem to have a conveyor belt of young talent coming through.

    Two years ago 10 of our team against Fulham were all under 24 (I think) and born within 40 miles of the Riverside. And we keep producing them - David Wheater only just missed out on England selection, and Josh Walker scored a memorable goal whilst on loan at Aberdeen against Bayern two weeks ago.

    Massive credit goes to the Academy staff, Ron Bone and Dave Parnaby, for continuing to find these gems.

    More judgement than luck I would say. Maybe a few more top clubs should come up to have a look how it should be done.

  33. At 09:38 AM on 26 Feb 2008, jack halford wrote:

    I have just finished Coaching in the USA and their Professional attitude toward Coaching leaves England far behind. Just ask people like Jurgen Klinsmann, who is a huge fan of the USA,s system.
    It is sad to think that the USA at junior level are soon to be well ahead of us at home and from what i have seen, will take a lot of effort from the FA for us to get anywhere near their Coaching standards !
    They have a fantastic system already in place at grass roots level, heading toward College level and then ultimately Professional level.
    I worked for 'Beachside' that has six thousand kids in its programme, and i can assure you that the level is outstanding.
    I have seen nothing in England that comes close to matching them.

  34. At 09:48 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Mark Speer wrote:

    I agree with the comments above that the French and Dutch youth systems are far advanced. AC Milan comes to mind as well, where attention is paid to diet, lifestyle, etc. Players' habits are closely monitored and their levels of fitness regularly checked. That's why a player like Maldini was able to perform at top level for so long. And that's also why AC Milan are famous for striking in the last quarter of their matches. It's not luck, as many would have it, it's superior fitness. I would hazard a guess - confirmed by stories over the years of English players involved in drunken brawls - that English teams pay far less attention to players' eating & drinking habits and lifestyle. That's something that should be imprinted on players when they're still young.

  35. At 09:59 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Richard Mayes wrote:

    I entirely agree, the facilities that my Grand Children enjoy in France in a small community of 8000 or so are far superior to those that there are in my area of the UK, in a conurbation of 500,000. The coaching and identification of talent , in all sports, is excellent. As in so many things in this Country we lag well behind our competitors.

  36. At 10:15 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Amz wrote:

    The idea that the English acadamies are run by luck is just ridiculous! But there is definately a huge gulf between the English youth setup compared to that on the continent, hence why the top teams are going abroad to poach youngsters. The English system needs to forget about picking youngsters based on their physical attributes and instead highlight those youngsters with the technical attributes, as their physical attributes will develop as they age!

  37. At 10:21 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Josh wrote:

    As usual, Mihir can't see the wood for the trees.

    The problem in the English game is not one to do with the way the youth system is run - it's to do with the lack of enough decent, professionally trained coaches.

    The French system is much better at producing coaches, but not really much better at producing players. Barring extraordinary talents like Henry and Zidane - who would have been fantastic players anywhere in the world - they haven't really produced anything more than you'd expect. You might also note that Henry slipped through the French system without anyone recognising his true talent - it took Wenger to bring him on from very little class to world class.

    The panacea for the ills of the modern English game is very simple: put a cap of £5 million or so on transfers of English players under 24 *within England*. That way, all the best young English players will be sold (for more than £5million) or loaned (until they're older) abroad for a season or two. The best young English managers will follow them overseas for a few seasons, and gain the experience and skills to be credible contenders for a top-four club management position.

    If you really want to create the best system in the world, though, you need to create opportunities to enter coaching. Look at all the resources expended scouting for players, and then wonder why we don't scout for coaching potential. As soon as we expand the base of potential coaches and managers to include more than just failed/retired players, we will start seeing coaches with a level of natural ability to think and react that is almost unheard of at top level.

  38. At 10:32 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Ian, London wrote:

    The English, as with so many other things in sport and politics, are undynamic and behind the times. Procrastination, wasting money and lack of a clear plan hinder what needs to be done. We need a 'Clairfontaine', it's pretty obvious, wherever it may turn out to be, so why the wait?

    The FA is too old, too slow, lacks clarity and self-belief. It should be cleaned out entirely and replaced with Adam Crozier type professional business figures and ex-pros - a combination of both and you have the balance that is required to run the game properly. Can you honestly tell me that Brian Barwick, Geoff Thompson and the other senior citizens on the FA board are the best people to run English football? Consult Alan Hansen, Mark Lawrenson, Trevor Brooking, Bobby Robson, Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger and we'd have a world beating system very soon.

    FA - there's your answer - grow some balls and do it.

  39. At 10:56 AM on 26 Feb 2008, Jono wrote:

    Houllier never found Gerrard, if you read Mr Gerrards book, u will know the real story and Gerrard isnt to impressed that Mr Houllier keeps claiming he found him, cause its just not true.

    In regards to The Arsenal issue, yes they are bringing some great Young players through there youth system, but not that many are English.

    One thing I have realised this year is Rafa (im a liverpool fan), he keeps on spending good money on 15/16 year olds and sticks them in the Liverpool Academy, which stops young english players making it into the Academy.

  40. At 11:22 AM on 26 Feb 2008, David Patterson wrote:

    We can quibble about who discovered Gerrard; what you can't argue about is the way that the French nuture sporting talent. From what I have seen it is not just football but all sports. There has been a massive investment in sports facilities accross the country.

  41. At 12:17 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Riles wrote:

    There are so many things wrong with coaching and the FA it is impossible to know where to start.

    The coaching qualifications from the English FA are, like so many things they say and do, not worth the paper they are written on. If you can organise a few sessions and "talk the talk" then you'll pass. They do not teach you how to impart knowledge and skills to individuals/groups.

    Also, as a coach of under 11's, having coached for a couple of years, very few kids listen because half of them think they know it all, and the other half are only there because it's cheap babysitting for the parents. It's obvious that the kids are not interested in football or do not possess the dexterity and coordination that is necessary to play football. While some of them might develop this, the FA coaching doesn't really help (in my experience).

    Additionally, the know it all kids won't listen, and often lack the patience and discipline that would give the coach time to add to and develop the skills they do possess. Maybe it's because they aren't taught this at home or school, so they are just used to getting what they want, when they want it - an attitude that won't get them into a football club.

    This is just a tiny part of the problems confronting the future of the game in England.

  42. At 12:28 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Marc wrote:

    Last 5 years we've had more youth players playing than any other premier league team.

    GK: Jones Turnbull Knight
    D: McMahon Parnaby Wheater Bates Taylor Grounds
    M: Walker Cattermole Downing Morrison Johnson Kennedy Owens
    F: Hutchinson Craddock Graham

    Plenty more coming through.

  43. At 12:32 PM on 26 Feb 2008, dave-j wrote:

    comment number 18. Salman. what a joker, we were all wonder kids when we were 10 mate, who told you that your old coach, now your playing for your local team, you must be class!!

    as for houllier he was a great coach for a period of time at liverpool, he just ran out of ideas, failed to keep it fresh.

  44. At 12:40 PM on 26 Feb 2008, paul wrote:

    The problem with English football is at very grass roots. Kids are managed by parents who care more about results than ensuring they acquire the basic skills.

    My 11 year old nephew is a decent player and is currently with a league clubs where he is playing in an attacking role. Before that at his old club he was forced to play in defence because the managers sons were in the attack and they needed him to "shore things up".

    The system will only change when the big clubs take start working with local teams to improve coaching in general and encourage parents to look upon development rather than winning as the objective of children and youth football.

  45. At 12:45 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Martin Rogers wrote:

    i'm sure there is no easy quick fix to this, but something does need to be done. From what i've heard, coaches do need to spend longer with the young players, so that's something.
    But also, what about some of the riches being passed down the line?
    I'm a Southend fan and we produce a first-team player from our youth team about every five years. The last one was a lad called James Lawson who was released by Grays and is now plying his trade at Chelmsford City after a promising start. Maybe if the likes of Southend could produce more top youngsters the Championship clubs would buy from us, and the Premiership from the Championship and so on

  46. At 12:53 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Dan Alexander wrote:

    I totally agree that we are run by more luck than judgement - football is massive in this country so it is inevitable that we produce the occasional world class talent!

    However it is plainly obvious that our players, with the odd exception, lag far behind even the so called "smaller" countries in terms of technical ability!

    The root of the problem is the FA, they are totally incompetent and don't seem to be able to address the problem like they did in France all those years ago! The Dinosaurs in the FA need to be replaced with forward thinking ex-players and coaches to address this problem, which is only going to get worse!!!

  47. At 01:01 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Dan Alexander wrote:

    I totally agree that we are run by more luck than judgement - football is massive in this country so it is inevitable that we produce the occasional world class talent!

    However it is plainly obvious that our players, with the odd exception, lag far behind even the so called "smaller" countries in terms of technical ability!

    The root of the problem is the FA, they are totally incompetent and don't seem to be able to address the problem like they did in France all those years ago. We need better quality coaching for both young players and coaches!

    The Dinosaurs in the FA need to resign for the sake of the English game, we need to replace them with forward-thinking ex-players and coaches (who actually have some knowledge of the game) in order to address this problem, which is only going to get worse unless something changes!!!

  48. At 01:04 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Jason wrote:

    To be honest though, the French barely have a better record of producing "World Class" talent than we do, apart from the golden team of 98 (the great team of Tigana, Platini and Giresse et al was pre Clairefontaine), France has had extended periods when their national team has been just as mediocre as ours.

    Not only that of the 98 team, Barthez, Zidane, Blanc, Thuram, Pires, Petit and Lizarazu all missed Clairefontaine as well (all were over it's age range by the time it opened). The idea that it's produced a torrent of World class players is an absolute myth.

    Yes we have lessons to learn on the youth development front, but we'd be far better looking at the Portuguese and Dutch models as the absurdly overpraised French system.

  49. At 01:04 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Neil Short wrote:

    Houllier's claims about Steven Gerrard seem to be a little romantic. The truth is that the FA do little to support the development of young players. I would like to see the FA doing more to support regional academies and helping the smaller clubs in the provinces to nurture talent. Running an academy is (relatively speaking) less expensive for a Premier League team than for a Bristol City, a Stoke City or a Watford (for example) and if we are to catch and develop talent we need to provide financial and technical support to clubs like these and protect them so that they receive meaningful compensation when their proteges are snapped up. That way the whole country is covered and the pot becomes bigger.

  50. At 01:25 PM on 26 Feb 2008, dave wrote:

    'The French system is much better at producing coaches, but not really much better at producing players. Barring extraordinary talents like Henry and Zidane - who would have been fantastic players anywhere in the world - they haven't really produced anything more than you'd expect. You might also note that Henry slipped through the French system without anyone recognising his true talent - it took Wenger to bring him on from very little class to world class'.

    Your joking right?

    Henry did not slip through the French system. He was sold to Juve as it is a selling league. He had to pay his dues before becoming a automatic choice for the French team.

    As for not producing players, then I guess a WC and European Championship and another WC final was won purely by the coaches rather than the players. They produce players by the bucketload and they are as good if not better in most cases then their English counterparts.

    The French league may not be a big league, but it produces players of the highest quality-the results speak for themselves.

  51. At 01:34 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Rich wrote:

    A few observations really. Liverpool used to supply a stream of talent. Who has broken into the Liverpool team from Youths since Stevie G? I don't believe that "talent" is not out there. The same situation for many other clubs.

    It seems as though the leading Premiership clubs are bringing in young foreign kids for their Youth development. This clearly shows that training and development up to a certain age is many paces behind other European countries.

    The facts speak for themself.

  52. At 01:39 PM on 26 Feb 2008, mike wrote:

    A couple of observations, to say - as someone does above - that the French system does not produce more talent than the English system is delusional. Henry did not 'slip through the French system', he was a star at every age group level and for Monaco and France before he joined Arsenal. I'm fairly confident that A.C Milan are not alone in paying attention to player's lifestyles and diet etc, I reckon a few Premiership teams have come round to this revolutionary way of thinking. The above poster is spot on, consulting Hansen and Lawrenson is the way forward, with those two coaching visionaries at the helm England will surely sweep all before them. I'd also incorporate Garth Crooks, Carlton Palmer and of course, Motty onto any potential advisory board.

  53. At 01:44 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Peter wrote:


  54. At 02:01 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Ross McCormack wrote:

    I like the way the Houiller says he was invited to the reserve game and he discovered him by accident. Surely, a decent coach would know who his reserves are ... the problem is Houllier was far too busy reaching for the cheque book before looking out his front door.

    I agree with the 16 comment, I think in the UK, you tend to have to be in your twenties before you get a game. In BRazil and France they've played 200 or 300 games by the time you turn 20.

  55. At 02:01 PM on 26 Feb 2008, david wrote:

    In regards to this recurring claim by Gerard Houllier that he discovered Steven Gerrard, I must agree with previous comments in that it is a complete fallacy and totally inaccurate.

    My brother played for Liverpool youth teams alongside Steven Gerrard, and even from the age of 12 to 13, when he was of slight frame and one of the smallest players on the pitch, he was being wrapped in cotton wool by the people who ran the youth set up for Liverpool. This was at least 5 years before Houllier turned up at Anfield.

    Ian Wright and Stuart Pearce were "discovered", Steven Gerrard was on a plate for Houllier.

  56. At 02:02 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Adam Gent wrote:

    So the kids will go out version of clairfontaine very young, away from their parents - which will have great food, be like a hotel, and they will train 10 hours a week.

    Am I the only one a bit uncomfortable with this - maybe 10hrs a week of training for a kid for whom the game is supposed to be fun is a bit much? Undue pressure to become a footballer - a lot of them won`t make it. Less time to learn to do anything else.

    It is hard to judge the results of these things - I know people will say Clairfontaine produced Henry, Cisse and Saha. But is that just because it sucks up all the talent in France and can claim to have developed people who would have developed under club system anyway?

    One thing I would suggest - is have a look at Brazil, where youngsters play on smaller pitches and often with the smaller, heavier ball (cannot remember the name of this type of game). It forces them to play on the ground as it is too heavy to hoof it, and work harder to find space on the small pitch.

  57. At 02:08 PM on 26 Feb 2008, James Ryddel wrote:

    To me there is nothing 'remarkable' about the following statement, because it is blindly obvious that kids develop their core skills early on in the development as players...

    "The French believe that you need to get players young – one of the most remarkable of Houllier’s comments was that once a player reaches 16 a coach’s ability to improve him is limited, he can only improve another 20%."

    The French national game is considered by many to be Rugby, but even so anyone who has played in France, as I have, will tell you that they have superior public facilities when compared to our largely appalling local park pitches.

    Not enough money is put into grass-roots football in the UK. The big clubs have launched their community initiatives but it's nowhere near enough. I live in South Manchester and both United and City have put little or nothing into local football in my area. The most significant thing done in the last 20 years where I live was Aneka (Challenge) Rice helping a local junior club re-turf their own pitch and to build some porta-cabin changing rooms.

    They big clubs should be out and about coaching local kids from five upwards and they should be pumping money into improving pitches and facilities.

    I can tell you that United do not even bother to watch local kids in my area. I know coaches of two teams (under 15s), it has been the same for the five years with both coaches.

    We are playing at it.

  58. At 02:27 PM on 26 Feb 2008, Barry Chuckle wrote:

    And how many decent players has Liverpool's Academy produced in the last 10 years? Next to none.

    Hardly the best example to use. How about using a decent Academy like West Ham's and then compare that to Clairefontaine.

    Lampard, Cole, Carrick, Defoe, Noble, Ferdinand, Ferdinand, Bywater, Richardson, Ridgewell, Johnson, Reid, Collison.

    13 "Academy" products who have played Premier League football this season alone. And then you can go further back and reel of the likes of Brooking, Moore, Peters, Hurst, Ince, Cottee, Houghton etc. etc.

    I rest my case!

  59. At 02:31 PM on 26 Feb 2008, JW wrote:

    I do get fed up with people that constantly go on about Arsenal's army of young foreigners and lack of English players. Go look at the Arsenal reserve team squad, half of them are English. Why do people bother to post messages when they have no idea of the facts?

  60. At 02:40 PM on 26 Feb 2008, sheldano wrote:

    I believe the real problem which exists in england is they actually beleive they are world beaters. i'm unsure if its arrogance or stupidty, but one thing for sure is that they are not. they have many great players, though never seem to gel as a team.
    i believe they have to take the foreign root as do us scots. one problem is modern day society and how easy it is for young people to get involved in anti social behaviour, alcohol and drugs instead of kicking a ball about the park.
    gone are the days when all you wanted to do morning, noon and night was kick a ball.
    we have to bring back the love of football and invest heavilly in football academies, community resources because that's where the real talent comes from.

  61. At 01:28 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Barry Chuckle wrote:

    "Last 5 years we've had more youth players playing than any other premier league team.

    GK: Jones Turnbull Knight
    D: McMahon Parnaby Wheater Bates Taylor Grounds
    M: Walker Cattermole Downing Morrison Johnson Kennedy Owens
    F: Hutchinson Craddock Graham"


    And only Downing has had any sort of an International career and that's been abject at best.

    No point producing a load of Championship players, we can all do that!

  62. At 08:14 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Jonathan Wolfman wrote:

    The fact that we are having this conversation in 2008 should tell us everything we need to know. I remember sports people talking about this back in the early 1990s, then in the late 1990s and here we are 10 years later still talking about it. We have the richest, most popular football league in the world and the FA talks about root and branch reform just as it talked 12-15 years ago. The point is not who discovered steven Gerrard or going ha ha Didier deschamps went into management so everything Houllier says must be rubbish or lies. The point is are our most potentially gifted young players slipping through the net early and missing out? Just because certain academies are producing english players it doesn't mean a bunch of others aren't being found. France has a rubbish football league but seems to have a higher percentage of world class players capable of getting into top teams than we do. I knew a fabulous two footed lad who was taken on by a small club at the age of 11. He stayed there for 4 or 5 years then he and his family got fed up travelling hundreds of miles every week back and forth for hiome and away matches, repetive training, no mental stimulation. The boy was the best young player I'd ever seen but the training, though done with the best of intentions I'm sure, was too stagnant, repetetive and boring. The problem was, this lad was very intelligent and that kind of intelligence doesn't sit well in our footballing tradition. He was also from a small town with in a catchment area fo a small club with little monehy. Would a national centre have made a difference? Possibly - if it formed a relationship with the small clubs ate the lower ends of the league. That's where its importance lies - not by simply leaving everything to the big premier league academies.

  63. At 11:23 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Rehan wrote:

    If you read Steven Gerrard's autoboigraphy he criticises Houllier for claiming to have discovered him. Bear in mind he was already Engalnd captain for his age group. So it is not like he was plucked from obscurity as Houllier describes it.

    In addition, Gerrard credits Steve Heighway and the coaches from his youth for his transformation from a kid to a footballer.

  64. At 11:37 AM on 27 Feb 2008, Josh wrote:

    Just a little information for people:

    Henry played under Wenger at Monaco. Wenger was Henry's first senior coach.

    "The [French] produce players by the bucketload and they are as good if not better in most cases then their English counterparts. The French league may not be a big league, but it produces players of the highest quality"

    The size of the league has nothing to do with it when most of the players play abroad. It's a matter of total playing population, which I believe is a fair bit bigger in France than in England. (FWIW, the famous 'Brazilian method' is probably nothing more than to have vastly more people playing football than any other country.)

    The point I was making, though, is that it's really about expectation. England has about the level of player-ability you'd expect, statistically speaking. In emotional terms, though, we expect to compete with the current best team in the world at any given point. It doesn't take a genius to see that in the natural cycle of things, a team may be top in the world for a few years, and another team takes their place, and so-on. In England, though, we measure ourselves against the best team in the world, whoever they are. If you are constantly measuring against different marks, selected for being the best, it's not surprising that we never measure up. Why not try measuring English performance over the last decade against Germany instead of France?

  65. At 01:06 PM on 27 Feb 2008, Andy Smith wrote:

    reply to 58:

    The Hammers may well have a decent youth setup, but Bywater was bought from Rochdale, not brought through the Hammers setup.

    Teams like Rochdale have no choice but to produce their own, if we could only repeat our away form at home we would be looking at promotion for a change.

  66. At 01:18 PM on 27 Feb 2008, Andy Smith wrote:

    reply to 58:

    The Hammers may well have a decent youth setup, but Bywater was bought from Rochdale, not brought through the Hammers setup.

    Teams like Rochdale have no choice but to produce their own, if we could only repeat our away form at home we would be looking at promotion for a change.

  67. At 01:22 PM on 27 Feb 2008, garym wrote:

    I managed a kids team from U8's to U15's I had no coaching qualifications other than an FA junior managers certificate.

    I can say the kids enjoyed there football but there skill levels never really developed until in the last couple of years I involved a proffessional coach to train them once a week. The improvement was fantastic in a short period of time.

    There are to many Dad's involved in coaching very few of whom have any real coaching ability. The FA has to improve the coaching from grass roots up, there are way to few qualified coaches around and there is a reluctance within amateur clubs to use them (cost is a problem to).

  68. At 06:35 PM on 27 Feb 2008, Cidinho wrote:

    The underlying problem is a parochial footballing culture that rewards effort and results and not talent and creative flair. Whether it is local coaches or former premiership footballers, there appears to be little focus on coaches finding and nurturing world-class talent rather than premiership/championship journeymen. My fear is that, if an English Zidane or an English Pelé were to be discovered at an early age, nobody would ever know.

    I remember Joe Cole's days at West Ham. Whenever he would try something clever or out of the ordinary, local commentators would almost immediately brand this as a sort of cheeky, "schoolyard" trick that didn't belong on the professional pitch. Likewise, it is always a significant dissapointment to watch some of England's most highly rated footballers in major international competitions, constantly running up and down the pitch looking to latch on to a cross from the wing. As opposed to doing something unexpected.

    It is that backward and stagnant footballing culture that must to change if England wishes to start to produce world class talent and better the competition internationally.

  69. At 10:03 AM on 28 Feb 2008, andy wrote:

    As far as I'm aware England has a larger playing population than France. It's too simplistic to say it's just a matter of population size. By that logic we can look forward to every world cup being contested between China and India in future.

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