By Tony Attwood
In 2010 I wrote a piece that I have subsequently referred to several times, since I am rather pleased with it. It was a piece about why England do so badly at international football.
The article looked at the number of players, the number of players playing in their homeland, the number of coaches, the number of clubs and the size of the population, and compared all of these with success in the World Cup. The answer I found was that it was the number of coaches that mattered more than anything else.
My concluding point was this
“UEFA says there are only 2,769 English coaches holding the three top coaching qualifications. Spain has produced 23,995, Italy 29,420, Germany 34,970 and France 17,588. I can’t find the number for the Netherlands.
And at last there is a link. The number clubs is irrelevant, and although obviously you need population, and players, these are not the fundamental factors. What you must have is top qualified coaches so that your best players don’t play in little club with no qualified coach, but rather play under good coaches. (Spain take note, on this basis your world cup success rate is not acceptable)”
[This was written before the rise and fall of the all conquering Spanish side of recent years].
Since then many newspapers and TV stations have taken up the analysis, and although sadly not acknowledging Untold, they are at least on the right track. While some still talk about “too many foreigners in our league” and others suggest that English players should “go abroad to get experience” they do stress that coaching is the heart of the matter.
Often the figures are varied – some quote the number of B licence holders only – which inflates England’s figures and deflate some other countries, but no matter how they play with the numbers the situation is still much the same.
But apart from others seeing the cause of the problem, what else happened? Not much in fact. There’s talk about coach education and coach development being linked and a new coach education organisation led by a technical director, being set up.
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Greg Dyke calls such moves “a fairly radical change in coaching,” but who knows. Without the numbers, there’s not much we can say about such a thing. The organisation is only viable if it produces the results we need.
Matching each blah blah blah of the FA the Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore said, “The Premier League and our clubs will keep playing our part to help ensure that the provision of top quality facilities and coaching is delivered where it is needed most and will have greatest impact.” As I said, Blah Blah.
And we are back-tracking like mad on the key issue of the number of top coaches. The FA is now once more nattering away about work permit rules to restrict the number of non-EU players entering the English leagues. There’s another one to include some of the home grown players that have to be in the 25 registered players in the matchday squads.
So when Dyke said, “The problem is still there. Everyone recognises a problem, but no one wants to solve it,” I threw the cat across the room and screamed at the TV. Actually I didn’t because I don’t have a cat, and if I did, I wouldn’t, and I leave shouting at TVs to others. But I would have liked to have had the opportunity and nerve to pour a bucket of singularly unpleasant stuff over Dyke’s head. If ever we had a case of the bland leading the bland this is it.
Of course the FA have a vested interest in saying that they are looking at the answer, because they and their profligacy are part of the problem. “We are still actively looking at the system of homegrown players in the Premier League which I think would make a big difference, but that is quite complicated,” he said, and most of the audience yawned.
In simple terms, for the FA there is a “blockage” for players between 18 and 21 that is preventing English players gaining experience and breaking into Premier League teams.
But there isn’t. Arsenal spend a fortune each year bringing through young players and nurturing them. What about Chuba Akpom and Benik Afobe? What about the players that we bring in at an early age and develop like Theo and the Ox? What about our rescue of Danny Welbeck. What about how we rescued Kieran Gibbs from Wimbledon?
In December 2009, the FA put forward a four year plan to overhaul their finances and operations to be ready for the 2014 World Cup.
In an interview at the time in the Guardian Ian Watmore the Chief Exec said the FA had made “substantial progress on establishing a working relationship with the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore”.
“The period between now and the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is critical,” he said. He spoke without a hint of a laugh about how proud he was that the FA was sponsored by a beer company and the most notorious fast food chain in the universe – and a maker of chocolate.
There was also much talk about how things at Wembley were improving financially. But then in 2011 the FA threw away £21.4m on interest charges having run up £367m of debts. The FA went to the local council and demanded – and got a reduction in the rates (local taxes) paid on Wembley of £5.9m It kept them going.
Then the financial statements for the seven month period ending 31 July 2013 showed that Wembley National Stadium Ltd made a loss after tax of £2.7m. In September 2013 the BBC reported that Wembley Stadium, wholly owned by the FA, had debts of £267m.
Now what is worrying about this is that in order to stop journalists from putting 1 and 1 together (I know we normally speak of putting 2 and 2 together but that is a bit tough for journalists) the FA keeps changing its story.
In his interview with the Guardian Ian Watmore the Chief Exec of the FA in 2009, cited above, said of 2014, “That is also the point under current plans at which Wembley breaks even. The stadium will be servicing its own costs including interest and depreciation,” estimating that the FA would have to continue to contribute £20m a year in loan repayments and services rendered until then.
But last month (September 2014) the Mail reported that “England will have to play their home games at Wembley for the next eight to nine years until the Football Association is debt free for the payment of the stadium, according to Club England managing director Adrian Bevington”.
So the vision of the self-financing Wembley stadium hasn’t happened. It probably failed because of the rain – just like the FA failed to keep its promises to Sport England “because of the rain.”
The fact is that the FA is not part of a solution to the ills of football in England – they are the problem – the problem at the under 8s level and a problem in terms of the England team. A problem in terms of crazed ideas about restricting who can play where, and a problem in terms of finances.
In the next piece I’ll try and summarise this year’s plans, which have now replaced the plans for the last critical four year period, which seems somehow to have slipped by.