How Arsenal came to the rescue of English football.
By Tony Attwood
I started researching this article with three questions in mind:
a) Why is England so bad at football
b) Why does Arsenal under Wenger use so few English players?
c) Why does the Netherlands, with its small population seem to do better than England at football?
The second question could be answered by the fact that there aren’t, in Wenger’s judgement, that many good English players around, but as to why, that’s a question that has often baffled me. We seem to have a big population, a lot of players, a lot of clubs, a huge interest in football…
I thought I ought to make an effort (what with the Bent Cup about to start and everything) and try and work it all out. A bit late to help England in South Africa, but maybe something for the future.
And I have found a most remarkable explanation as to what is wrong with English football, why Arsenal don’t use English players, and why it is soon going to change. It’s a bit nerdish, but well, its WC (world cup) time, so that’s when it gets nerdish.
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What I started by doing was to select a little group of countries: England, Netherlands, Italy, France, Germany and Spain.
First, I did a population list, taken from the last available census, and in some cases using official estimates.
- Germany 81,880,000,
- France 65,447,374 (France is the most fertile country in the EU – I thought I’d just throw that in, having just returned, although actually it’s not relevant to my argument).
- Italy 60,045,068
- England 44,226,000
- Spain 46,157,822
- Netherlands 16,499,084
Next, Registered Clubs. There is a study made by FIFA in 2006 called “The Big Count”. That showed there are around 40,000 clubs registered with the FA in England, which is 11,000 more than any other country. The closest being the Brazilian Football Confederation who have 29,000 registered clubs.
- England: 40,000
- Germany: 26,000
- France: 19,000
- Spain: 18,000
- Italy: 16,000
- Netherlands 4,000
Then I tried registered male players.
- Germany: 5,438,000
- France: 1,746,000
- Italy: 1,499,000
- England: 1,389,000
- Netherlands: 1,055,000
- Spain: 629,000
Finally I tried to evaluate the countries in terms of the WC success. I used the old favourite points method – in this case, four for a win, three for runners up, two for third, one for fourth. In case it is helpful I put my calculation in brackets – so (3/4/3/1) for Germany/West Germany means three wins, four runners up, three third place, and a fourth. Total German points is 12 for wins, 12 for runners up, 6 for thirds, and 1 for the fourth: 29 points.
- Germany: (3/4/3/1) 29 points
- Italy: (4/2/1/1) 25 points
- France: (1/1/2/1) 12 points
- Netherlands: (0/2/0/1) 7 points
- England (1/0/0/1) 5 points
- Spain (0/0/0/1) 1 point
Germany: big population, lot of clubs, lot of players, does best. Netherlands punches above its weight. Spain like England has many more registered clubs than you might expect for the population but this doesn’t result in more registered players.
In fact the one figure that seems to have little link to success is the thing England is top at – the number of clubs. Here’s the clubs total against the number of world cup points…
- England: 40,000 – 5 points
- Germany: 26,000 – 29 points
- France: 19,000 – 12 points
- Spain: 18,000 – 1 point
- Italy: 16,000 – 25 points
- Netherlands 4,000 – 7 points
I started out wanting to know what it is that allows the Netherlands with by far the smallest population in my selected group to do far better than we might expect. Now I also want to know why England, with so many clubs (which must represent a real level of interest in the grass roots game) is so far down the scale.
The answer can only be that for national success you need players, and you need clubs, but you also need something else. The answer appears to be quality coaching.
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).
In England the number of coaches is growing. UEFA says that in 2006 there were 397 A badge coaches and 45 with Pro coaches. In 2009 the numbers were 895 and 115 respectively. If we keep up this progress England will win the world cup in 2134, assuming the rest of the opposition don’t up their game.
It was Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers Association, who tipped me off on this (although not personally). He recently said: “There is a link between coaching and quality. The timing of this is really important: the World Cup will bring this to a head, particularly if England do badly. How you do internationally is a proper reflection of your nation’s youth development.”
A report from Leeds Met University earlier this year said that, “There is a great shortage of adult coaches as 1,113,000 adults in the UK wanted but did not receive any professional coaching in 2006.”
So, to answer my second question: why does Arsenal have so few England players in its first team, the answer is simple – no one has coached them properly. In France they get proper coaching.
For Arsenal it has now changed, because Arsenal took the matter in hand about seven years ago, and gave the top English children their own coaching, through the Academy system. We are starting to see the benefits with our Academy side now. “Arsenal rescues English football” might seem a bizarre headline – but it is more or less true.