Monday, 26 October 2015

Talent ID - Scouting with a metal detector

Jamie Vardy non league to Premier League top scorer
So it seems that the can of worms opened at Fifa has turned into a hidden cave of worms. So, whilst our own FA makes clear its disassociation from the deep deceit for personal gain, I wanted to pose them questions about TalentID. I’m certain that as they promote honesty, integrity and transparency the key people there will welcome the concept that we should continue to review and take care of our own house first and do what’s good for football.
They have a new Talent ID department delivering courses to professionalise recruitment of players. Like most things delivered by the FA, some we will agree with, some we won’t. Introducing overlapping coaching courses like Youth Modules for example could be deemed overkill by a sceptic but actually, having been on them I have found them to be excellent and would highly recommend coaches of any qualifications complete them. It’s good to always think, consider, and reconsider how you do things. I’ve now seem some of the results of the new Talent ID filter into my inbox. Again, a lot of it is really well structured and important. As pro clubs they are all now talking DNA and key features or pillars that players must display in order to be ‘scouted’. However, all the documents, PowerPoint, flipcharts aside, I think there are bigger and much more important issues to address when it comes to ‘Talent ID’
1.       Has England lost out on potential talent that was released from Academies for reasons other than their football ability?
2.       Our football culture has changed to include great facilities in hard up areas, but a pay to play situation which rules out heaps of children that can’t afford to take part.
The hottest player in the country today is Jamie Vardy. Yet another player that has come back into the game via non-league. Something I truly admire. In fact many players in the football league have come via that route. Some could argue development is more real post 16 when games become more realistic than the 21’s governed by the Premier League. There has been all sorts written over the last few days about clubs interested in Vardy but I couldn’t help tracing back his pathways. Surely Sheffield Wednesday must be kicking themselves. Surely someone in that club made a huge mistake. Had they not made that mistake that great club could now be sitting on a winning lottery ticket as QPR found when Sterling moved from Liverpool to Man City. So why did a club, who spent years of investment and effort let that lottery ticket blow out of the window? Mistakes happen, sometimes we get it wrong and I’ve seen high profile people very humbled when proven wrong, but with no malice either side. It was just an opinion and one that got away. That happens. But was this the case with Vardy?  I genuinely don’t know the exact ins and outs but I was left scratching my head, how? Really? A future England player, Premier League top scorer? Really? That player was let go? Considering some players I see get signed, surely this lad should have been locked tightly under contract at Sheffield Wednesday. So, as Talent ID I really want to know, how and why was this player allowed to drift out of the game. Yes, he’s done the unthinkable but let’s be honest, the vast majority don’t. They are destroyed and in some cases out of the game at all levels forever. Ok, so, most will be the right decision, but are their more Jamie Vardys?
To repeat, I DONT KNOW what happened to Jamie Vardy at Sheffield Wednesday. It could be a very genuine mistake in judgment. But it's his recent rise to the top that alerted me to the problem and I think it makes it worth investigating.
Iv’e seen players signed and released from clubs for what I believe to be the wrong reasons. This can be to hit performance targets. This can be to achieve a perceived success in recruitment for signing quotas. To show a success story to EPPP inspectors & club owners. But perhaps the most alarming question asked by many people in football is. Are players getting released and new ones signed to assist in scouts and middle management achieving bonus commissions? Many of the recruitment team will be on individual bonus schemes and also the middle and senior management. So there is an incentive to move players on and bring new ones in. This may seem cynical. Many good scouts out there and management of academies have been rewarded financially on success. Most of this is rightly earned as they are mostly underpaid and this justifies the miles put in. The problem is, like money does it can also bring out the worst in people. I believe there are now people going into clubs on a short term strategy to take as much money out as possible. Like all money grabbing leaches they turn in into drug hungry self-centred blinkered crusaders that will trample over everyone in their path for a pound note. If that means getting rid of players regardless of ability so be it. That includes any staff that might be on to them or challenge the strategy. The reality is it benefits no one other than a short term financial gain for the scout/staff. The player going out could be a Jamie Vardy and the player coming in might not be at that level giving up on alternative education and career. But people move jobs before anything is highlighted taking with them their bonus payments. This has to stop. Actually club owners put their trust in people but they need to dig down to look for this phenomenon and fix it. It’s costing them money.
Together with our new ‘play to pay’ culture I detailed here I fear that we can be missing out on talent who come from difficult backgrounds. These players who can’t afford to join clubs due to travel and subs. The FA have introduced all these wonderful new 3G pitches but in many cases they remain locked and empty at low peak times. Primarily these have been funded by outside organisations that promote inclusion in sport so these should be made available to local communities in a subsidised way.
There would be many things you could introduce as an academy manager but I think changes and influences need to come from above that. Here is my short manifesto that I would truly believe would produce better players, would protect football clubs better and would protect young players better.
Non contracts and reduced hours at Foundation phase
Recently I have heard of 6 year olds getting tapped up by clubs. This has got to stop. Young children should be enjoying playing football in the park without restriction. I think the value of school football, participation in multi sports and grass roots football out way the benefits of too much structured coaching under 10 years old. From the ages 8-11 I believe players should not be contracted and restricted in other activities. If asking for non-contracts is not achievable then we should look to change the hours of pro club contact and actively embrace the player taking part with grass roots clubs, school football and other sports. It was reported recently that a player has a 1 in 200 chance of making the first team. So surely it’s a moral crime to deny them other sporting opportunities at such a young age? Of course we can still find ways of recruiting them and securing them for clubs which could remain more structured from 12 years.
FREE non pro club development centres – FA Governed
Football has become a pay to play culture. The FA committed to installing hundreds of 3G pitches around the country as part of improving football. I welcome that. But the problem is, none of them are free. Simply opening the gates could result in damage but there is a solution which benefits everyone. Most of all England. Academy football is free, or is it? Driving to training four times a week and a long distance game on Sunday. It’s not free, so I suspect that some parents simply cannot afford to take the child to academies. Grass roots football receives no funding so a club has no choice to raise funds through sponsorship and parents. Some parents cannot afford this. So the new 3G pitch is rammed in the week in the evening where clubs can use subs to pay the bill. However, near me the two new ones are empty at weekends in the mornings. I would suggest that the FA book these and work with schools PE departments and grass roots managers to identify talent. Perhaps those that don’t play for a club at all. Those children can then come to that 3G free of charge for regular coaching and playing. Some clubs have their own development centres but many charge considerable amounts for that privilege. This free access would give us the ability to identify talent from within communities that are tough and deprived. My guess is that every year at least one player at every age group will be identified as at academy level but has been missed. They can then be routed to appropriate local academies as and when the time is right. I’m certain that the clubs would want to scout this centre anyway and if the player is good enough they will ‘find a way’ to get round financial restrictions. Maybe a bursary could be set aside to help the individual.
Review Elite Player Performance Plan
Clubs should have recruitment and release committee members. No one person, including the academy manager should have the autonomy to sign or release a player themselves. If it was my club I would want to see at least six signatures on a document from heads of departments. That includes:
The academy manager
The head of recruitment
The head of coaching
The head of relevant phase
The lead coach for that age
Sports science/medical department
(Possibly a first team coach depending on scale of club. Or 21s coach)
Equally, I would want to see a similar document on file with the six votes that agree the player should be released. This would be the result of a ‘release meeting’ where each players attributes and potential is discussed. Then the vote and recorded. Only then can the Academy Manager have the casting vote if required. After all, the club has been forking out £3-4k+ a year to develop this child. We also took him out of school. His parents have spent £100 a week driving him to training. He’s sacrificed all his other activities he used to take part in and is too tired to even do his homework or falling asleep in class (I heard this happen). The least we can do is take his release seriously? Of course it’s a necessary evil. Breaking a child’s heart is something I don’t take part in with ease. Some players just don’t develop and actually it’s for their own good long term. We can’t be 100% certain that we are right but let’s carefully consider everything before it’s another investment down the drain of the club and potential loss of essential future income. As well as a heartbroken child that didn’t need it.
I would also look into hours and pressure put on the child and parents. This should be age appropriate and if children come in during the day I would want to huge commitment by the staff to make this valuable. Also any child behind at school should not be able to come in on day release. Of course it’s not relevant to level 1 academies who provide the education.
EPPP follows the education format. This includes setting out learning objectives and outcomes. As well as this 6 week reporting and player meetings. Many parents want more information, so in that respect it’s good. But the problem I have is this. I don’t know a player yet that has been either recruited or released based on what has been written on the PMA systems. There is now all this data logged but it’s largely subjective and therefore how valuable is it? Do you really think the first team manager is going to ask to read what the U14’s coach thought of him before putting him in the first team? So, its work for works sake. Actually it applies more pressure to young players who know every mistake is logged against them and the coaches are spending hours upon hours on laptops instead of the grass. So this needs to be reviewed. I also wonder if all parents are entitled to full copies of this data under the Data Protection Act which includes access to information held about you.
New Bonus/Pay rules for Scouts
Short term bonus for scouts and bosses can’t work for the club or the player. I’m totally against it. Getting a bonus for a player signing at the academy should be disbanded. Pay the scout and pay expenses, yes. Give them performance targets, yes. But remove this bonus. Also the bonus for an academy player signing as a a scholar or first year pro. These achievements may seem huge to the player and parents at the time but they still have not reached the ultimate goal. A bonus should only come into place when the player has appeared twenty times in the first team, out on loan or sold to another club. That really proves the player had a chance and if you’re a proper scout that cares about players that is surely all you want to see? You will be happy to play the long game. I would also have a contract agreement meaning if staff get moved on, the scout will still receive the bonus. This would make individuals with the autonomy to ‘play the game’ and manipulate the system for personal gain change their strategy. Hopefully then we would find that the only players in the system are ones there on merit and merit alone. Who would disagree with that?
So for those recruiting lower down this seems like a long way away, 5 years plus before you could gain recognition. Well, yes, that’s true. But it’s for the good of the game. You get your match fee, you get your miles and we will look at the performance levels. You will be educated about what the club needs. But I’m not going to let you cash out early on an achievement, that actually, is not an achievement at all and puts the club at financial risk and can be harmful to vulnerable players.
The vast majority of people in football are good souls who care about the game and the lives they affect. That includes within the FA. Actually includes the current department set up. Those will be reading this nodding their heads. Others however with be boiling. Reading through each line to look for something liable. Maybe its fear of exposure? Maybe you have your own hidden cave? Those will be the ones checking their shoulders. But you see, what goes around comes around, just like we have seen at Fifa. Too many people in this country accept the words “that’s football”. If we truly want the game cleared up then it starts with honesty and openness. The prize for that integrity is that we might even improve our national team through better selection mixed with better development and pathways.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Exclusive Football

It’s fantastic to see the growing volume of 3G pitches appearing in what the FA describe as urban areas. This is all part of Greg Dykes England Commission where he has committed to increasing the amount of artificial pitches by 130% to more than 500 by 2020.

This is commendable and to improve facilities can only be a good thing for everybody, or is it?

Travelling around its delightful to see these pitches rammed with players taking advantage of the surface that allows them to play all year round in relative safety. But these children will mostly be those that play for grass roots clubs for which they pay subs and others that are training with professional football clubs development centres, paying for the privilege. I work in many schools and listen to the children. On countless occasions I have heard youngsters tell me that they do not play for a club because mum or dad can’t afford it. Yet I see such great talent which makes that a heart-breaking situation. So where do these children play and will they ever be granted on opportunity? Schools already do tremendous work in engaging youngsters in sport as part of the governments primary sport premium. But mostly this encourages increased participation in many alternative activities, which is great. But it’s not football specific. So these children’s best hope is the school team but I don’t think this is enough for them to develop adequately and be seen.

Most great footballers have come from difficult or working class backgrounds and actually in the UK I fear more and more people are edging towards to the poverty line and many beneath it. So clothes, food, water and heating are a much greater priority for their children than football. So are we doing enough to help these children that fall into this bracket and should we? Why should some people pay for something and others not?

Culture of Football

Limbury, Luton. No Sport
The culture of football in England is changing. I think the reason that many play football has changed. Where we can play football has changed. To me it seems that for many, the reason for playing is simply to be a professional footballer and their are far too many players that are perceived to be in an elite bracket. With that come’s disappointment and rejection and the reality that for most it doesn’t happen. Parents living that dream through the children add to the pressure and ultimately the failure to cope with the rejection. Many teenagers then completely give the game up for good and I find that so sad. We played football for the love of the game regardless of the level it was. Where we play football has changed. I don’t think our parks are cared for as they should be and even our local field is now been giving up for a coronation meadow. It’s already been rotavated and now even walking on it feels like you could sprain your ankle. The cynic in me suspects this is more to do with economics and cut backs. A meadow will cost much less to maintain than a sports field. Playing in the street is no longer accepted and any local piece of green gets a ‘no ball games’ sign.

If you join a club then no doubt you will get to train on a nice surface. But you will need to contribute which of course is fair, kit is not free. You could go to a pro clubs development centre which around where I live you would pay for. Or you are lucky to sign schoolboy forms for a pro club and be coached and train for free. But is it free? Training four times a week and clocking up miles on the motorway? It’s not free.

New facility at 1.30pm on a Saturday recently
With this in mind it’s great to see these wonderful new facilities. Luton has two really difficult tough areas. Lewsey Farm and Marsh Farm. Both now boast wonderful new pitches. There is a big sign outside saying Football Foundation and Lottery funded, so clearly not paid for using commercial funds. Yet they are treated as commercial enterprises by the people that operate them. Of course revenue is vital but to me they are benefiting from the increased income but didn’t make the initial investment. The result of this is harsh reality. Saturday, lovely October day with sunshine. 1.30 pm, this was the pitch in Marsh Farm, Luton. Padlocked and empty. The next day, Sunday morning I drove past the other new 3G in Lewsey Farm at 11am. It was padlocked and empty. Of course during the week from 6pm they are packed with paying customers from clubs and teams but weekend’s with nobody is a criminal waste. If they simply opened the gate I’m sure the management would fear risk of theft and vandalism. But to me that is lazy and lacks any sort of commitment to engage empathetically with its local community. There will be so many children looking down on that pitch from the surrounding houses and high rise flats probably kicking a ball around the living room that could not afford to go and play for the local club. It could also be that he or she is the next Messi, Ronaldo, Pele, Maradona or Marta. If these organisations have benefitted from supporting funds surely there is something they can do to help engage these people. That ultimately benefits the community and also could benefit the England team in the future. Is this not the master plan of Greg Dyke? So for football to be great in this country again we must not discriminate against someone based on class and money. It has to be all inclusive. I think that’s a good reason to offer assistance for those not able to afford football.

Lets ask the top 100 players ever from England if they had to pay to participate in the game?

I would suggest that there should be partnership agreements with the local schools. If you get funding support for a pitch it’s a crucial must criteria. Children can register with the school for free access at times like I have seen which clearly don’t sell anyway. This could be used as a behaviour carrot for the school. That way they know who is on the pitch and have the ability to deal with any issues. I guess the other objection could be supervision based on crazy health & safety, insurance rules. Well, if that’s the case, supervise it. There are hundreds of coaches desperate for work and experience. Pay them. The FA is not short of funds I’m certain of that. 4 hours a week, 2 hours on Saturday and 2 on Sunday won’t send them into liquidation.

I have also said before that I believe the FA centrally should run their own ‘Elite Centre’s’. Independent from the professional clubs. In the style of development centres, a stepping stone between grass roots and professional academies where they can experience quality coaching and experience whilst playing for their registered clubs. But it should be selective and FREE.

I guess growing up in a council estate a stone’s throw from one of these 3G pitches is what makes me passionate about OPPORTUNTIY. Living in poverty or dysfunctional families doesn’t automatically mean children will follow the same path. It doesn’t mean they will be criminals and can’t achieve great things in their life. Football is such an important aspect of this enabling them to give their thoughts and worries a break. I believe we should empower them to change the cycle. Sport can do that. Let’s please let these children have a chance to live a dream and if not, at least enjoy football.


Typically over all the years of football, the best players have arrived on the scene having come from challenging backgrounds. Does that create more hunger and intrinsic desire to change your family’s life? But equally players are around that have very stable backgrounds. So, the point is, we just don’t know from what community and what background the next great player will be hiding. But for sure we certainly need to ensure we look under every stone and give everybody equal opportunity. If we create a pay to play culture this could eliminate so many people so we have to find a way.



Sunday, 7 June 2015

Is Passing & Receiving the best 'Skill' to learn?

One club I was at had a skills video with 21 variations that the players should learn. Most clubs now have a skills coach. Futsal has rocketed in popularity encouraging skills and providing a platform to perform them. Then another club I was at was completely obsessed with ‘tricks’ and in particular in 1v1 scenarios. The largest part of professional youth development has therefore moved into this philosophy of 1v1 domination and the ability to take people on. "We only want players that have got the 'wow' factor".

Being a master of the football is an obvious requirement in order to be able to be a world class player. But are we overlooking some of the more regular and major parts of the game? Like, receiving, passing and then moving. I see many players now losing possession because they are trying the ‘trick’ before they even have control of the football. I’ve also long been frustrated seeing players released as young pro’s and scholars because they don’t seem to be able to function in a real game environment. I’m an advocate of really young players learning technical skills which later become natural. But reality is at some point you need to master what the game requires. A balanced group of players and attributes dependant where you play. What I call technically appropriate.

I had this discussion recently with a former colleague who also happened to play for Fulham and Newcastle United and he told me. “A trick can be a way of getting out of trouble but it should never get you ‘IN’ trouble”. I’ve also had many discussions with senior coaches who decide on contracts for young potential pro’s and have said how frustrated they are at the players lack of simple passing and receiving with detail as a skill.

I decided to then look at the Champions League Final in a different way. We have on stage arguably the world’s best player and with him Europe’s best team. To reach the final Juventus must also be pretty handy and ran away with their own Serie A title. So this makes for perfect analysis.

I am a firm believer that players in development need to watch the best players. Watch what they do. The awareness, the passing range, the movement, the skills, what works and what didn’t. Certain stats are easy to obtain. Also, stats only tell part of a story. For example, the obvious one is the team with higher possession percentage do not always role out winners. Also, sideways and backwards passing is low risk compared to forward pressured passing which has higher risk. But we know Barcelona had 61% possession, had 18 attempts and completed 89% of their 570 passes. Whilst Juventus completed 83% of their 343 passes. (Data from But I want to know deeper detail for development purposes.

Receive & Pass in 1or2 touches – Only successful
Short passes < 30 yards & on the ground
Longer pass >30 yards or lofted pass
Cross – Any but does not include corners/set piece
Tackle – Includes fouls. Actual contact. ‘stopping a player’
Header – Any
Long Ball or Clearance – No target. Includes Goal kick
1v1 Beat opponent – Must be success
Step over, flip-flop, lollipop, etc – Achieved purpose


Of the 16 1v1’s ten of them were Lionel Messi & four were Neymar.

So, in conclusion I look at this data and think about clubs who have a recruitment policy for just players who are able dominate in 1v1 scenarios. It seems that for the best team in Europe they are weighted heavily toward passing and doing so quickly. I think about players in my mind that were released that were not ‘1v1’ players but were fantastic in the passing areas shown. Whilst they also were great in the miscellaneous area like heading, tackling, clearing. But didn’t do step overs and got released.

So as we chase the holy grail of the World Cup and scratch our heads watching other countries succeed in tournaments and admiring their development structures. I wonder that when we do, we should actually admire what they do on a consistent basis and not just the flash moment of Messi genius.

 Tony McCool

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Does size really matter?

David Preece (RIP) 5' 6"

It’s a subject that all coaches and recruitment staff have debated over many years. What is our clubs ethos? What type of players are we looking for? What is our clubs DNA? What do they look like?

I’ve always felt that a player is a player but of course they eventually fit into a role and a purpose. Messi is now heading towards a healthy argument for being the world’s best ever player but does that mean we should then try to recruit him based on his dimensions? Or should we set up our academy to be a Messi factory? I’ve always felt this was dangerous because we could be missing out on other players that fit other roles as professionals.

Chelsea are the current benchmark for this as they have fielded such a range of technically appropriate attributes along with physically ranging attributes within the team structure. Its looking at this that leads me to question, is it right for an academy to have a recruitment ethos of looking for big strong physical players that can learn the game and become technically better? Or on the other end of the scale is it appropriate to target small tricky players as a recruitment policy? Filling an academy with players that look the same and that’s the ‘DNA’?

I recently had a debate about a player that will likely fall into my smallest adult group. I feel that if he cannot get into a level 1 academy at 14 he should ensure he signs somewhere. He is technically brilliant and has fantastic game awareness. He is robust but of course he could be set off the ball by bigger players. I think the 14-16 years could be vital for him to be working with the professional strength & conditioning team as well as play him down a year in order to keep improving his technical ability whilst protecting his confidence. It was put to me that the lower level academies might not take him because of his size. These are perceived to be much more robust and physical and therefore that would not suit him. So that got me thinking, the perception is the Premier League now has more little technical players and the lower leagues are bigger and more physical.

I also think that in development years we are considering smaller players only in the roles of Messi, Xavi & Iniesta and that it’s a modern way of thinking. But growing up one of the best players I had seen live was David Preece at Luton Town (RIP) who played all the top sides in England in a day when tackling was a little bit more robust than today. He was a bull dog but what a player. Passing excellence, scoring and he covered all areas of the pitch. He also happened to be 5’6” falling into my group of shortest players. Of course over the years there have been amazing footballers that we can name that were, let’s say, vertically challenged. Top of the list of course the great Maradona who stood at 5’ 5”. So, if you’re shorter you can only survive at the very top?

To in some way settle this argument I wanted to present some evidence. I decided to look at our leagues across one weekend covering every team in the top four leagues. I accounted for every player that started and came off the bench in order to look into this topic deeper to help me understand better the potential of future players and to decide if height really does play a part or not.

This data was recorded over the weekend on May 2nd 2015 and the Champions League quarter finals 2015 covering every team.

So the results of this test should show how it gets bigger and tougher in the lower leagues. Well it actually shows amazing consistency. Players over 6’ 5” are not considered in midfield at all and players under 5’ 9” do appear in defence in all the leagues. Although this would mostly be at full back and they are far outnumbered by the group 6’ to 6’ 4”. Of the group 6’ to 6’ 4” actually League 2 has the fewest and it’s the Premier League that have the most. So this would perhaps counter the perception that the lower leagues is the place for the bigger player. The overwhelming consideration must go the group under 5’9” who actually appear in all the leagues at the same or similar ratio of 11%/12%.

Having just compared all England’s teams it might be worth taking a look at Europe’s elite. So we carried out the same study on the teams that appeared in this year’s Champions League Quarter Final.

Looking at these results its clear that more shorter defenders are used than in England’s teams but overall, the largest volume of players is again in the group 6’0 to 6’4” which perhaps is again a surprise despite the higher volume of shorter midfielders used. There is also a surprising larger figure for the big 6’ + Strikers.

Overall could it simply be that across all teams including in Europe, players are used based on their appropriate physical attributes that fit into a balanced team? I’m suggested something wild here. It could be that simply managers select players based on ability and it transpires that the ratio is consistent in all the leagues. Meaning they set their teams up mostly as a balanced structure with Chelsea currently leading that example with a mix of big strong players in defence and midfield along with smaller playmaker midfielders and forwards. They also have a couple of pretty big strong strikers.

As a result of this research I’m more convinced than ever that its ludicrous to have a recruitment policy based on size. If your targeting shorter players your ruling out nearly 90% of potential footballers. Equally, to ignore shorter players in favour of bigger players is wrong as there is a clear career available to them at all levels of professional football. I’m suggesting that you recruit players based on ability and ability alone. Crazy I know. A shorter player might need an individual development program though. He might need an individual strength and condition program and might need to play down a year to help develop technically. Equally a big strong lad might need to play up a year to level things up and challenge him. Either way, there is potential for them both to earn a career in football. That cannot be argued.


Tony McCool


Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Ban the competition. The FA's answer to Englands World Cup dream

Greg Dykes answer to players coming through academies only to be released and managers not picking them, is to ban the ‘competition’. I.e. ban the foreign players. When questioned on BBC Radio 4 on the 24th March 2015 he was rightly asked “Isn’t the control with the clubs who benefiting from the new Premier League TV windfall will simply go on to buy the world’s best players in order to compete?” Thus increasing the quality of the product on the pitch, thus increasing the audience base, thus increasing the TV revenue and so the cycle continues. Can’t the FA see this? Actually, why can’t the FA embrace this instead of attacking it?

How will England be better footballers if we simply ban better players? We can’t pretend these players don’t exist. The FA should be the organisation starting at the very foundation of the game that helps to increase player’s capabilities and opportunities. Would it not be far better to produce players that academies ‘don’t’ release? If they were good enough for the first team and signed for free (baring the development cost) would they release them and buy a foreigner? The difference would then be that we have a player in the 1st team that can genuinely compete in the 1st team which already contains the world’s best players. Then and only then can we expect to see an England team competing for a world cup. Can people not see that? Are England players banned from playing in Germany, Argentina, Netherlands or Brazil? Could it be that they simply are not good enough?

Would Andy Murray win Wimbledon if we banned Djokovic, Federer and Nadal? Would he win anything else?

The FA is really in a dangerous position here. One which is so critical for our futures and could leave us scratching our heads again in ten years’ time. If they can’t hear what they are proposing we are destined for failure. They have to accept now that they simply cannot take on the might of the Premier League. Money talks, times have changed. Academy football is now affectively ran by the Premier League with its EPPP system. Overall, facilities and quality of staff has mostly improved because money talks. But the FA has an over whelming overall goal. A winning / competing England team. Well we have the answer here and no other country has that. No other country has got the benefit of having the world’s majority of best players in its top league. So here’s the challenge now. I have to get my English players, into those teams. The chairman and managers will not ignore them. Why would they? Why then would Manchester City just built a brand new training ground to include its Academy? The FA are attacking foreign owners, managers and players, yet that’s the biggest message from one of the world’s richest saying, “There you go English players, here is a world class facility for your young talent to come and thrive” What does the FA do in return? Threaten to ban its ability to buy the world’s best. Which if happened, reduces the quality of the product on the pitch and then will water down the interest, then the investment will reduce and the opportunity will pass. Overall though let’s be honest, like the League 3 idea, why can’t the FA concentrate on topics it has a realistic chance of changing.

Greg Dykes other solution is the 3G pitch strategy. The idea of giving young people better sporting facilities is of course welcomed. But here is the problem. What about the people that can’t afford to use them? Across England local authority budget cuts have resulted in local playing fields being left in awful unplayable states. So the answer then is the gleaming new 3G pitch. There is one on the council estate where I grew up. 100 yards from my old house. It’s absolutely amazing. But, I have driven past around fifty times to find it bolted and empty, on a Sunday afternoon. Why? Because it cost a minimum of £35 per hour to use it. But there is a big Lottery and Sport England logo outside, this is a sport legacy from the Olympics, so why is it empty? To reduce my possible answers I drive 30 seconds to the large open playing fields where I see a number of pockets of young people trying to play football on an overgrown cow field. So how is that great for development? It has simply become a non-negotiable commercial enterprise. I even approached them and asked If I together with two ex-international footballers could use the facility as we wanted to get some young people off the street to play football. We were not afforded £0.01p discount. I paid in full for three sessions and we put on class coaching and games for 16 year old lads who turned up in droves. This was FREE for them.

I remember someone saying to me that it was well over £10,000 a year to send their child to an elite tennis centre and I remember thinking, wow, no wonder we can’t win Wimbledon. What if on floor 35 flat 120 in the high rise there is an English tennis superstar? But we will never know because she will never get the opportunity? Well football is heading down the same road. It’s becoming a pay to play culture and soon (even now) if you don’t have money you can’t take part. That will only see a decline in the talent further down the line. Football never was a middle class game. It was a game on the street where children put themselves in the mind of their hero. The houses were terraces and obstacles were defenders. Society has stopped football in the street as unacceptable risk and a nuisance. We have put signs up on every grass verge saying ‘No Football’. So they are forced to the uncut field where it’s impossible for the ball to roll. But thanks to the understanding FA. We have an answer, the glowing new 3G pitch. But it’s locked and mum hasn’t got money for food let alone football, so that’s that then. Ill juggle the ball in my bedroom. It’s like the field mouse that ends up in our house. We remove her habitat, we build house on her land, so she seeks shelter in ours only for us to trap it and kill it.

Typically over all the years of football, the best players have arrived on the scene having come from difficult backgrounds. Does that create more hunger and intrinsic desire to change your family’s life? But equally players are around that have very stable backgrounds. So, the point is, we just don’t know from what community and what background the next great player will be hiding. But for sure we certainly need to ensure we look under every stone and give everybody equal opportunity. If we create a pay to play culture this could eliminate so many people so we have to find a way.

Actually in my experience schools already do so much for sport and the Primary Sport Partnership clearly supports inclusion and participation. This is great for English sport not just football. Perhaps the answer lies there. Some of these primary schools already do great work in identifying talent. I work in one primary school and an 9 year old showed amazing talent. On quick investigation this child had not played in any organised games or clubs. Partly due to finance. Together with the school we worked to find a solution and I proudly went to watch him recently in his full kit in a game where he was breath-taking. So, could schools play a bigger role? Something also suggested by great blog writer: @The_W_Address

My idea would be that children whom teachers or coaches feel show excellence within the four corner model could be awarded FA football tokens. Then on these new 3G pitches there is organised FA (not club) led coaching & player development that means players from any background and any wealth have an equal chance of being spotted. Not just because they can afford to play. Or because they are paying for a privilege to be in a professional clubs development centres.

Overall if you want to make England better:-

·         Embrace the Premier League don’t fight it. Embrace the competition. But use them, find out what they did to get there and act on it

·         Evolve our game. Review EPPP and make it better. Investigate if it really contains the best coaches, the effects of player reports and hours and strain on players families

·         Improve the standard of recruited players. Maybe the FA to have its own “Elite Development Centre” That’s FREE and clubs can come along under certain guidelines to recruit

·         Work better to improve inclusive access to new sporting facilities. Increase participation and don’t ever let money be a reason for not benefiting from what essentially belongs to the football community in the 1st place

·         For Nick Levett’s work to be further enforced and improved even further for grass roots clubs



Equal opportunities = Increased participation = Increased competition

+ Improved coaching + improved facilities + improved science

= Players that get into Premier League 1st team (on merit) / Better England Players

= World Cup?