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?




Thursday, 19 March 2015

The Football Factory

When you see an Aston Martin you see years of careful engineering tweaked time and time again from its initial creative design to the finished product in the showroom. The designers know what they want to achieve and the teams of engineers put it together. Eventually they have a product that as well as looking great has great performance and reliability. It’s fast, strong, agile, stable and most of all desirable. The biggest feature of all is that the template can then be repeated using a factory to assemble multiple versions for sale. So what has this got to do with football?

Can clubs make footballers like Aston Martin make cars?
In many ways I think of football development being perceived to be the same process. Many of us in professional football would have you believe that once in an ‘elite’ football academy you are automatically in that Aston Martin garage with an inevitable end product being the gleaming new Premier League footballer.  This way of thinking for youth players can be dangerous on a number of levels not least the subsequent effects on the players and even perhaps football on a wider scale.
I watched Lionel Messi against Manchester City in ore like everyone did and I debated with a former pro how to deal with him. If you go tight he nutmegs you, if you stand off he kills you with a pass, if you bring him down you get sent off. He must be as close as there has ever been to the ultimate un-defendable footballer. So who and how was this genius created? We have all took part in that debate and it now seems that some clubs and coaches are trying to ‘manufacture’ this player. You see, I do not believe this player would have been poor had he not been at the famous FC Barcelona. They simply gave him the stage and protection needed to develop. It’s that age old nature v nurture debate and many professional coaches will argue in favour of nurture. Coaches are the engineers for sure. They put the designer’s ideas together and carry out the work on the factory floor. But can you really guarantee rolling out top world class level footballers with a set formula? Of course, we as coaches play an absolute key part in that development, but that’s not the crucial part. Actually, many would argue the more crucial part is recruitment. The starting point has to be amazing talent.  You have to see something surely? If not then why do horse owners spend millions on thoroughbred horses? They too have amazing high tech training facilities. So can they not just get any horse and make it a race winner? I have a Labrador dog and I’m pretty certain that if I sent him to a greyhound training track for 2 years as a pup he still would not win many races.
There is no guarantee with human beings and football. Unfortunately once in the academy ‘factory’ many parents get caught up in the hype and believe that the Aston Martin is now on order. It’s an inevitable path that produces the Premier League product. Only to find that in the end it might be a Vauxhall Astra that rolls out the door. Nothing wrong with that but it’s not what you ordered. In some cases it might even be a broken car that no one wants. Then what? Football development is not a proven science. We get it wrong time and time again. The answer is, we just don’t know what we will see when we roll the shutters up. That is why I am so passionate about parents not getting carried away and jumping in to agree with taking their child out of school. Actually, a previous study I carried out proved that you are 40 times more likely to be a doctor than a footballer. Yet when I asked a groups of parents “Do you think your son could be a footballer”? Nearly all hands went up yet when I asked them if they think they could be a doctor, one went up.

I was discussing this topic with an amazing football person last week who was part of Arsenal when they released a young Dwight Gale at 14. He later bumped into the boy at around 17 and he told him that he had given up on football. Thankfully though he did get back into it and played at Stansted FC as a young adult. He was the best player and scored a hatful of goals. That made people notice and he repeated that at Bishops Stortford and Dagenham before moving to Peterborough United where his performances alerted Crystal Palace who spend £4.5m for the Premier League Aston Martin that wasn’t built in any factory. There is no proven science, there is no proven route. Humans are not products. It could even be considered that Dwight Gale may not have had that successful offer had he come through the new Premier League U21 system. We just don’t know. Some players seem to develop better by getting away to play more realistic football.

We understand that fishermen need to earn a living. But we also need to protect wildlife and the environment so they operate within strict restrictions. We have all seen the television series to know that in chasing those expensive prawns many other fish get caught up and discarded. No such restrictions are in place for young footballers who in some areas get caught in huge trawler nets by clubs searching for the golden gem or as I have heard many times “my meal ticket”. Previously scouts would watch many games including club and schools as well as talking to managers and teachers before committing to recommending a player to a club. Now things are different and many more players find themselves scouted early and I question if this waters down the elite level. Are there now larger volumes of players that believe they are at elite level and some parents (not all) believing they’ve cracked it, even allowing players to switch off their academic education in favour of the football dream?

Most clubs have tiered recruitment centres underneath the academy. So let’s say the academy has 120 players. Each age group may have then up to four lower levels beneath that academy level. There could be well over 500 further players then ‘feeding’ that academy and at some clubs they are paying for that privilege to be in that window of opportunity. When I meet some of these players and ask them who they play for, they don’t tell me their great grass roots club name, they tell me the name of the professional club. So their perception is that they are actually a player for that club. That amazes me on two levels. One is that for me, where is the elite then? All these players and possibly parents think they are ‘elite’. Secondly, what happened to being immensely proud of the grass roots club you played for? The root to being a professional could just as easily happen by being the best player with them. Be the best player in the school team. Be the best player in the county team or region team. It’s not all about a guarantee because you’ve got a pro club on your jumper and a coach that delivers (in some cases boring) over structured coaching. Here is perhaps a piece of sound advice. Whenever you get on any pitch, enjoy it and be the best. You never know whose watching.

It is this washed out elite level that could play such a crucial factor in players falling off the football radar at sub 20 years old. Is it because of disappointment? Is it because they always thought they were going to be a pro and didn’t make it meaning the motive was gone. We have to redirect this. You see, top pro players when asked mostly say they played because they loved it. Then something happened and they were alongside there heroes instead of seeing them from the stand or TV. Too many players are playing with the wrong motive and end goal pressure. If they played for the right reasons, then maybe even if they didn’t get a scholarship or pro contract offer they could find themselves arriving later like Dwight Gale. But if they don’t, then they can still take part in a great game that keeps them fit and gives them a break from the harsh reality of work and life. A life which perhaps might be less painful if you decide to not dump your education in the process.

Tony McCool




Thursday, 5 March 2015

Do Football Coaches Deserve Employment Protection?

Football CAPTIN
The Football Coaches Association for the Trade Professionals – Independent

Its no new story to look into the seemingly high costs of qualifying as a coach in England. However, with all that investment in large sums of money along with the years and years of gaining experience to gain the qualifications for yourself. Do the opportunities that exist at the end represent a real living potential and are we taken seriously as an industry?

Recent changes to Academy football with the implementation of EPPP has had a significant effect on everybody and any investment and attempt to improve our football can surely only be a positive thing. The new system has created many jobs as football pushes home its holistic development method. The FA have created the best business model of all business as the governing body. It overseas our qualification process and has developed many overlapping courses with a CPD program that ensure ‘customers’ don’t just qualify and walk away, they must keep coming back for more with the positive messages about continuous development. For most and myself included, I love to learn and I don’t have an issue with that provided its value for money. However, my personal experience which was well documented, together with the many comments sent to me and what I see and hear further leaves me to still question if there is a real sustainable career path for the majority of coaches.

Whats the problem then?
To simplify the biggest concern for me, it relates to Time v Investment V Return. If a club truly had that latest term approach ‘Growth Mind-set’. Then they like the Academy Manager would be committed to the youth set up. If they simply go out and buy players as a constant solution to first team problems then of course, this in fact is a Fixed Mind-set that the clubs board possess. Regardless of what the FA Course promotes. So, if the Director of Football is committed to Growth Mind-set then the youth academy becomes paramount. For me, that means the youth players become of huge significant importance to the clubs ability to exercise its ethos. Therefore by nature of association the people that come into contact with those people must be of huge value to the club. Holistically there are many alternative members of staff to football who mostly have become very skilled post graduate individuals. The degree puts them in a strong position to deliver their skills they trained for, whether that be Educational, Medical, Sports Science etc. But what about the Football Coach? He or She has in some cases spent just as much time qualifying and gaining experience as the Sports Science and Medical teams but are they equally valued? They are also typically the person that has most contact time with the player and arguably are the ones that have the biggest influence on the player’s chances of success. But do they feel that reward and value? Of course football is a unique industry, one which can be frustrating as you can see others seemingly fast tracked into positions but I’m not sure what could ever be done about that. However, I do believe that there are some basic minimum expectations which would be fair for us and perhaps make clubs and authorities management wake up to the expert people they have under their nose.

Of course many coaches have been recognised and also many of the clubs are fantastic in the way they handle their staff and football coaches. But equally many feel that coaches are easily replaced and as I heard with my own ears, “there are thousands waiting to take your job”. I don’t go along with that concept. Just because you have a coaching licence that doesn't make you a high class ongoing coach. Experience still has a huge effect on development. Equally, many millions of people have driving licences in this country and it is those qualified drivers that make huge mistakes crashing cars every day and take huge liberties. So, a piece of paper in my view is just an indication that you did your studies. If I was in charge and had a coach that I knew was fantastic with his or her players and able to display excellence ongoing with a fair approach and a good attitude, then I would want to really look after and value them. Quality coaches and more importantly, quality people are not easily replaced.

EPPP demands with reporting have impacted on coach’s time and whether you agree with the whole process or not, it cannot be debated that this has added significant time to the job. Not just by demanding a session plan in line with a syllabus. I calculated that as a part-time coach I was in fact working full-time hours. But not afforded the extra pay, meaning pro-rata I was earning circa £1.74 per hour. More or less a quarter of the national minimum wage for over 21’s in the UK. So, with the new investment of TV money bursting the Premier Leagues pockets is it fair to ask them to intervene with clubs and ask to consider coaches remuneration? No, they cannot tell a club what to pay people but let’s be fair, it is them that provide half the academy funding in most cases so surely they can set some parameter’s on how the fund is distributed? What’s more important? A hardly used dome or high quality coaches?

So what can we do?

I think many coaches are frightened to speak up as they know they can easily be removed from their position on weak agreements or no contracts.  But when I look into this I think to myself, why? Football Managers who have previously earned millions of pounds are members of the LMA who lookout for their interest. Even the England Manager sits in a significant role, yet no one sees that as an issue. The Professional players are part of the PFA. For many they are rightly protected with low incomes. But we also know that in some of these cases some of these people are extremely wealthy individuals yet are still protected by trade associations. Even the scholars are on board with the PFA and educationally supported and advised by the LFE. So, what about coaches? Is your profession protected? We have FACA membership but does that really offer us the independent protection and advice that so many need and does it campaign for better working conditions?

I think there is a room for an independent association for professional coaches. I don’t have the spare resource or current time to risk setting this up but if the industry gets together perhaps it would gain support from the FA and Premier League with membership funds then supporting the project to get off the ground. I propose one but am seeking feedback from the industry to see if we can gauge significant support which will perhaps force our governing bodies to support it.

I would suggest membership to a website www.captin.org (needs setting up) This would provide lots of free service to members.
-          Sessions Ideas and Templates – Syllabus specific
-          Support material and advice for using new applications eg:
o   PMA
o   Replay Analysis
o   Microsoft Office
-          Discussion Forums eg:
o   Excellence
o   Development
o   Behaviour management
-          Recruitment advice
-          Releasing players advice
-          Handling Parent’s and challenging scenarios
-          Pay and Benefits advice
-          Employment contracts and advice
-          FREE Job listings and opportunities
-          Insurance advice
-          Grass roots coaches support section (Often want help with session ideas)
-          Help and advice from Key figures.
People could suggest other topics they would like assistance with but I believe that would provide a starting point. Its members would be Employed at a Professional Football Club either part-time or full-time and within the academy or associated development centres. It will also include coaches that work professionally for independent football delivery companies. We could perhaps also have a support section for grass roots coaches as they are vital to the cycle.

I would recommend an independent vote on social networking to elect a coach to represent the organisation. If it was myself I would have a manifesto as a simple starting point

1.       To ensure all clubs include reasonable planning and review time, typically on PMA systems or equivalent is included in paid time.
2.       To ensure all coaches are paid in accordance with the governments minimum rates with computer work included in that time. (excluding travel)
3.       Arrange a complete feedback study from all its coach members to establish the most important areas for concern that should be addressed.
4.       To have a yearly independent coach’s conference that covers north and south.
5.       To strongly encourage our academy coaches to find grass roots clubs to go and deliver coaching sessions to every year. I would think that its reasonable for our members to commit to at least 2 recorded sessions a year at a youth grass roots club. This will help reduce the ‘them and us’ and perceived ‘ego’ that I hear so much about.

This organisation would not be set up to be obstructive, difficult and to ‘find’ things that are wrong. Its simply a method to support people that have committed huge time and investment into their chosen career and give them a voice that shows that there mortgage and family are just as important as the first team managers.

Twitter @Football_CAPTIN
To gauge interest I have set up a temporary twitter site @Football_CAPTIN If you would support such an association to protect and assist your future please follow. We will RT and post interesting coaching articles and session material as a starting point. If support is significant we will then consider taking to the next stage, if it’s what coaches want. I would be happy to later hand over control and domain (if wanted) to another party if they wanted to activate the Association fully with another chairperson or spokesperson and team.

Too many great coaches have walked away from football. Let’s help fix it and ensure we have the best people nurturing our talented players. That means working WITH the FA and PREMIER LEAGUE not against them. If all key people in football are treated fairly and equally we can together fix the game for our future success.

Tony McCool