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KICboy - Kicked In (the) Cloisters. That is how I now feel about football. From Charterhouse to the Champions League, the game of the people needs to be returned to the people. Let's end this corporate scope creep! 80s YTS footballer turned Project Manager with a few roles in between whilst I changed my game. I am passionate about football at every level and want to encourage people to WAKE UP! There is no point even looking at the findings of the Government Select Committee Enquiry Into Football Report unless we are going to make a stand and bring about some of the changes recommended. I am offering an alternative vision; an independent candidate for change - Martin Bell in boots, if you like! Do you feel that football is increasingly kicking you in the cloisters? Then read KICboy and The Man(ifesto) - creating the mandate for change. (Illustrations by Gemma Hastilow.)

16 November 2010

Can England Win the World Cup?

Did you see this programme, presented by Gary Lineker (Inside Sport: Can England Win the World Cup, BBC 2, 03 October, 2010)? There was a great long shot of the first goal conceded in the game against Germany at Bloemfontein, from an angle I hadn't seen before. This startling image of the incoming ball landing in no man's land before Klose broke through to score was only surpassed by the cutaway to the faces in the studio. Lineker's reaction was a vision of shock and anguish. Those who care about English football must have felt this, too - I know I did.

In the programme, Lineker talked about how Spain and Germany have affected transformational change to ensure that their national teams can compete on the world stage. For Spain, the Cruyff philosophy from Barcelona has evolved through to the wonderful tika-taka of the national team (note the careful attention to letting the natives play for their club teams). For Germany, Klinsmann's revolution of expansive football was upheld by the stylish deployment of Joachim Low and his cardigans. What of England? Where are we on the evolutionary cycle? Do we have a style we can call our own?

On the eve of the France friendly I believe we do have a style. I will name this style the Hollywood Paradox (HP). You see, our top players, the ones that Harry Redknapp would describe as top, top, top players, are beholden to the age-old idea of playing for England, but actually performing on the pitch – doing it.... they really can’t be bothered any more (bar Gerrard). This is the paradox. These guys are so rich, so high profile, so famous and so egocentric that it must be difficult to convene as a group and have any sense of togetherness and team cohesion for what is, essentially, an amateur organisation by comparison to their day jobs. Robbie Savage, in his emerging career as a 5Live presenter, is keen to use the analogy of a film star to justify the wages demanded by players and their people. This always makes me smile.  I don’t think the business plans for  films include each fan/ customer/ spectator going to see the same film 38 times in one season. Anyway, good luck to the players as we would no doubt take the pieces of silver, too. It is a systemic failure that needs a catalyst for change, whatever that will be.

So, can England win the World Cup? The young guys that will get a chance in the France friendly must think so. They are eager, hungry and keen to impress.  But, they are destined to stay hungry for a while longer.  English football remains leveraged on HP watch.  Watch these top, top, top players that have forgotten how to play, in the purest sense of the word, when they return to being the privileged interpretors of our dreams - d'you think we'll see any joy in their eyes...?

After WC2010 I submitted a proposal into work that aimed to find out some answers around the club V country debate. To my mind, before we can emulate what Klinsmann did with the DFB (German FA), I think someone needs to quantify whether there is any appetite for this change from all football stakeholders across the nation at every level.  Do the majority of people want to try and improve our chances of winning the World Cup (i.e. provide better player access and improve coaching standards)? An extract of the proposal submitted is below (this could be applied to all the home nation sides - I'd like to see us all qualifying for major finals) – see what you think....

Oh, and BTW in the post around the Hungary Game (Do you participate in time travel, 12 Aug) the book I was referring to was Anatomy of England: A History in Ten Matches. If you are reading this then you must love football (my writing can’t be holding you here). If you haven’t read Wilson’s book – do rush to the shops straight away – you’ll be captivated.

The FA & The Future Game – Creating the Mandate For Change

1. Rationale – What is the problem you are trying to solve?
The performance of the England senior team at the FIFA WC2010 Finals has heightened the issue regarding the supply of quality players available to play for the England senior team. Stakeholders across the football industry cite a number of contributing factors, but there is broad agreement from commentators that there are two main problems:

1.1. The number of overseas players in the English game is now significantly reducing opportunities for potential England players to access first team football at their clubs (Sturgess et al, 2010; Roan, 2010a).

1.2. The number of quality coaches in England is significantly less than our European counterparts. (Scott, 2010).

These issues need addressing if the England national team is to have a chance of tournament success at senior level. Due to the structural governance of football in England the FA, Football League, PFA and Premier League are unable to implement a working model that will maximise coaching and development to deliver players who will bring success to the national team (i.e. competition and cooperation is unbalanced).

2. Validation - How do you know this is a problem?

2.1 The FA’s implementation strategy for ‘The Future Game’ is predicated on the idea that stakeholders will facilitate the production of outstanding players that will progress into the national senior team.

2.2 These aims are compromised by the business models of commercial league football.

2.3 English youth player access pathways into elite professional teams are decreasing because of the volume of overseas players that are being deployed into the leagues.

2.4 England’s failure at the World Cup can be blamed on the Premier League’s inability to promote home grown talent, according to José Luis Astiazarán, President of Spain’s La Liga (Jackson, 2010).

2.5 In addition to this, league teams earn incremental bonuses of £750,000 for each place higher in the league table at the end of the season (Roan, 2010b).

2.6 The effect is that managers’ decisions are significantly influenced and they will not play young, inexperienced English players at the end of the season. End of season games are where many young professionals used to make their debut and break into first team squads. Financial incentives and the risk of being relegated are too high. A risk averse culture regarding young players emerges (Atherton, 2010).

2.7 This is having a material effect on the selection options for the national coach. As each year passes opportunities for young English players are fewer and the pool of available players is contracting (Ogden and Ley, 2009).

2.8 At the start of the 2010-11 season approx 80% of all transfers have involved overseas players coming into the Premier League.

Recent changes introduced by the Premier League for the 2010-11 season are contentious. These changes state that eight home grown players, who have spent at least three years registered with any English or Welsh club whilst below the age of twenty one, must be included in a named squad of twenty five professionals (Foster, 2010). This legislation, it is argued, does not go far enough (Bond, 2010a). For example, FIFA’s 6+5 proposal would have resulted in a guaranteed number of potential England players starting any one match.

Many football experts believe the new Home Grown Player Rule will result in elite league clubs continuing to recruit young players from overseas. After three years in the academy system, these players then become eligible to play under the home grown criteria (e.g. Cesc Fabrigas). From a wider perspective, however, there are relatively few players of any nationality graduating from academy systems into elite league teams. This is a problem for selection opportunities of the England national coach that will continue to grow over time.

‘...the two objectives of delivering a successful national team and developing young talent for the future of a Premier League club are, to use the words of their own [Birmingham City] academy manager Terry Westley, "miles apart"
(Bond, D 2010b).

3 What is the solution?
The FA & The Future Game – Creating a Mandate for Change

Primary research could help the FA to tackle the structural governance issue, which is an issue the FA acting alone is not empowered to resolve. Commercial football stakeholders might have to rethink their business models in light of this new primary research. Someone must be uniquely placed to deliver this research to assist the FA and Sport England to grow, sustain and excel their operating models. It is clear that the FA is not in a position to fund this research. A conflict of interest would arise between the FA and Premier League, who share positions on the FA Main Board. This issue needs addressing by an independent organisation. I think that a robust study into the club V country debate could enable the FA and Sport England to deliver greater success for their own organisations.


4 Club V Country – quantitative analysis on the club V country issue

The implementation strategy of The Future Game document should be supported by all stakeholders within the game in England (i.e. they all should have an interest in maintaining the credibility of English football). Robust, independent research results could be applied to maximise the Participant Development Models and Coach Development Models to support the national senior team. Wasn’t this, after all, a key reason for the creation of the Premier League?

Question example:
Question A - Do you think that success for the national team is more important than success for your club?

Question B – Do you think we should prioritise coaching for success of the national team at major tournaments even if it means that your club might be affected as a result?

(The survey to be repeated four times at six month intervals)

January wk 3 2011
Providing distance from the performances at WC2010 finals would enable the research to commence at a less emotive time whilst also allowing opinion to be influenced by the initial 2012 Euro qualifying matches. Selecting this time period would benefit the credibility of the findings as it would be outside the international match window. This should facilitate a measured response including a sense of how and when young players are being integrated into the national senior team since WC2010.

In addition, it would also provide the lead time to scope up the design and methodology for the project.

July wk 3 2011
The focus at this time would be sharpening towards London 2012 and expectations for the Olympic team’s performance at the games. This would allow football fans to transfer this feeling and think about what they might expect or like to happen at Euro 2012 and WC 2014.

January wk 3 2012
Outside International game window. Low focus. More balanced views.

July wk 3 2012
Delivering the last phase around major sporting events (London 2012 & EURO 2012 Finals) would raise the profile of the survey and incentivise people to respond. Results might produce the leverage required to re-prioritise player access pathways and financial modelling of commercial league football.

In essence, this could create a mandate for change.

Survey logistics – how it would work: (TBC – to be worked up in more detailed specification and design phase – offers on a postcard, please...)

To date, no single organisation has tried to get quantitative data to assess what the industry and public would prefer as a model for success (i.e. club V country). Due to the structural governance and funding arrangements of football in England it is difficult for the leading organisations to conduct their own research on this issue. The recent Football League 2010 Survey (Nagel et al, 2010) touched upon the relationship between club V country, but it did not specifically ask whether the coaching and participant pathway strategies should prioritise the national side over club sides.

Research Findings & Implications – next steps

Option A: Do nothing Analysis of results might reveal that the majority of stakeholders want to see a strong elite League that can be showcased globally via syndicated media rights and greater chance of success in the Champions League.

The benefit for the FA is still twofold. First, even if the survey results demonstrate that the majority prefer club football over the national team then it could highlight and draw out the operational problems that the FA have in respect of players achieving success when representing their country. This debate in itself could lift the pressure from the FA to deliver a World Cup or European Championship trophy, or at least reset realistic expectations. A constructive argument can unfold around the multi-faceted problems of raising the calibre of individual and team performances.

Second, it could mobilise some senior stakeholders to provide the focus, motivation and momentum for change. It has been suggested that World Cups have long since ceased to be a measure of a country’s football status (Lacey, 2010). This view needs to be challenged by an informed and impartial survey because I think a tipping point has now been reached. The idea of English football was challenged by Thierry Henry in a post match interview following an Arsenal game in the Champions League a few seasons ago. The interviewer suggested that that it had been a great night for English football. Henry smirked and responded that it had little to do with English Football as there had been no English contribution (i.e. overseas manager and players). The Premier League’s worldwide popularity is all very well on one level, but the hosts are having their ticket allocation sold off elsewhere. English stakeholders are being left to stand outside whilst the stadia are full of those who can afford to sit and participate.

Lacey states that new riches continue the relentless spiral in transfer fees and player wages, but there is not enough being done to contemplate the end game of this policy. Following changes since the Taylor Report, is the Premier League delivering on one of its original stated aims - that of supporting player development for the national team?

Option B: The FA & The Future Game – creating a mandate for change

Findings could reveal that the majority want a system that promotes a strong national senior side performing well at European and World Cup finals. Results could be used to leverage influence over key players in commercial league football and their operating models.

I think a survey answering the club v country issue has huge potential to influence football governance. At present, the business model is not challenged as customers are signalling their preference by continuing to subscribe to pay TV, buy merchandise and pay at the turn styles (although Manchester Utd is experiencing a sea-change, perhaps, with season tickets going on general sale for the 2010-11 season). The findings of this primary research could be used to validate a mandate for change and exert pressure and influence on the current operating model.

Without intervention, England might continue to be quick and strong, but European, African, South American and indeed teams from every continent can now match these attributes. How long will it be before we can say the same about England players matching their technique?

Ratio Number of coaches Uefa B A & Pro license Number of participants
Spain (1:17) 23,995 408,134
Italy (1:48) 29,420 1,412,160
France (1:96) 17,588 1,685,568
Greece (1:135) 1,100 180,000
Germany (1:150) 34,970 5,245,500
England (1:812) 2,769 2,250,000
Table 1 Comparisons of UEFA qualified football coaches holding B, A and Pro badges to people playing the game in each country (Scott M, 2010).

Atherton, M. (2010) Don’t Coach The Life Out of Gifted Youngsters. The Times. 5 August p. 67

Bond, D. 2010a Scudamore Jumps to Premier League Defence. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/davidbond/2010/08/is_the_premier_league_responsi.html
[Accessed 03 August].

Bond, D. 2010b Premier League Not to Blame For England Woes. Available from http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/football/8882986.stm [Accessed 03 August, 2010].

Foster M. (2010) More Opportunities For Home Grown Players. Available from http://www.premierleague.com/page/Magazinedettail/0,,12306~2098999,00.html [Accessed 20 August 2010].

Jackson, J. (2010) England are 'paying price of foreign Premier League' guardian.co.uk, Thursday 8 July. Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2010/jul/08/jose-luis-astiazaran-la-liga-england [accessed 9 July, 2010].

Lacey, D. (2010). World Cup gloom will not cloud the start of new Premier League season. Guardian. 7 August.

Ogden, M and Ley, J. (2009). Premier League: English players now outnumbered by foreign legion. Telegraph 13 Aug. Available from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/competitions/premier-league/6024056/Premier-League-English-players-now-outnumbered-by-foreign-legion.html [accessed July 30, 2010]

Nagel, J; Dodd, A and Ellis, R. (2010). The Football League Supporters Survey. p.20. Preston. The Football League Ltd.

Roan, D. Teenage Kicks – Development of Youth Football. (2010a). BBC 5Live 20 July.

Roan, D; (2010b) The Challenge Facing England’s Youngsters. Available from http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/danroan/2010/07/one_of_the_major_theories.html
[accessed 21 July]

Scott, M. (2010). Football Coach Shortage Paints Bleak Future for England’s Future. Guardian, June 1

Sturgess, P; et al. (2010). The Future Game: The Football Association Technical Guide For Young Player Development p.11. London. FA Learning.com

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