A think tank of talent: Brooking and Townsend join the discussion on the future of the English game

Last updated at 22:39 07 December 2007


The national game is in crisis and

the production line of young

players has ground to a halt.

There were only 68 English players

starting in Barclays Premier

League teams last weekend (out

of 220) as the foreign invasion

appears to be suffocating the

emergence of home-grown

young men. The England team are out of Euro

2008 — and what can football do

about it?

Our series, Broken

England, has focused on the game

and its future. For the concluding

part Sportsmail brought together

a football think-tank of talent, men

who care deeply about the pain in

the national game and who are

experts in their fields. Things are

bad, but can the future be bright?

Read on — it might give you hope.

Brains Trust: Clayton (centre) hears the views of (from left) Cassells, Brooking, Townsend and Rider

LEE CLAYTON (Daily Mail sports editor): Welcome, chaps. I'll start by reading you a quote from

Steve Bruce, when he was at Birmingham.

It shows me how serious

the root of the problem has become.

'I've just driven from our training

ground on the outskirts of the city

centre to St Andrew's at the heart

of Birmingham. It is the school

holidays and I haven't seen a single

game of football. It's a tragedy.'

ANDY TOWNSEND (Former Republic of Ireland international and football pundit): I would watch

Stan Bowles on The Big Match, then

go and grab my boots, lay down the

jumpers and play. You didn't need

to ring your mates because they

were already there. Now we can't let

our kids out of sight. We put them in

the car, take them to the game,

watch them, put them back in the

car and then take them home. They

have no freedom, no time to develop

a character. Everything now has to

be organised. It becomes sanitised.

PHIL RIDER (Director of sport, Barking Abbey - highly rated specialist

sports college): And it's pressurised. I

knew a lad who is with a professional

club and I found him crying

before a school game. He said he

was under such pressure and expectation,

but boys should not feel that

way. Where's his enjoyment?

AT: So the jumpers-for-goal-posts

generation is gone. It has to be

damaging to the game.

TREVOR BROOKING (FA's director of youth development): At some academies,

there is an emphasis on as

little coaching as possible with the

5-11 age group. A coach will put on

a small-sided session with a lot of

'contact time' (time on the ball)

and say little or nothing. It's a replication

of the games we all used to

play at the local park, but in a

controlled environment.

LC: Then children just past your

knee, who are affiliated to a club,

will say: 'I'm with Chelsea.' They

think they have cracked it, halfway

there.

PR: . . . or their parents do.

TB: Get kids in as soon as possible,

working with good coaches. Otherwise,

by the time they go to 11-aside

at the end of primary school

time, technically they are struggling.

Instead of being able to play a

one-two or go around somebody,

they then start launching it long.

They are damaged goods who can't

cope with what they are asked to

do. Then they are lost.

LC: There is too much pressure,

surely. And boys are exposed to this

when they are too young.

JIM CASSELLS (Manchester City academy manager): I don't agree there

is too much pressure. There is good

work being done in the academies.

Teaching discipline, setting examples,

developing the spirit of the

game. For instance, the emphasis at

Manchester City is on development, not on results. We've never won a

national title with our academy. It's

not a priority. We reached a Youth

Cup Final, but didn't play Micah

Richards. We put player development

ahead of everything. We teach

them discipline and respect, too. I

believe, if you produce good people,

you produce good players. It works

for us.

PR: Football can help with

behaviour and social issues.

TB: You bet. I've seen the toughest,

roughest little boy come in and

shake the hand of his coach, thank

him for the session and display

excellent manners. That's why 5-11

age group is such a wonderful

opportunity and that's when you

can make the most difference.

PR: That's why, where I work, we

offer them as much sport as we can.

Attitude and discipline have

improved as a result. Of 25 periods,

they can have 12 periods in and

around the sports centre. Consequently,

they want to come to

school, it breeds harmony. We have

a basketball academy with 10 England

players and they act as role

models, they have a calming effect

around the school. Especially in

inner-city schools, sport is crucial.

The system doesn't allow that in

primary schools. A full-time PE

teacher in every primary school

would bring improvements in

fitness and behaviour. But the cost

is astronomical and prohibitive.

TB: The government recognises

that obesity is a huge problem in

children. In 20 years you will have

youngsters dying before their

parents. Football can help with

that. Phil will know about this, but

98 per cent of head teachers in

primary schools are women, who

are trying to deal with tough little

tearaways, single-parent kids who

don't see a man in their lives until

they reach secondary schools.

LC: So if they had more sport —

look, there is so much to cover here.

Let's move on to Sunday morning

park football.

PR: Clubs are often run by willing

parents, some with limited coaching

skills and experience.

LC: Some of what I have witnessed

is excruciating. Ferocious language

from abusive and aggressive

parents, poor standards. At halftime,

the manager will speak in

cliches, repeating what he has

heard from Alan Hansen on the TV

the night before because he has

limited training of his own. What

can you do about that, Trev?

AT: He can't. When I played

Sunday morning football, I remember

being distracted by parents fighting

on the side. You won't change

that, Trevor. Nor will you change the

win-at-all-costs mentality of some

parents and coaches.

TB: You have to try. We have some

pilot schemes at the moment. When

we launch a new structure to take

it forward, all the junior clubs and

the mums and dads will know that

there are certain guidelines, codes

of behaviour. There is too much

intensity. It has to be fun.

JC: When we release a boy, sometimes

a problem is not the lad, but

his parents.

TB: When we produced a national

game strategy, No 1 and No 2 was

abusive parental behaviour and

lack of respect for referees. Everyone

wants that improved.

We are trying to pull together what

might work. Some bigger clubs have

parents roped off and out of the

way. One word and they are out.

LC: Let's go back to academies. Do

they work?

JC: I am a great supporter. If every

academy had produced the same

ratio as us, we'd be OK. Look at the

top producers of players, West Ham

(Tony Carr), Middlesbrough (Dave

Parnaby) and Manchester City, they

have one thing in common — their

academy manager hasn't changed

in 10 years. They know the local

system, the development.

I know our nine-year-olds as

well as I know the 18-year-olds.

Succession, patience and belief is

crucial, but we also need to look at

what happens next. When a player

moves up to train with the first

team — that should not be the end

of his development programme.

They disappear off into the first

team and mix with millionaires and

egos and people who no longer have

the patience to work and develop

their needs. There is a risk that they

become outcasts. A top young

striker might end up behind a goal

fielding the balls for practice for the

first-team goalkeeper.

AT: OK, I would like this answered.

Why at some clubs are kids being

shipped in from Australia and

around Europe? That doesn't

sound right to me. It is blocking the

route into the first team of English

talent.

TB: We have a good England team

at the Under 18 level, but only one is

in any first-team football. At their age

they need to be knocking on the door.

JC: A few years ago, we had a

decent youth team and six of the

team lived within four miles of

Maine Road. It's very difficult to

re-create that in our area, when you

are competing with Manchester

United and other clubs like Blackburn.

You are always trying to keep

one ahead. Add to that, we have

new ownership and they may want to spread the brand name, which

could take us into different areas. I

personally believe that the best boys

are local boys. At West Ham, the

Lampards and Ferdinands and then,

going back, Moore and Hurst were

local boys. Rooney at Everton;

Owen, Gerrard and Carragher at

Liverpool, look at our set-up, the

great Manchester United group.

With the exception of Beckham, all

were local.

LC: There is a story that, at

Manchester United, they train to

samba music and that a nine-yearold

recently showed Ronaldo a trick

which he then used in a Premier

League game. I hope the nine-yearold

is English!

TB: When academies were set up,

nobody thought they would be filling

up with overseas youngsters.

European law demands 'homegrown

players'. If they are from overseas,

but come through the system

between 16-21, they count as homegrown.

That won't change unless

you get a voluntary agreement from

all 20 clubs to take that rule as

meaning 'born in this country'. They

won't agree to that and probably

they shouldn't as it would weaken

them. So our big challenge is to

make our youngsters better,

improve the coaching.

LC: But how?

TB: There are lots of ways we can

look at that and I think the governing

body should lead it. We have significant

new money coming in during

the summer.

We have good people, including

Stuart Pearce. We should look to

have a think-tank early in 2008, use

the expertise of people who have

been in the academies now for 10

years. We need to look at the 'charter

for quality' and update and

improve it. Put in place a wish-list,

slice it all up, present the options.

The knowledge is there. Let's crash

it through. The challenge is to have

some seamless interaction within

the professional game, development

programmes, in the community.

Let's try to pull it together, rather

than just taking care of yourself.

LC: Why wouldn't that happen?

Clubs have a vested interest, the

Premier League as a collective are

only interested in the Premier

League. You are going to hit a brick

wall, Trev.

AT: He's right. Clubs are only interested

in themselves.

JC: We are happy to meet and share

ideas.

TB: The governing body should be

the catalyst, finding out the examples

of good practice and then going

out to regional get-togethers,

to meet up and share good ideas,

information and support. There is a

lot of expertise out there so let's get

together and form a business plan, a

way to invest the money and then go

to the decision makers.

LC: Who are the decision makers?

TB: The main board of the FA,

there is the Professional Game

Board (PGB), the National Game

Board . . .

LC: In other words, a lot of people

to convince. Good luck!

TB: No, it's for us to get them to

'buy' into it.

AT: I know of some clubs who think

an academy is a drain on resources.

TB: In the professional game, a

board will want to know: 'What have

we got coming through?' They aren't

interested in the under-10's, because

they won't be there when those kids

come through. The only body that

should be concerned long-term are

the governing body, the FA.

We need to invest money wisely,

prove that it can work, deliver a

philosophy born out of listening to

the advice and expertise. Roll it out,

then hope others in the game will

come along.

PR: But that's where the vested

interest will come in again.

JC: We might all have to come out

of our comfort zone. We can't change

the world, but the better people you

get in, the better it can be. We can

be full of doom and gloom, or we can

do something about it. You have to

ask why Carlton Palmer won more

England caps than Matt Le Tissier?

Not all of our problems are new.

LC: In Dubai, they've stolen the

road system from Sweden, who are

said to have the best traffic management

in the world. Why can't we just

go and take the best Dutch coaches

and get them to teach our boys?

TB: You say go for the Dutch but we

have good coaches already! We must

go and get that expertise, our expertise,

open it up and spread it around

the game. Everyone is doing their own

thing, looking after their own patch.

Let us pull this together, rather than

living in our own closets and not

sharing examples of good practice.

JC: Good organisation, action,

spread the word. Develop players,

don't cheat and cut corners when

you haven't had a player come

through in two or three years. Still

maintain standards and practices.

LC: Is there any good can come out

of failing to qualify for Euro 2008?

TB: If we don't do this now, we'll

never, ever do it. If we haven't got a

reality check after that — the players

we have are better than we saw

that night against Croatia, but we

have to seize the moment. I hope the

penny will drop.

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