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How will English football develop?

By Matt Slater

Sir Trevor Brooking and Fabio Capello
Brooking believes Capello's job will only get harder without Burton
Establishing a national football centre at Burton is as important as the appointment of Fabio Capello as England coach, says Sir Trevor Brooking.

Brooking, the Football Association's development director, has urged his bosses to approve the much-delayed project at Thursday's board meeting.

"Burton is certainly up there with anything else we're going to do," said the FA's development director.

"If we don't get it right the England coach's job will get that much harder."

BBC Sport understands that supporters of the project, which is in Staffordshire, are confident it will get the go-ahead on Thursday, albeit in a scaled-down version of the original plans.

BBC Sport's Matt Slater

But there remains significant opposition on the FA board, most notably from those within the professional game. Among the leading Burton sceptics are Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney and Premier League chairman Sir David Richards.

Mawhinney's hostility to the NFC project is believed to have been stiffened by his annoyance that the FA canvassed opinion on Burton from the 72 Football League clubs without his knowledge. The governing body has been forced to apologise for this diplomatic gaffe.

And Richards has always been unconvinced about the scheme's purpose, value for money and venue. He, like Mawhinney, is an advocate of smaller, regional bases that would support the work already done by the clubs' academies and centres of excellence.

February 2001: The FA buys 350 acres of the Byrkley Park Estate for a reported 2m, planning permission granted in June, NFC to open in 2003
October 2002: Chief executive Adam Crozier and technical director Howard Wilkinson leave FA, first doubts emerge
January 2003: The FA board agrees to proceed, new completion date of May 2004
September 2004: Distracted by Wembley and tabloid scandals at HQ, the FA halts work
April 2005: NFC decision is postponed
September 2006: Decision postponed again
November 2006: Board reportedly votes to scrap NFC, reconsiders and postpones decision again
December 2007: Final decision on NFC expected
Early 2010: The NFC opens for business?

Ipswich Town chairman David Sheepshanks, another FA board member, is more receptive to the NFC concept than Mawhinney and Richards are, but he has reservations about the location and business plan.

"I'm personally in favour of a national football centre but not necessarily at Burton," Sheepshanks told Sky Sports News on Tuesday.

"I think it has to be nearer Wembley. It has to be user-friendly for the England team and it also has to stack up (financially). Providing that, who knows, but that is my personal view."

Thursday's meeting will involve FA commercial director Jonathan Hill presenting four scenarios to the 12-man board - go ahead with the NFC as planned, approve a scaled-down version, redevelop the site with a partner or scrap the scheme entirely.

Despite the dissenting voices, a more modest interpretation of the original blueprint is expected to get the board's approval - although there is a chance the final nod will not come until after the FA's new, independent chairman is in place next year.

Richard Burgess

For Brooking, the green light cannot come soon enough, as he views Burton as a key component of the "root and branch" changes he wants to make to the way we produce footballers in this country.

Hailed as the English equivalent of French football's Clairefontaine or Italy's Coverciano, the NFC was intended to be the training base for all England teams - from the U16s to the senior side - and act as the focal point for the FA's coaching and player development work.

"I think we all believe we should have a hub site, a catalyst to pull all this together," stated the 59-year-old.

"The debate has been going on for a while but you would like to think that it could be taken to the next stage.

You cannot imagine a federation of the size of England has no headquarters and no grounds to develop their whole football education

Arsene Wenger

"It's for the board to decide but it would certainly help in the overall picture of what we're trying to do. Our regional and national coaches don't have a base."

Brooking is not opposed to the concept of regional bases - and points out that the French Football Federation has now opened eight "mini Clairefontaines" around the country - but is adamant that Burton must come first.

"If you get the green light then you can look at what needs to be put in place at Burton," he said.

"There are lots of options. Is it just a one-off and do you link it with the academies that are already out there? Or do you need a couple of regional centres too, or more?

"Or you can tap into the English Institute of Sport and UK Sport outlets?"

Interestingly, one of the more vocal advocates of the need for an English 'Clairefontaine' has been Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

In terms of the long-term future of football here, the decision on Burton is more crucial than who should manage England

Howard Wilkinson

"It is crucial. You cannot imagine that in 2007 a federation of the size of England has no headquarters and no grounds to develop their whole football education," said the Frenchman.

If Burton is approved, a business plan could be agreed by February and construction of the NFC's main buildings could start, with a target completion date of 2010. The total bill is believed to have risen from 30m six years ago to 80m now.

First mooted in former FA technical director Howard Wilkinson's 1997 Charter for Quality, the NFC started to take shape in 2001 when 350 acres of Staffordshire countryside were purchased and plans were drawn up.

But a series of delays, primarily caused by the governing body's Wembley-related financial problems, culminated in a decision to halt construction in 2004 - two years after the NFC was originally supposed to open - with only the basic infrastructure and pitches completed.

The project has been in limbo ever since, with some FA board members calling for the governing body to cut its losses and sell Burton. This would result in a considerable loss as over 20m has been spent already and the site's re-sale value is believed to be in the region of 5m.

Howard Wilkinson
Wilkinson wanted Burton to be "an inspirational place"

For Wilkinson, the man who started it all, the time for debate has passed.

"I wouldn't be personally offended if they want to change the place or the buildings," the 64-year-old former Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday manager told BBC Sport.

"What matters to me, and others, is that we do something. We have to stop talking about Burton and switch our minds on to the concept of education and the need for a centre that is a focal point of that education.

"In terms of the long-term future of football in this country, the decision on Burton is more crucial than the decision on who should manage England.

"We have to leave all personal and political considerations aside and get this right. It's critical that we have a National Football Centre and it's critical that the National Football Centre embodies a philosophy that can take us forward.

"It's a no-brainer for me. The main function of any governing body is to educate and develop. It's crucial to the lifeblood of any sport. That has to be the priority and you cannot take risks with it or it will come back to haunt you."

National centre vital says Pearce
26 Nov 07 |  Internationals
McClaren backing national academy
03 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Brooking admits to FA frustration
03 Sep 07 |  Football
FA unsure over plans for centre
14 Sep 06 |  Football
FA training centre in doubt
29 Sep 04 |  England
Football Academy gets green light
16 Jan 03 |  Football
FA reviews academy plan
20 Nov 02 |  Football
Academy fears played down
19 Nov 02 |  Football
FA unveil academy plans
15 Feb 01 |  Football
FA finds site for training centre
14 Feb 01 |  Football


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