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Last Updated: Monday, 7 January 2008, 07:28 GMT
Time to focus on country, not club
On the day Italian Fabio Capello takes over as the new England manager, the head of world football gives BBC Sport his personal take on the state of the English game.

Sepp Blatter
By Sepp Blatter
President of International Federation of Association Football (Fifa)

It is "High Noon" for English football. Failure to qualify for Euro 2008 has sparked real debate about the state of the game and I welcome that.

Football is about identity. At international level that identity is national, and at club level it is local.

I think England is about to witness major changes in terms of the national team, the club game and the development of coaches and young players - it is about time.

Please do not tell me it is better to have the world's best footballers in the Premier League than it is to have a good national team

I have been at Fifa for over 30 years - I know the contribution England has made to world football. So please, England, do not abandon what you have helped to create.

I congratulate the Football Association for starting to take the steps needed to return England to its place among the leading sides but look at the current international scene. Which foreign teams are coached by English coaches? Where are the English footballers playing abroad?

It is clear something has changed in terms of the world's appreciation of English football.

When you talk about being a football nation and you look at the big clubs in the Premier League it is not the English or British game that is represented. The clubs are international XIs.


There is no doubt that the Premier League is a global success story in terms of marketing and money. But one has to question whether this success has been for the benefit of the game, and not just in England but elsewhere, because the example of football's motherland is important.

People want the best for their clubs and the Premier League clubs can afford it. But this does not serve football. To serve football you must never forget the national team.

Please do not tell me it is better to have the world's best footballers in the Premier League than it is to have a good national team.

I am sure fans would be delighted to see English footballers playing for the best Premier League teams. And knowing there were opportunities at the top would help motivate the next crop of English players. You must have that balance.

Sepp Blatter and AC Milan
Blatter hands the Club World Cup trophy to Paolo Maldini
The Premier League is an outstanding business but the league's clubs, managers and owners should not forget that they have a wider responsibility.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is wrong to say he does not care about the national team. When you work in a different country you must also care about that country's national team - football must be considered as a whole.

I would also point out that there is no European law that says you must play with 11 foreign players.

In Tokyo last month, AC Milan became the first European club to win the official Fifa Club World Cup and they had seven Italians in their team. They have no law in Italy to enforce that. They do it because they know it is important. And what was the result of the last World Cup?

Of course, there is a free labour market in the European Union but you cannot compare a carpenter or a painter with a footballer. That is why I would like to see clubs line up with at least six home-grown players.

The new European Union treaty refers to sport's "specificity" - a change I have welcomed. If the special nature of sport is acknowledged, we should not be scared of the bureaucrats in Brussels.

Arsene Wenger and Theo Walcott
Arsene Wenger with Theo Walcott, one of his rare English signings
After all, what is football? It is about more than just money. The European Union talks too much about that and not enough about philosophy, hope and education. Football is a school for life and it inspires emotion and passion.

So if the football world unites I am sure we can convince the bureaucrats and politicians about the need for our sport to be recognised as something different than just commercial activity.

Football is a world movement with over 260 million active participants. If you add their families, we are talking about a billion people - one sixth of the world's population - directly or indirectly touched by our game.

What better way than football is there to teach young people about the spirit of fair play? There are times in life when you have to fight for something but you must always fight fair. And you do not always have to win.

In football, the main objective is to score a goal. So even if you have conceded 10 goals but scored one, you have achieved part of your objective. For young players it is not important that you are number one. It is important that you are part of a larger community, learning respect, discipline and competitive spirit.

Sepp Blatter
Blatter is determined to take on the EU over his 'six plus five' plan
As well as football, I have also been involved with ice hockey. In that sport you sometimes have fights on the ice but after every game the players shake hands. It is compulsory in every league in Europe.

I think football should do the same and we will call for that to be introduced around the world at our next conference in May. At the end of a match it should not matter if you have won or lost, you are together. The game is over - there should be no more bad feelings. After all, you will have another chance in a few days' time.

If everybody accepted what we are trying to promote with football we would live in a better world. That is why we have changed our slogan to "develop the game, touch the world, build a better future".

We want young people to come to our game. And they do come, because it is a game based on the instinctive movement of the human to kick a ball.

We do not want to make politics, we just want to give football - a game invented by England - to the world. That is why I am pleased to hear that English football is ready to address its problems.

Sepp Blatter and Gordon Brown
Blatter and British PM Gordon Brown inspect the 1966 World Cup ball
The Football Association's decision to go ahead with a national training centre is an example of this. Many other federations have done so already, so the time has come for action.

France missed two World Cups - in 1990 and 1994 - and decided to act. They built the centre at Clairefontaine, concentrated on youth development and we have all seen the results.

I was also delighted when the Football Association decided to bid for the 2018 World Cup. The choice of candidates is very impressive and it promises to be a great race. For me this demonstrates just how much people value international football.

I am proud to be able to say that the World Cup is the best competition in world sport and that the national team will always matter.

  • Sepp Blatter was talking to BBC Sport's Matt Slater

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