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An Englishman abroad

By Jon Barbuti

England and LA Galaxy midfielder David Beckham
Beckham has been happy to play overseas during his career
For a player often criticised for a lack of mobility on the pitch, David Beckham has shown a real willingness to travel.

Since leaving his Leytonstone roots to join Manchester United's academy as a youngster, Beckham has played in Madrid, Los Angeles and will soon begin a loan spell in Milan.

It is an attitude that sets him apart from his peers as one telling statistic shows.

When Beckham starts his loan spell with AC Milan in January, he will join Marseille's as-yet unused squad member Tyrone Mears as the only English players appearing in the top flight of a major European league.

For some, the huge wages available at home are enough encouragement to stay, but the likes of star names - and big earners - like Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are the exception rather than the rule.

A BBC report last season found that, on an average weekend, only about one in three starting Premier League footballers are English, so why do those squeezed out at home not try their luck abroad?

It is a question that former Chelsea, Tottenham and England coach Glenn Hoddle has tried to answer with his new academy in southern Spain for players who have been released at a young age by professional clubs.

Hoddle has taken on his first batch of young English footballers who were released by their clubs and are now hoping to take a second chance to launch a career in the game.

Mark Hateley, Arseen Wenger and Glenn Hoddle
Hoddle played under Arsene Wenger at Monaco
"Our success comes from how many players we get back into football. The opportunity to change someone's life is quite exciting and that's what we are trying to achieve," Hoddle, who spent five years with French side Monaco during his playing career, told BBC Sport.

"This is about developing players. It is not about academies or reserve team football where we have to win matches to be successful.

"We have played Seville and Real Betis and a lot of our players have said they aspire to play in Europe.

"A lot are quite small, but very technical. We have got three or four very technical players who would suit Spanish, Italian or Dutch football and it's opening their minds towards playing abroad.

"This is a stepping stone for them in a different culture and climate and we are almost setting them up to have that option, they are learning languages and putting things in place.

"They are improving astonishingly and I hope they continue to improve. Slowly but surely we will get some players back into the game."

Jon B
Hoddle believes the young players coming through his academy's doors are the end product of a fundamental failing in English coaching.

"I don't think we work on technique as much as we should do," said Hoddle, who has found his players learning things they should have mastered a decade ago.

"I've seen that as a player. I was naturally gifted, but I worked on it, it doesn't come easy. If you're good at something and you practice more, you get better."

Hoddle, who also cites the English climate as a key factor, argues that English football is still too concerned with finding strong and athletic youngsters, often at the expense of smaller technical players.

These powerful youngsters are then thrust into games, learning to win against those of the same age, yet never learning to master the basic skills of controlling, passing and dribbling.

Millions have been spent on state-of-the-art academies, but Hoddle insists the money needs to be spent on actual coaching rather than bricks and mortar.

Glenn Hoddle
My experience of coaching in England is that in many cases the first thought is of how tall and strong players are

Glenn Hoddle
"Building a fantastic facility for the youngsters is something which is good but I think the majority of that money may have been better spent on national coaches," he said.

"I think it goes down to eight, nine and 10-year-olds. Frankly, I don't think players in England play with their heads up as they do abroad.

"Continental players see a picture quicker than English players and if have that and you have better technique, then you are going to have an advantage.

"At those young ages, where they are like sponges and can take things in, I don't think we coach enough, teaching them to play with your head up so they can do the next thing.

"My experience of coaching in England is that in many cases the first thought is of how tall and strong players are and whether they can get box-to-box.

"If that is the priority, the smaller players with better techniques can get left aside and that's a conundrum we find ourselves with."

The Football Association has tried to address the problem and last year announced that 66 specialist coaches will visit schools and summer clubs to try to improve the technique of five to 11-year-olds.

Launching the scheme, the FA's director of development Sir Trevor Brooking admitted that often the least experienced coaches work with the youngsters, putting English footballers behind from a very early age.

Any FA scheme will take years to produce real results, but Hoddle is looking for a more immediate impact.

By next season, he hopes that players at his academy who were once released by Championship clubs will be earning contracts with top Spanish and Italian clubs.

It is a salutary lesson that a little coaching - even at a late stage in a player's development - can go a long way.

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see also
Beckham set to equal Moore caps
18 Oct 08 |  Internationals
England player numbers at new low
27 May 08 |  Premier League
Brooking fears for England future
03 Sep 07 |  Football
FA combats English lack of skill
29 Jun 07 |  Football
England reach World Cup finals
06 Oct 01 |  World Cup 2002

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