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The real state of English coaching

Downcast England players

Highlights - Germany 4-1 England

By Alistair Magowan

Chris Waddle is credited with striking a chord with many fans with his rant at the Football Association in the wake of England's humiliating World Cup exit at the hands of Germany.

The former England winger, now a BBC Radio 5 live summariser, accused the FA of "sitting on their backsides doing nothing, tournament after tournament" as he lamented the lack of technique he had just witnessed among supposedly the country's finest footballers in their humiliating 4-1 defeat.

Good radio it might have been - and Waddle shared many concerns that are raised in coaching circles - but was it actually true?

In short, it depends who you talk to. But there is plenty of evidence to suggest the current picture is far from the doom and gloom painted by some critics.

606: DEBATE
Alistair M - BBC Sport

Perhaps more importantly, the issues of coaching methods and structure - areas where the English game's governing body has been accused of dragging its feet in the past - are now being tackled.

Yet one head coach at a centre of excellence told BBC Sport that the FA has still failed to create an all-embracing "philosophy" for youth development in the way Germany has done over the past decade.

Whatever the truth, a glance at German, Spanish or Italian football shows England is already playing catch-up when it comes to the number of qualified coaches it has and the mutual harmony that exists between their respective national associations and the professional game.

And therein lies English football's biggest challenge: striking the right balance between what is good for clubs and what is good for the national game.

The fact that much of the responsibility for youth development was handed to club academies and centres of excellence in 1998 only makes that balancing act trickier.

But John Peacock, the FA's head of coaching and the manager of England's successful under-17 side, has indicated that things are finally moving in the right direction.

QUALIFIED COACHES IN ENGLAND
FA Level Five (Uefa Pro): 167
FA Level Four (Uefa A): 996
FA Level Three (Uefa B): 3,186
FA Level Two: 6,957
FA Level One: 26,273
FA Youth Award: 3,500

"We've always felt that we have to develop our youngsters better than we have done but I don't think there's been the correct investment or the correct planning towards getting that structure into place," he told BBC Sport.

"There is no doubt that there is some very good work going on in the clubs. We are developing some talented players but what I think we would always want is more depth of quality.

"It's not just a numbers game - it's not about producing mediocre or above average players - it's very much about producing top players and more of them."

Peacock points to his side's victory at the European Under-17 Championship in May - England's first age-group title since 1993 - as evidence of quality players coming through the system.

But while he admits "we haven't got it right totally", there are others in the academy system who have doubts about whether things have improved.

The big concerns are the low number of quality coaches working with younger players and the lack of proper rewards that coaches receive.

So why is that the case? Even the FA's Level One course preaches that the golden years of learning are when players are aged 8-12.

Ose Aibangee, who has been an academy coach at Arsenal, Tottenham and Watford, and is now head of youth development at Brentford, believes the reasons are two-fold.

"Coaches at youth level quite often don't want to be at youth level, they see it as a stepping stone to doing something they deem to be bigger and better, like running or coaching a first team," he told BBC Sport.

Ipswich's Connor Wickham
To win the European title is a testament to all the good development work that is going on in the clubs

England Under-17 boss John Peacock

"The other, more significant reason is that, generally speaking, if you are working in youth football it isn't your main job.

"Coaches need to be better rewarded, and be full-time. I'm trying to do that at Brentford with eight expert coaches working with all age groups, but it is difficult."

In essence, according to Aibangee, the work to develop elite performers is not being done by elite coaches.

But Peacock, who has been at the FA since 2002, adds that measures have been brought in to tackle these issues.

For example, the FA now offers age-appropriate courses, called FA Youth Awards, that are specifically geared to coaching players as young as seven.

About 3,500 coaches have taken this qualification, with plans to run an elite Uefa A Licence for 7-11 year olds and 12-16 year olds in advance of other European countries.

Peacock also highlights the FA Skills programme that has trained 1.5m 5-11 year olds in schools and flagged up more subtle changes, such as reducing the small-sided games on the FA Level Two course from 6v6 to 4v4.

"There's very much been a generic set of qualifications in the past, a one-cap fits all," Peacock said. "I'm delighted that the age-appropriate qualification awards are now coming on stream."

The background to this is a startling difference between the number of Uefa-qualified coaches in England compared to other European countries.

But information obtained by BBC Sport shows figures recently reported in the media, claimed as new, do not represent the whole picture.

In 2008, Uefa data showed that England had just 2,769 Uefa (Pro, A or B) licenced coaches compared to 34,970 in Germany, 29,240 in Italy and 23,995 in Spain.

Yet since then, the number of Uefa B Licence (FA Level Three) coaches in England has increased from 1,759 to 3,186, numbers for an A Licence (FA Level Four) have grown from 895 to 996 and for a Pro Licence (FA Level Five) from 115 to 167.

Add to that the 26,273 coaches who have completed FA Level One and the 6,957 that have completed FA Level Two and there seems to be an improving situation.

We don't care whether they win or lose, it's just about their technical progression

Tottenham development coach Scott Chickleday

Numbers aside, most people who come into contact with the sport will largely agree that a more technical, possession-based game is something that has been lacking in English football.

You can pick your reasons for this, ranging from the delay in building a National Football Centre at Burton through to a dilution of talent at academies.

Another charge is that the importance of winning games at a young age comes at the expense of developing technique, although Scott Chickleday, who works at Tottenham's development centre with under-eights and nines, said that this has not been the case in his experience.

"My lads play four quarters of 20 minutes every Sunday but it is all about transferring what they do on the training pitch into matches," Chickleday told BBC Sport.

"We don't care whether they win or lose, it's just about their technical progression. That's the ethos Tottenham have and there is no pressure from the development centre boss or parents.

"The training is a lot more technical than it was before. The effort is more on getting the kids to express themselves, taking on players, and then transferring those skills into a match situation.

"You see the progression as well. You can have a kid there who comes in on trial, he gets signed, and after three or four months you see a massive difference in his game."

Chickleday is currently taking his Uefa B Licence, the minimum qualification for working in an academy or centre of excellence, but admits that the FA Youth Award he completed is more relevant to what he has been doing at Spurs for the last five years.

There is no FA philosophy on how to develop players so you are pretty much left to your own devices

Brentford FC head of youth development Ose Aibangee

"I think youth football, from my experience, is in good shape," he reflected. "I think we will see the benefits of all the improved standards in years to come, definitely at club level.

"There will be more English kids coming through, especially from the London clubs that I've seen.

"Standards at Chelsea, Arsenal, Fulham and West Ham are really high. I think in four-to-five years' time a lot of these clubs will have a lot more English players coming through which can only be better for international football."

A more cautious Aibangee, who has peppered his football education with visits to Sporting Lisbon and Boca Juniors, said it is the clubs who hold the keys to the future.

"There is no FA philosophy on how to develop players so you are pretty much left to your own devices. There is not an English philosophy, it's a club philosophy," he commented.

"If the clubs get it wrong, it will be detrimental to the England team. If they get it right, then it will be perfect.

"It really is down to the clubs because the FA is not able to tell Chelsea, West Ham or even Brentford how it wants us to coach because it is not the one paying the bills."

With the FA paying off huge debts on the £750m redevelopment of Wembley and footing the bill for a £6m-a-year Italian, Fabio Capello, as the senior team's manager, the hope is that further investment will not be diverted away from coaching.

But even though progress has been made, the challenges are only set to increase. If English football wants to repeat the success of the under-17s, many people in football claim that the various factions in this country must pull together.

Just ask the Germans.

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see also
Wilkinson fears for England team
29 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
England's fear of crossing borders
30 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
Waddle lays blame at FA door
28 Jun 10 |  World Cup 2010
England Under-17s win Euro title
31 May 10 |  Football
Liverpool 'must improve academy'
30 Apr 10 |  Liverpool
FA combats English lack of skill
29 Jun 07 |  Football


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