England learn from Italy's national training centre
Pearce hails national football centre
By Dan Roan
BBC Sport in Coverciano, Italy
From the moment you drive through the discreet gates at Coverciano, the Italian Football Federation's legendary technical centre in the charming Tuscan countryside just outside Florence, you know that you are somewhere very special.
The inspiration for the Football Association's (FA) newly-revived plans for a National Football Centre, Coverciano has the feel of an ancient Oxbridge college rather than a sporting facility.
A peaceful, secluded place, it has been designed to be the perfect setting to contemplate, to study and to nurture talent.
For more than half a century this has been the true home of Italian football, where the game is organised, and the secrets of the country's proud sporting heritage are passed on.
This is where Italy's most promising young coaches come to learn their trade, and where the national teams in every age-group train before games. It is from here that the Azzurri's World Cup triumphs in 1982 and 2006 were masterminded, and now the FA hopes it can inspire a similar renaissance in the English game.
Twenty-four hours earlier, in a damp corner of Staffordshire, the FA proudly unveiled its plans for St George's Park. David Sheepshanks, the project board's chairman, told me of his fact-finding mission to Coverciano when devising the final plans for the National Football Centre, and now I would see for myself what had impressed him so much.
Vanni Sartini, who along with director Paolo Piani helps run Coverciano, is only too pleased to provide a guided tour of the facilities. Alongside several pitches and a running-track, he shows us the senior team's changing rooms.
Everything is furnished in deep blue to create a sense of identity and national pride.
A series of name-tags above each locker designate where the members of the national squad sit before training, among them Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso.
How different to England, where Fabio Capello's men must borrow Arsenal's London Colney training ground and gather in a hotel in Watford before a Wembley international.
England could learn a lot from Coverciano
But Coverciano is about more than sporting facilities. There is the museum, where an array of memorabilia celebrating Italy's footballing heritage is displayed in a permanent exhibition, and a lecture theatre where seminars and courses on the arts of football coaching are conducted.
Nearby is the library, where books and periodicals dedicated to football are stored, and where visitors are given an insight into the intellectual development of some of the sport's most famous names.
Vanni pulls out a dusty pamphlet entitled 'Il Futuro del Calcio: Piu Dinamicita' - 'The Future of Football: More Dynamism'. It is the original thesis that Carlo Ancelotti wrote when studying for his Master Course here in 1997, full of charts, diagrams and conclusions.
Next he shows us Fabio Capello's study of "The Zonal Marking System", a piece of research he completed in 1984 when a student here. Next is Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini's 2001 pamphlet, "Il Trequartista", dedicated to examining the role of the attacking midfielder.
Away from these quiet areas, Coverciano is a hive of activity. Lazio are playing local club Fiorentina that evening and the squad is staying here, as away teams often do, before the match.
The Italian Under-18s are playing a game watched by hundreds of parents and scouts. On a neighbouring pitch a referees' training course is in full swing. In the canteen, a group of coaches discuss their latest ideas and discoveries.
Coverciano is so much more than simply a base for Italian football. It represents a belief; that the art and science of football is a discipline that can be studied and mastered, and then shared for the benefit of the whole sport.
Its role is not to develop young players, the Serie A clubs have responsibility for doing that. Rather, it is to provide the ideal conditions in which coaches of every age-group can come to learn their craft, go back to their clubs and aid the development of the game's players.
Coverciano is truly a nerve-centre for football in Italy, and it is precisely what England have lacked for too long.
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