The FA commission’s review of English football and our plans for improving the national team are far too long to spell out in one column.
The report runs to 82 pages and that isn’t even the whole thing. The details announced by Greg Dyke yesterday didn’t touch on grassroots football – probably the area I’m most passionate about. Our grassroots analysis should be published in the autumn.
With the end of the season near, the commission felt it was best to publish our work now, so all the clubs could discuss at their end of season meetings. Over the course of the review so far, the commission have spoken to around 650 people and used a research team to analyse data and statistics. It’s been a massive exercise.
I got involved in this review voluntarily and I’m pleased that I did, even though I knew fine well that I’d have bullets flying at me once our report was published. As the saying goes, you can’t please all people all of the time but I do think our findings and our investigations have the backing of the major powers in our games.
Personally, I’ve been to about 25 different meetings and done loads of other work around them. We’ve spoken to the Premier League, the Football League, club CEO’s, managers and academy directors – just about everyone with an opinion on how we can improve the professional game and thereby give the England manager better players with work with. That was the main aim of this project because the national team is the FA’s biggest responsibility.
The strategy for development of youngsters between the ages of 18 and 21 was very interesting to look at. It was interesting because it clearly doesn’t work. As a commission, we’re very much in favour of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) up to the age of 18 because it’s pretty effective. But from 18 onwards, we’ve got a problem.
The way it is, the Under-21 league system has lost the competitive edge which players in that bracket need to have. It’s not necessarily the case that they’re technically deficient or lacking ability but they don’t have the edge you require at the top level.
The message we got was that managers often look at a kid, see good talent but question whether or not they can rely on that player to dig out three points in a vital game. And let’s be honest, most games are vital these days.
From a coach’s perspective, it comes down to a simple decision about whether you’re more likely to get success by dipping into the academy or signing proven players from elsewhere. The trend is to go with the second option. And to be honest, I can understand that attitude. It’s common sense and a safer policy.
So the nature of Under-21 football in England has to change. And on top of that, we want the rules on work permits for non-EU players to be applied more strictly or even properly. At the moment, it seems that if a player appeals against a decision to reject his application, he’s basically guaranteed to win it. If we’re serious about pushing forward English talent, the flow of foreign footballers into clubs and academies has to be controlled. A homegrown player requirement is something we’ve looked at, along with the loan system that’s been around for so long.
The big story this week was about a so-called ‘B-team league’ – stories which weren’t strictly accurate. It’s not the intention to create an entire B-team division but the idea of bigger clubs running competitive second teams lower down the leagues is something we need to be open to and something the commission want to push.
Spain do it, Italy do it, Germany do it and Holland do it. So do other countries in Europe. Can we really say that they’re all wrong? Or do results in recent World Cups and European Championships suggest that they might be onto something? It would be a major change and that’s really the biggest challenge here – fighting against tradition or areas in which we’re stuck in our ways.
The subjects discussed by us were never-ending and the commission’s review doesn’t look at everything.
For example, we haven’t really focused on the option of a winter break – not because it isn’t a popular idea or because it isn’t needed but because it isn’t the priority. All of these things will be considered in time.
Some people will like what we’ve done and some won’t. What I’d say to everyone is read the report before you reach a verdict on it – all 82 pages. Don’t draw conclusions from the headlines. If you care about the game and the national team then this is vitally important. And with the right support, I think our plan can work.