Monday 28 June 2010

Finally the FA has got something right

872 words. Estimated reading time: Three minutes 50 seconds.

Keeping Fabio Capello as England manager is the right thing to do, if only because the FA's failure to properly tackle the national team's problems means there is no alternative.

The feeling that England's poor performance at the World Cup was inevitable sums up why people have lost what little faith they had left in the national set-up. And it has gone beyond the stage of us acknowledging we have underperformed as we normally do, it has become much more acute.

The displays in South Africa and continued under-achievement of England are thrown into even greater relief by the success of the Premier League. Here we have arguably the biggest and best league in the world - certainly the most lucrative - and yet that has no impact whatsoever on how well England perform.

In short, the fundamental way of improving England's success rate is by addressing that disparity and harnessing the power and influence of the Premier League and its members, particularly the Big 4/5. Of course, the million dollar question is how. Well, let me have a stab...

Getting the clubs onside

The reason England lose is that not enough of the power brokers in English football give a monkey's about the national team. That is because the FA is not run as well as even an average club. Aside from the displays of its representative senior team at major tournaments, just look at Wembley, the way the FA Cup has been undermined and its turnover of CEOs and chairmen as examples of how poorly it runs things.

A natural way of thinking that can be overcome and the Premier League could take more of an interest in the national team is through money. That is what is at the heart of the clubs' interests. But there is no way the FA could attempt to punch above its weight financially or tempt the clubs with, say, large bonuses for producing national players.

Instead, you need to tackle hearts and minds and make an issue out of why the success of England is not a priority for clubs (and one way of doing that is by emphasising just how wealthy these clubs are and how little they care about their communities). This is a difficult task given the size and wealth of the club game so it is crucial to have a figurehead capable of outmanoeuvering the likes of Richard Scudamore and a raft of other heavy-hitters who know sport and know how to get things done.

At the moment the national game is run like an amateur association incapable of mastering the politics of elite and monied sport, and as such gets ignored by the people who matter and the people in control. In essence, I don't think it is trusted by the big guns of English football to run things properly. And so concepts like national academies which could make a difference to England's chances of success get tarnished by the FA's reputation - that would be overcome by getting people in charge at the top who can make an impact and set the agenda, namely why clubs are doing more to help England.

Address the quality of English managers, not just players

It is generally accepted that the vast majority of young English players are not as technically proficient as foreign youngsters. The main issue here is the size of the pool from which the best are being chosen which is tiny. But rather than just needing to address how these players are being taught from an early age, it is the size and quality of the managerial talent pool which should also be addressed. My theory is that coaches are more inclined to want players of their nationality just like Wenger at Arsenal.

At present, there are five permanent English managers in the top flight though there are, of course, numerous other British or Irish (13 of 20 including the English, with one vacancy). Compare that proportion of native managers to other major European nations: Spain 15/20, Germany 14/18, France 18/20 with one vacancy, Holland 15/20, Italy 18/20. Another major issue to consider is that of the Big 4/5 (including Man City here), the clubs where you would expect the best players to be formed, only the recently installed Roy Hodgson is English.

I think the FA should set up an elite coaching unit to identify players who show a special talent to be guided into coaching and management. It should be a long-term apprenticeship that exposes participants to the world's best coaching techniques and keeps them out of a chairman's firing line until they have the authority to run a club. We lose too many players to the media or simply having their fingers burnt by being appointed to positions they aren't ready for - think about what happened to TA, Southgate and Shearer, for example.

These are just a couple of ideas among a world of options (like hiring the 'International Performance Director' the FA promised it would do in 2008, or separating the discipline arm of the FA from the rest of its duties) but either way it is clear that action needs to be taken to address fundamental issues at the FA, not just debating who should be the manager.

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