The recent European Championships were a terrific spectacle. England’s absence from the tournament may have detracted from the enjoyment of it for some but the failure to qualify should, more than anything else, be a wake up call to the people in charge.
The deficiencies in the English game are there for all to see. While there is undoubted talent available it is distinctly limited. The idea that English players are any less technically gifted than the rest of the world is laughable. Geographical location of birth has no bearing on abilities. The raw materials are there for all however it is the youth system that is letting it’s country down.
England has everything to offer a talented and precocious youngster finding his feet in football. A passion for the game, open spaces, top coaches and a wealthy government, however these important ingredients are not being harnessed to their full potential and many young footballers are slipping the net.
While what may follow may be considered speculative rhetoric and hot air, I believe a set up such as the one I am about to detail, would be a benefit to all; kids, players, managers, the government and the nation’s football supporters.
Step One: Youth systems abolished for all league clubs. Annual contributions, based on a pro rata system, dependent on annual revenue, will be provided from the 92 league clubs (all football league clubs competing in the upcoming season) to fund the scheme. The FA, Premier League and Local government should subsidise the scheme and which would provide a healthy annual budget.
Step Two: Six regionally based academies are established, based on the population of a geographical area. Loosely set out as: South, London, East, Midlands, Wales*, North
*Wales are included as it is the English and Welsh Football Association and Cardiff/Swansea/Wrexham are usual League members.
Step Three: Each region is based on seven year-group categories - 11 through 17. Regular school classes are taken alongside their footballdevelopment at these regional academies. This way, every trainee grows up knowing his team mates in and outside the football environment. It would also instil discipline and respect in a boys school type environment and mean that should players not make the grade they are able to gain employment in any other field. Encouraging language courses at this level will make players more adaptable and allow them to play abroad more often in future, should they so wish, raising the profile of the English game.
Step Four: Each age group has a university style grade systemfor its team ie. 1st team, 2nd team, 3rd team, 4th team. There is scope to move up and down each grading but this is dependent on effort and ability. Merit should be rewarded and laziness or lack of progression will be discouraged!
Step Five: Each age group grade has a 20 game season(playing each other region four times. Top two of each league competes in a final at either Burton Academy or at Wembley (depending on age group).
Step Six: The best players across the year groups will make up the international squads*. All of whom train at Burton along with all other national squads including U21’s and senior squad. By placing all of the international teams together in a similar environment, the youngsters can feel comfortable in this setting and see how the senior squad train and prepare at first hand. Transparency throughout the set up is key.
*The welsh contingent would go to their own welsh national team set up.
Step Seven: At 17, players who graduate the year go into a draft. Player pool is based on 44 first team players across all four grades in all six regions plus approx 28 other squad members across all four grades in all six regions. Therefore, in total a pool of approx 432 graduating players every year.
Step Eight: The draft. Whoever makes up the 92 league clubs for that season can participate. Those eligible for the draft are split into 4 pools. Each pool is determined on ability and will determine which league the graduate is drafted into. The last placed team in each league gets first pickfrom their pool eg. in the Premier League pool, Hull chose first and Manchester United chose last. This way standards are maintained throughout the league and ability is rewarded and treated on merit.
Step Nine: No player can be purchased by another club until he is 19 years old. A player can be released by a club before that time and move to another bidding club for free.
While at face value the scheme I am suggesting may seem fanciful or, like communism, good in theory, terrible in practice, I find it hard to see why a system where by all clubs benefit, young players progress together - maintaining an education - and where no club has a bigger say than any other; can possibly be a bad system.
The French already have a similar set up in place and while Clairefontaine may receive all the plaudits, the regional academy model is a fully operating mode of youth training and development. The Dutch too, although club based, have a similar set up to this.
By taking the youth system out of the hands of the clubs and by creating a pool of youngsters across all age groups, it allows them to develop at a steady rate without big money moves or time wasted on the bench or in reserve teams, getting in the way.
The system is egalitarian at heart and I can see why people would be sceptical but essentially at youth level, the development and progression of the raw talent of youngsters is all that counts. They will have a ten or fifteen year career to worry about contracts and trophies.
Establishing good ethics, good habits and good relationships from day one will inevitably bear fruit within not only in the careers of those who come through from the set up but on the national stage; where England right now can ill afford to ignore any potential solutions.