New FA Chairman Greg Dyke said last week that his aim is for England to make the semi-finals of EURO 2020 and win the 2022 World Cup.
Dyke described English football as “a tanker that needs turning” in a statement outlining the goals he hopes to achieve under his leadership.
On the face of it, it’s hard to envisage the FA being able to affect the changes English football needs. The FA as an organisation is pretty inept. A couple of years ago the Minister for Sport Hugh Robertson described English football as the ‘worst governed sport in the country’. Earlier this year, the FA effectively admitted they have lost control over most of English football and can’t make many of the changes the government asked them to.
To try and realise his ambitions for the England team, Dyke has formed a commission consisting of Premier League and Football League Chairmen, members of the League Managers Association and the players union, the PFA. This commission will look at ways of increasing the talent pool available to the England manager, and will also investigate why the current talent pool is so low. The commission is due to deliver a report early next year.
One of the things that I think the England team has suffered from over the past twenty years or so is the pressure that comes with unrealistic expectations. While, there’s nothing wrong with aiming high, I don’t think Dyke’s vision will come to pass.
The 2022 World Cup is only nine years away. So, the team (assuming England qualify) that will go to Qatar (another big assumption) will contain only a few players currently playing for England, or one of the younger England age groups, as they will be 30+ years old. The bulk of that team will be made up of players who are currently 13-19 years old and in all likelihood, are at a Premier League/ Football League club academy at present.
There are plans in place to improve the methods and quality of coaching available to players in academies, but they will take time to bear fruit. Nine years may seem like a long time, but in reality it is too soon for the young players currently in academies to reap the benefits of those improvements.
While nobody can see into the future to see what type of player will be available to England in 2022, the signs aren’t too promising at present. England’s younger age groups did not do well at their respective tournaments this summer. Draws with Iraq and Chile and defeat to Egypt meant that England’s under-20’s kept up their unwanted record of not winning a under-20 World Cup match since 1997, while England’s Under-21 team lost all three of their group games at the UEFA European Under-21 Championships this summer. As well as that, England’s under-17 and under-19 teams both failed to qualify for their respective tournaments.
So, I think that despite the fact that nobody can see into the future, and there’s always the chance of a team of superstars emerging; it’s far from likely that England’s team will be much better in nine years time than they are now.
Dyke also lamented what he called the “frightening trend” of the number of English players in the Premier League going down year on year and has stated that he will explore the idea of introducing a quota on foreign players, so more English players would get the chance to play.
Currently, about 32% of all Premier League players are English. The belief is that the current dearth of talent in the England team is due to there being too many foreign players, and that if a restriction on the number of foreigners was imposed, that would give English players more of a chance to play, and as a result, improve the options available for the England team.
A quota system will never happen. Firstly, such a move would be illegal; EU citizens have the right to live and work in the UK, and there are also strict restraint of trade laws that a quota would fall foul of. Currently, the Premier League does stipulate that 8 of a 25-man Premier League squad must be ‘home-grown’, but ‘home-grown’ refers to players having trained with an English or Welsh club for three years irrespective of nationality.
The second point that proponents of a quota system for the Premier League seem to forget is that the Premier League would never agree to it. The Premier League serves the 20 clubs that make it up. They have no obligation to the England team. The Premier League currently makes billions selling TV rights all over the world, and those buyers want to see the best players available. So it would make no sense for the Premier League to potentially jeopardise that income by diluting its product by restricting the amount of foreign players.
Finally, there’s also the counter argument that a quota system would do more harm than good. When the Premier League began, over 70% of the players were English. So if you follow the argument that the current England team suffers because English players have fewer opportunities to play, then in an era where the majority of the league was English, the England team must’ve been good right?
Well, no. The England team of that time was terrible, mostly consisting of journeyman players such as Carlton Palmer, Lee Sharpe and Andy Sinton, who were way below international standard and as a result, England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup.
I think that having more foreign players helps the England team. Sure, the influx of talented, foreign players has meant that the bar has been raised in terms of the standard required for an English player to make it in the Premier League, which means that fewer do, but that’s a good thing. It acts as a filter and also ensures that those English players in the Premier League are exposed to a higher standard of competition, both in training and in matches, than they would be if the Premier League was all-English.
If you look at the England team that started against Moldova, which it has to be noted was a team weakened by injury, there was only Rickie Lambert who doesn’t play for one of the Premier League’s top teams. So this tells me that the best English players are still making it to the best clubs.
Sadly, amidst all of the headlines Dyke’s ‘We’re gonna win the World Cup in 2022’ comment generated, the most important thing he said, and the most realistic to rectify was lost. Dyke said “We simply haven’t got enough coaches trained to a high enough level”
England currently has about 10% of the number of coaches holding the UEFA ‘A’ and UEFA Pro licences (the highest levels of coaching qualification in Europe) as Spain and about a fifth as many as Germany.
For country with so many people playing football, this is inexcusably low, and is something the FA should have addressed years ago. Finally, in club academies, youth coaches are no longer favouring traits such as speed, strength and height over traits like skill and technique when it comes to judging young players, but outside of the club system, too many well-meaning, but unqualified coaches are teaching children all kinds of bad footballing habits.
What’s needed is more coaches available to coach more children to a structured framework at a younger age, with a much greater emphasis on technique, which will help them develop good habits and hopefully make them better players.
The reason that there are so few qualified coaches in England is because the cost of taking the required coaching courses is prohibitively expensive for many people, and there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it. The FA could help by partially subsidising these courses and making them more accessible to people not on large incomes.
What Dyke didn’t mention, and is also desperately needed is an improvement in grassroots football, which is where most players start. Leagues all over England are folding because of a lack of suitable places to play, and a lack of referees. Most of those places deemed suitable to play are not well-equipped and are also unaffordable for most teams to be able to play on them.
While it’s good that Greg Dyke has got ambitions and ideas as to how to go about achieving them, he’s gone about it the wrong way. There are many realistically achievable things he can be doing as FA Chairman; he could aim to improve grassroots football and have more coaches in place by the time his tenure is due to end in four years time. That would start to ‘turn the tanker’
Unfortunately all that will be remembered about his statement is the fatuous statement that England should be aiming to win the World Cup in 2022, an ambition that has little basis in reality and his statement about looking to introduce a quota system, an ambition that has little basis in legality.