FA Chairman Greg Dyke has set the ambitious goal of winning the 2022 World Cup and has set up a commission to make improvements to the England team to try to drive the improvement needed to make that step up. The FA has recognized the seemingly obvious point that the players we need to win this world cup, are not currently playing in the premier league. Some of them aren’t even potentially at academy level yet so we need to focus on youth development. The panel consists of Ex-England managers and players each assigned to different role’s and jobs and bring something else to the panel. It’s an idea, that’s all at this point. Whether or not it’s a good idea can be decided when the 2022 world cup finishes until then its little more than a botched media disaster about who is and who isn’t on the panel.
Now, I’m not sexist or racist, I am passionate about football and I hate seeing management by box-ticking. I couldn’t care less about the gender or racial makeup of the FA Commission to win the 2022 World Cup, I care simply that its made up of the correct people and its effectiveness. That’s not to say that the people on the panel are bad choices, quite the opposite in fact but I despise mis-management in the upper echelons of our national game and to this date there has been one glaring omission to my mind that matters. Mis-management at this level can create setbacks much larger than those at a team level. This isn’t day-to-day running where a hiring and firing here and there and dropping certain players can solve things, this is the very foundation of the England team for the next decade which if botched will affect the team and its players long after Qatar.
Back to this glaring omission. Whether or not his inclusion has been assumed or I have overlooked something in this research Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Performance Development Director hasn’t been mentioned on this panel, which given his job role is the man who would likely be charged with helping implement any recommendations. So rather than scrabble around desperately trying to convince Rio Ferdinand to join the panel to box tick, FA chairman Greg Dyke should have spent a little time thinking about the man who was going to have to do the ground work. Even if Brooking makes his way onto this panel there are still some concerns about the scope of his role and longevity. The work at St George’s Park and with youth coaching that Sir Trevor has done has been excellent with limited commitment from those around him, who would rather throw money at a problem and hope it goes away or improves, however his role in the elite squads and his hand to hand work with clubs can only be limited. Whether a director of Football is brought in to create a dynamic duo, whether the scope of his role is changed to allow him to do this or whether the FA hold out until the 65-year-old Brooking retires and starts a revolution there needs to be much more joined up thinking at the top of the English game.
There is a distinct lack of progression between the England youth teams and the senior team and similarly the link with clubs, particularly Premier League clubs is broken. I’m not referring specifically about player progression here, chances are if you are an England Under 21 you will play some part for the Senior side, baring injury or terrible attitude. The disparity I’m referring specifically to coaching and management. The FA needs to let football people make football decisions and keep the business heads out-of-the-way. Greg Dyke knows as much about choosing the next England Manager or England Under-18 coach as you or I and as such should have nothing do with the appointment or selection of such.
The proposed Director of football would have a significantly hands on role in the Manager/Head Coach Selection process and improving relations with clubs. Most of all they would be responsible for consistency! Not of players or staff but of styles and ideologies, the Director of Football is the champion of this ideology. Look at the great international teams, they have a style that at international level, they never waiver from and are unwilling to compromise on. Germany grasped this concept a decade ago and used it to boost to their current heights, Spain also with their adoption of their possession based style. The masters of this are Brazil, Samba football, and there is uproar from the FA to the fans in Brazil if anyone tries to deviate from it. In England, there is no such approach. Gareth Southgate’s Under 21’s play an entirely different way to the Senior side, similarly the under-18s play entirely different again, a new coach is brought in to pick up the pieces of the previous coach and left to do the best with the pieces they have. When Roy Hodgson’s contract expires the future should be about the pursuit of such an ideology, a consistency across national teams of all levels to develop the right players. The new England manager should be hired to suit that ideology regardless of nationality, only qualification to the role. As contracts expire in subsequent youth teams, coaches should be installed with this philosophy in mind so whether you watch the under 16’s or the under 21’s they play the game in the same way.
Barcelona in particular over the last decade or so have demonstrated how the pursuit of ideology above all else brings its own rewards, our new Director of football, when not at St Georges Park should be working with every single academy director preaching this new role, and why should these academy directors listen? Simple. Money. An England youth international, or even senior international player can command larger transfer fees, particularly to smaller clubs and even to Mid-table Premier League Clubs. By creating an ideology, a specific skill set and desired attributes the clubs are more likely to begin producing players that will have these attributes as the sale of young talent is often the lifeblood of some smaller clubs.
Outside of football we have seen how Sir David Brailsford’s single-minded approach has revolutionized the laughing-stock that was once British Cycling and turned it into a power house on the track and on the road, the envy of world cycling. It’s the consistency of message and the consistency of ideology that drives the likes of British Cycling and similarly Football clubs like Barcelona and its that more than anything else which will determine success. Sure there are anomalies, but the evergreen remain the same.
It’s a delicate balancing act however, while you are setting out that success for the future follows a certain blueprint it should be a guideline not a concrete cast. To be insistent on these guidelines would produce a series of footballing robots who lack creativity and variety. Perhaps the single largest difference any Director of Football could make would be to work with players like Lee Hendrie, who had it all and lost it all, to emphasize the importance of hard work and the dangers that come with success but continue to allow players to express themselves in their private lives but more importantly on the pitch.
There is nobody currently in the FA charged with taking this role to this level of depth and detail, not only with shaping the style of football we want the England team to play, but a diplomat to work with clubs the all over the country and a mentor to provide support to his young charges. What the FA needs is an Inspirational Diplomatic Footballing Visionary and Guidance Councillor to drive forwards its new ideals. It doesn’t need a commission of ex-pros and suits, it needs a leader.