As the parent of a 12 year old boy who is a very keen footballer, I’ve been to countless club and school matches over the past seven years. Something I’ve seen all too often from a number of coaches and an even larger percentage of parents and interested parties on the sidelines is an obsession with the result. Whether or not the child’s team wins or loses seems far more important than if they’re enjoying the game and developing.
My skin crawls every time I hear “get rid of it!”
I first heard that when my son was six. That’s right, six year olds told to get rid of the ball. Therein lies the fundamental problem for English football going forward: big cultural changes need to take place. Fortunately, I’ve heard it from parents more than from coaches, but it still shows the archaic attitude to the game that too many in this country have.
Thankfully, there are a growing number of coaches instilling the right footballing beliefs and attitudes into youngsters, as well as parents understanding that enjoyment and technical development need to be a priority. However, the fact that a crunching tackle can get almost as much applause as a goal in English football goes someway in personifying our ethos. A hard tackle, followed by a fist pump and expletives, something more akin to scene from Braveheart than the football pitch, is predominately the image of English football from the continent.
Kick and rush. I’ve played football abroad and like it or not, that is traditionally how we’re seen and what we’re known for. Perhaps equally unflattering, we’re now also known for the ostentatious spending of Premier League clubs.
Over the past week, Chelsea and Arsenal have been eliminated from UEFA Champions League, leaving just Manchester City in that competition. Last night, Spurs’ elimination from the Europa League at the hands of Borussia Dortmund was confirmed and Liverpool finished the job on rivals Manchester United in their historic tie to become the Premier League’s solitary remaining representative in the Europa League.
So, despite the ever increasing revenue within the Premier League and the spiralling of transfer fees and wages, it is not being translated into success on the pitch in European competition. As can be seen with the UEFA coefficient rankings, the Premier League’s European performance has declined and is unlikely to dramatically change with the current insular, short-term approach.
Whilst the Premier League and broadcasters continue to convince themselves and a worrying number of fans that the Premier League is the best in the world and point to the world-wide revenue stream as evidence; however, revenue is not necessarily a measure of success, just ask Arsenal fans. The other line often trotted out is “just look how competitive it is”, but again it’s a flawed reasoning; the Football League Championship is even more competitive than the Premier League, but it’s not a better quality league. Competitiveness is good, but I would argue that the Premier League has got more competitive because the poor teams have got a bit better and the better teams have got poorer.
The current buy, sell, sack ethos of so many Premier League clubs is a damaging one; if you want to increase the value of a house, you do not achieve it by constantly changing the car on the drive. Foundations must be the basis of success, the development and integration of young talent has to be the blueprint for the future. A better proportional split between home-grown players and overseas signings has to be a more sustainable to approach to the future and as the Bundesliga has shown, it can be a more successful one too. Those changes to the youth system in German football that the DFB (German FA) implemented in 2002, where club Academy’s seasonal intake had to include at least 12 players eligible for the German national team, was a policy that bore fruit surprisingly quickly. A stronger focus on home-grown talent is one that has to start at true grass roots level though, not just by the richest clubs having great facilities at their own Academies. As a coach and a parent of a young footballer, I’m sadly seeing more and more kids teams folding each year. There’s a shortage of coaches, clubs struggle financially, some facilities are very poor and perhaps most disappointingly, there’s kids losing interest in the game.
So, rather than the Premier League sitting self-satisfied at their multi-billion pound broadcasting rights deals and throwing some loose change at the various levels below them, they should really invest in the future of the game. It will take time, commitment, finances and education to develop future generations of footballers and those watching and supporting them of what the game should really be about and then we can all enjoy the rewards, at all levels.