8 July ~ A World Cup perhaps more notable for its drama than its quality will reach its conclusion on Sunday. England’s participation was more footnote than headline and in this context the news that Fabio Capello will see out the remainder of his contract will raise little comment in other countries. More to the point, the retention of the manager is of little long-term significance for any improvement in the team’s performance in future World Cups. Given Capello’s track record, he may well be able to tease out an improved performance during qualification for the European Championship from a squad remodelled to replace some of the tarnished generation.
It’s easy to see why the suits at the FA want to focus on Capello’s future: it creates the illusion that they are part of the solution, rather than a key part of the problem. The coming months will doubtless bring other distractions, with revelations of disharmony in the England camp, the impact of boredom, in-fighting between factions and arguments over tactics or formations. Whatever this tells us about the recent round of poor performances, it will tell us nothing about what needs to be done in the future.
The core of the problem is around youth development and coaching. Although the FA now claim that coaches are being trained in the same numbers as they are in other European countries, that still leaves England playing catch-up. Training more coaches is only part of the story and the progress made in Germany, since their poor showing in the 2000 European Championship, is widely promoted as a model for creating a strong infrastructure for youth development.
More striking is the strength of the relationship between the governing body, the DFB, and the Bundesliga, with a mutual interest in the development of the national team. But just as important is the recognition that youth development is crucially a matter of co-operation rather than competition.
Routine turf wars between the FA, the Premier League and the Football League about player development show how far England has to travel. The creation of the National Football Centre will help coach and manager training, but a more positive role in the development of young playing talent was a victim of FA and League in-fighting. The FA’s dysfunctional decision making, where the Leagues can block any change they dislike, leaves resolution of these problems as far away as ever. Clearly, conflict of interest means something different within football.
Add to this the parlous state of the FA’s finances, with the major skills development programme dependent on commercial sponsorship from Tesco, and it is difficult to be confident about the future. A structure like Germany’s costs big money. The real sadness here is that the FA’s Trevor Brooking and the Premier League’s head of youth development, Ged Roddy, seem to have much in common when it comes to understanding what needs to be done.
Perhaps just as important is the worry that not everybody in English football recognises the need to change. There is plenty of evidence for this: the blithe assumption that, despite a lacklustre opening group game, England would have too much for Algeria and Slovenia and, apparently, Germany; the constant assertions of the world standing of players in the squad seemed impervious to the evidence. The apparent reluctance of some Premier League clubs to release players for the forthcoming European Under-19 Championship simply adds to the view that English football, despite evidence from as far back as defeat to the Hungarians in 1953, remains astonishingly parochial.
But never mind – Fabio is staying, television income continues to rise and the Premier League reminds us that it is the "best league in the world". What is there to worry about? Brian Simpson