It’s the evening of June 27th 2010 and England fans across the country are distraught, angry and deflated. They have just seen their team beaten 4-1 by an incredibly efficient German side. Chris Waddle echoes the views of many people in the game with a passionate rant aimed at the FA live on BBC Radio 5 Live. Similar sorts of conversations are being held in beer gardens up and down the country. Why did we lose? Where did we go wrong?
There are many reasons as to why England didn’t turn up in South Africa that summer. Poor management, poor preparation, the loss of captain Rio Ferdinand before the tournament, Frank Lampard’s disallowed goal. These could all be possible reasons to England’s poor showing. However, there is one stand out reason why England didn’t perform. Possession.
England don’t keep possession well enough as a team. We have technically gifted individuals but as a team we lack the technique and composure to keep the ball for long periods of time. This view was echoed by Joe Cole after the 2010 World Cup.
“Almost every team I have played for – including England – always want to hit the front players as early as possible. You won’t get away with that at international level. It’s about technique, keeping control of the ball, passing and moving” Joe Cole.
However, after being given the opportunity to volunteer at my beloved Peterborough United recently I saw for myself that work is being done to address this problem in English football. I was observing how the clubs development centres were run and the coaching methods employed seemed to be addressing what past England teams have been lacking. Passing out from the back, keeping the ball, not wasting possession, only passing forward when the opportunity presents itself, drumming into the kids that it is OK to pass backwards were just some of the principles the coaches were trying to implement.
This was particularly evident when observing the U9’s to U12’s age groups. The kids were rewarded for how many passes they could string together and how good their movement was rather than when they scored a goal. When observing different age groups the approach changed slightly. For example at the U14’s and U15’age groups the coaches taught tactics on how to win games, how to play against different formations and how to close out games.
This philosophy of how to play the game is something the FA have needed to implement for years. In the last decade to most successful club side is Barcelona. The most successful international side is Spain. This is no coincidence. They keep the ball. The keep the ball extremely well. The amount of silverware on show for these two sides more than justifies adopting this philosophy of possession football.
My first hand experience on observing how the FA youth policy is being implemented showed me that there are people out there who care passionately about changing the game for the better. Nick Sheppard, Community Manager for Participation and Social Inclusion at Peterborough United, who gave me the opportunity to gain a great insight to youth football is one of many individuals up and down the country who put in the hours and effort to help try and change our beautiful game for the better. Along with thousands of volunteers who give up their Saturday and Sunday mornings to coach their local football team’s .These people are the foundation upon which many of the great players build their name.
Although we may see players on the pitch as heroes I believe the real heroes are those who you don’t tend to notice. The volunteers, the coaches, the people who give up their weekends to get involved in their local football teams who genuinely love football. The people who give others the opportunity to play football and more importantly coach it in the right way are the real heroes in my eyes.
It’s the 12th November 2011 and England have just beaten World Champions Spain in a friendly at Wembley. There is renewed hope for England fans. Granted, Spain were dreadful on the night but I’m trying to illustrate that English football does have a future despite what the critics say. With Sir Trevor Brooking introducing a new vision for future youth development in England and our country’s fantastic passion for the game there is no doubt that this combination will stand England in good stead.