Stephen Goldsmith puts his faith in the young

Stephen Goldsmith refuses to be unduly gloomy about the state of the England national side but believes a more modern approach to coaching and training would raise standards of play at all ages …

Forgive me if I refuse to get too downheartened with the whole notion of England becoming no better than our Scottish friends up the road soon. We certainly won’t become the new Spain anytime in the next decade.

When people make out the respective semi-finalists of Italia 90 and Euro 96 are some kind of footballing legends it makes me laugh. As it does when people suggest we have been any worse in the last 15 years or so.

You see it was Italia 90 that really exploded football into life inside my tiny nine-year-old brain and, as any of us know, when you’re at that fine phase in your footballing discovery you are devoid of any politics, tactical opinion or negative issues that accompany and intrude the beautiful game. I would watch the official England video over and over and marvel at this England side that got to the semi-finals of that World Cup in 1990 and it is something people still get excited talking and reminiscing about.

However, watching the footage of it all these days can be quite the eye opener if you can excuse the nostalgia indented into your sexed-up version of events. Let’s be honest here, we played well against Germany in the semi-final and that was about it. We beat the mighty Egypt 1-0, we drew with Ireland and Holland. We were outclassed by the majestic Belgians but scored a last minute winner to put us through. We then scraped past Cameroon like nails on a chalkboard before losing to Germany.

Fast forward to 2012. We win our group that features France, Sweden and the hosts Ukraine. We are outplayed by the Italians in the quarter-final but score a last minute winner in extra time and lose in the semis on penalties. Heroes again? It could so easily have happened that way.

You see nothing has fine line margins like tournament football.

My point here is that we have heard all this before. All the talk of how we are in free fall and resigned to becoming a nation that wont even qualify for tournaments on a regular basis. I’m not buying that. While I realise we are some way off becoming good enough to win a tournament, it is the repetitive and predictable misguided preaching that comes with it that is grating on me. And from people who are in a position to help but don’t (more on that later).

We were at the point of no return when we didn’t qualify for the USA 94. We were deadbeats after Euro 2000 as I remember. English football had drifted into a state beyond repair around that time due to being embarrassed in a tournament that proceeded press conference after press conference of Kevin Keegan telling us all that a large section of English national side playing staff would likely to be selected from the second tier of English football from now on.

Looking at the latest lot of undesirables and seeing that the majority of them represented Champions League clubs (and Liverpool) proved that particular Nostradamus-like prediction to be a little negatively innacurate.

Just two years on from that kind of talk we had a side that were beaten in the World Cup quarter-finals to a fairly average Brazil side who went on to win it comfortably, and I remain convinced that had we came through a penalty shoot out over the golden generation of the host nation Portugal in 2004 we would have won that tournament. All in all a massive four years after the doomsday predictions post Euro 2000.

There are a few of theories that are instantly branded about to as why England fall repeatedly short as they do. Some are accurate and make for great debate; some are bandwagon hiking, unoriginal clichés. There are also two main issues that need to be separated from the whole negative man made tornado that sweeps through England after every exit we encounter from European and World cups.

How we are coping with talent we have now and how we create the talent in the first place are two different things.

I don’t believe that as things are, that we, England, are to all of a sudden disappear off the footballing map.

There are certainly issues that threaten to make us fail to maximise the potential that we have, and I deem those to lie at the hands of the players to some extent. A clear example of this is players chasing the big buck too soon, too often.

I would love to see Adam Johnson in red and white stripes this season but we can realistically assume it won’t happen. It won’t happen because he is at a club who rotate players at will, whether it be through the revolving door of transfers or team selection. These clubs pay big wages, amounts that mid-table clubs like ourselves can’t afford.
England can only suffer the more players like Adam Johnson are resorted to starting just 10 games a season. But he has still proven that he can mix it with the big boys, even if Roy Hodgson didn’t agree.

Scott Parker made a similar career decision when he joined Chelsea from Charlton, it has taken him all this time to recover and become a regular England player again, as unconvincing as he is to some. I really don’t want this to turn into an agent rant, but they have a lot to answer for when it comes to players’ development coming to a crashing halt when they should be expressing themselves week in, week out by playing regularly and improving at an upwards momentum. Sir Alex Ferguson does get some credit in this area as I sense that he feels some responsibility in absorbing English players into his sides. The others don’t as much unfortunately. There is evidence that this all arrests the development of such players in a frustrating manner.

But I’m not sure that is to an extent where we need to pronounce the future of the England national team as dead on arrival.

I have yet to meet a person who doesn’t rate Jack Wilshere with the highest of regards and others like Jack Rodwell and Jordan Henderson are no midfield mugs either in the eyes of people who have actually taken time out to watch them play live. (The excellent ball retention capabilities of Jack Colback can be our little secret a while longer shhhh). Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley, Daniel Sturridge and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain are all players who represent top teams, people need to stop overreacting and see that not since maybe 1970 did we have a golden age. We have had a long lasting bronze one however, and we will continue to do so.

Some top players aren’t even notable from an early age anyway. Nobody can honestly say that they saw visions of Frank Lampard becoming a top performer when he he first signed for Chelsea. He wasn’t involved in the World Cup 2002, yet two years later he was doing a star turn in the Euro 2004 competition. At 26 he was hardly wet behind the ears but he evolved into a world renowned performer.

So while I’m under no illusions that we’re to become champions of the world in Brazil in two years time, into the footballing abyss we aren’t about to fall.

So my theory is that England DO produce good players. Always have, always will. What we aren’t producing, however, is players of the calibre to propel us to the levels of being realistic contenders for being winners of major tournaments. But since when have we?

Watching Alan Shearer and Gary Lineker discuss this prior to the Spain v Portugal match was refreshing and annoying in equal measure. Talk of a revolution into the development of English football had me nodding my head in agreement. But it didn’t take long for the “too many foreigners in the Premier League” notion to then crop up.

I’m simply not an advocate of that particular theory. It’s a easy cliche to tag along with.

”Ah but you stated Adam Johnson’s career was suffering because of those pesky foreigners keeping out of the team,” I hear you cry. Well no, my point is that if he isn’t good enough to play for them he should move. The fact they have world class foreign players just higlights the fact he and a lot of English players aren’t quite as good as them. Almost, but not quite. Joleon Lescott is improving as a player due to him playing regularly at Man City so it can be done by some.

I would actually go as far as saying that the foreign influx has saved England as a performing nation. Think back to the footballing styles implemented by top flight sides when the teams were employing predominantly English players. There were a couple of cracking players surrounded by hoofers.

Funnily enough around this time the national side were never winning anything either, they just didn’t have the foreign thing as an excuse. The technique of the world class players have dragged our players up a level in my eyes, and the likes of Gerrard, Lampard and Rooney have improved due to their presence. Unfortunately, the foreign players of considerably lower abilities have came across to represent some the lesser sides, but that’s just the way it is. I would still rather that than have the standard of football you see generally when watching footage from when when our football was stuck further back in this time warp.

The foreign brigade have saved our league from becoming like the Scottish one. At least we can attract the top ones. Think of it as a European Super League with an English base, giving our players more of a chance to be involved then if they had to go to an alternative host country and try and impress.

The main issue is that we don’t produce enough of the top players who can mix it with the world class contingent on their own. This takes the whole problem back to grassroots level.

If I could shift my thoughts to you from Premier League football to grasroots level in this one piece then I would.

Ok, I’m on my soapbox so I think I will.

Ironically the problem is down to a part of our cultural heritage we’re proud of, our will to win. It’s also down to another irony in how good the younger generation have become at football from an early age; it is hard not to push them in the direction of playing full size, competitive football as early as we can. Anyone who’s hasn’t seen academy standard seven year olds play should really take the time to do so.

The simple idea is to reduce team sizes abd I know it makes senses as I know adults who have improved as footballers as adults when they started to play 6 and 7 a side on a regular basis, never mind kids. The reason is simple, the basics of football are picked up due to the sheer involvement you have in the match. You have more of the ball, there can be no passengers and you become better at the techniques you try to perfect due to the amount of opportunity you are presented with to do so. A child standing on the left wing who touches the ball twice all game just isn’t going to improve as a player.

When I started coaching I was a bit cynical about the idea of making football non-competitive and the plans to reduce the size of the teams, but it’s actually pretty logical when you think about it. Create the all round footballer before you introduce him to the rules of 11 a side in which he can display those talents. Kids can pick the rest up from a young age with ease due to the learning stage in which their brains are at.

I could go on and on about this but the outlines are enough, and until our society changes and stops demanding that Premier League football matches are replicated through our children then things will remain the same. Gareth Southgate and Nick Levett have managed to enforce radical changes to reduce team sizes but it is with heavy competition and it will take time. Try telling an eight-year-old and his dad that you would rather he played 4 a side and that the result doesn’t matter. English culture and society is going to struggle with it, but it is the format the top countries use and it has to be worth a try.

Instead of sitting in the studio moaning about it all, Alan Shearer could quite easily go set up a 4 a side non-competitive league that demands proper coaching for the under 6, 7 and 8 teams that enter it. His name endorsing it would make it work, certainly in the north east.

My soap box has a huge dent it now.

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8 Responses to “Goldy’s Logic: young, gifted and England’s future” Subscribe

  1. Jeremy June 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm #

    This is a great article and some excellent points are made. The one thing that consistently puzzles me is this obsession with non-competitive football. What is that exactly?

    It means that goals don’t count and scores are not recorded either. Now what does any kid want to tell you after they’ve played a game. We won…..I scored, I made a great save. If there is no purpose to the game other than playing then does that mean that it becomes difficult to inculcate the importance of winning in later life? I am convinced that it does. It creates a sense in youngsters that participation is more important than victory. Tell that to the Irish fans on their way back from Poland and Ukraine.

    My son’s team won 13-0 last night and it should have been more had the official in the middle been worthy of his whistle as he repeatedly disallowed perfectly good goals and called offsides in our own half virtually. A friend of mine and fellow parent told me that “they don’t count past five goals in this league.” My response to that was “Well how do they work out who the top scorer in the league is at the end of the season, if someone scores the last five successive 10-0 routs then?” Him being a Canadian and me being an opinionated Mackem left him without a response.

    I hear a lot about player development etc and all the rest of it, but I never saw a really good player who wasn’t born with a will to win. Take that out of the game and you end up with even more ridiculous political correctness and reduce the essence of sport to simple play. You might as well just get out the Lego and Playdough. You don’t have to compete when you are doing that.

  2. Bill Taylor June 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm #

    Well, I’ll go along with Alan Shearer’s qualifications to set up a non-competitive league. That’s about all the bugger’s capable of…
    A friend of mine in Toronto coaches kids’ football. He’s covered the full gamut, both sexes, from 6- and 7-year-olds up to young teenagers. He gets consistently good results because he demands a commitment from them – something that even the youngest can understand – to get the ball into the opponents’ goal and stop the other side from scoring. All else is built from that premise. If my friend gets a huge amount of satisfaction out of seeing a youngster blossom into a promising player, think of what the kid must be feeling. On top of the world and wanting more.
    I hate the idea, which I think is pretty widespread, of not counting goals past four or five, or of every player getting a little trophy, regardless of performance. I will say, Jeremy, that if your son’s team is getting results like that they should seek a higher class of opposition! Not a whole lot of satisfaction when you can score almost at will. But certainly not helped by the ref appointing himself 12th man for the other side…
    While we’re on the subject of “non-competitive” football, I wish something could be done about the number of international “friendlies.” What they mainly serve to do is injure good players and make them unavailable for important, sometimes vital, league matches. There’s not a lot of interest in the result of an international that isn’t part of a tournament and the risks far outweigh the benefits.

  3. Goldy June 30, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

    Both valid points lads and I share them to a large extent. Truth is, it’s a really, really fine line.

    The theory is that at a really young age that winning at all costs takes the skill out of the game. A player is screamed at for not making a simple pass; being to ball greedy. And to be fair, I do it to my kids to an extent. When they’re at a young age though it is at a time when taking players on will be probably make them better players. Being creative can be coached out of you. Of course it’s all very selfish and like I said it’s hard to judge what is for the best.

    Playing non-competitive would mean that the players try new things and become comfortable on the ball without the fear of failing as it’s not really relevant to anybody if they do.

    In other countries they don’t play football matches up until a certain age, rather small sided games that have scoring systems just the same, but as it’s not actual football, just an alternative format aimed to place emphasis on, and to strengthen techniques in certain areas, there’s less emphasis on winning and it’s less of an issue if you lose these games as they are fun and in-house. They would just take place on a training ground environment within a club you were attached to.

    The will to win is an English quality though and I think there should be a balance rather than a total transformation. I hear clear fictional, made-for-purpose anecdotes from coaches all the time trying to promote it not being about winning etc and it can be patronising, but at the same time I cringe when see some managers wanting their 8 year old’s to do nothing but get stuck in and win in anyway possible.

    We go for strength, power and size in this country instead of skill. That’s where the problem lies. Take a man on and you get shouted at. Playing 3 then 4 then 5 a side up until the age of 9 or 10 would help, though I doubt you could, or should, ever make it fully non-competitive. There is a standard for everyone.

  4. Jeremy June 30, 2012 at 11:15 pm #

    I’m not sure what you mean about the will to win being an English thing exactly. Our club sides were successful in Europe a long time prior to the influx of foreign talent and at the same time the national team has never been anything to crow about. England probably would not have won the World Cup had it been played somewhere else. The dichotmy between enormous success at club level and the dire performances at international level is difficult to fathom and I have no convenient explanation for it. It maybe has more to do with the way that the national managers (and there’s a long list of them) try to play an international style of football if I can call it that. Slow build up from the back and the keeper rolling the ball to the full back etc, although Hodgson is perhaps less guity of that than his predecessors. Arguably given the quality of his players and outcomes in games he is by some measure the most “successful” manager for some considerable time. Jack Charlton knew what to do with his Irish team and that was to get the players playing the way that is natural to them, a very much up and at ’em approach. He used to say “get the ball wide, up the field and when you’ve got their defenders facing their own goal you can play merry hell with them!” It worked well for them, with a motley crew of players, the majority of whom were far from international class.

    There’s something of a paradox here, that despite the success at club level in Europe that our way of playing the game is inferior to the technique of “the continentals” as they used to be referred to. We should have the self respect to play that way that is natural to us and which we are comfortable with rather than trying to beat them at their own game. A general might call this “assymetrical warfare” to call upon contemporary military parlance.

    On Bill’s point about the team winning 13-0, your point is a good one. We joined this team because our expectation was that we would be playing in a higher league than the one we ended up in.

    He is a goalkeeper, so you can imagine how much action he is getting. They’ve played twice today and won 2-0 and 9-1 (but it was the other keeper playing when we conceded). Maybe there’s some benefit for a good goakeeper playing for a bad team. He is playing for one of the best teams in Ontario though, and that means that some of the oppositon just gets steamrollered.

  5. Jeremy July 1, 2012 at 1:22 am #

    Just spotted this article in the Telegraph lads. Interesting reading I thought in the context of our debate.

    “Hodgson named Chelsea’s 22-year-old left-back Ryan Bertrand, along with Jack Wilshere, Adam Johnson and two players in the squad for Euro 2012 – Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – as young players with the “individual” skill to improve the team.

    But Hodgson also wants “England to be England” and said they could not “emulate” World Cup and European champions Spain because “the Spanish grew up in different climatic conditions and have always had different qualities”.

    Even though the sun might shine more in Spain, Hodgson admitted that one of his primary tasks will be to get England to retain possession better – they averaged a paltry 39 per cent in this tournament.

    “I want to improve our play but also make certain we are aware that at international football you do have to be a lot more careful before you put that ball at risk, before you take the tempting cross, or tempting long pass,” he explained.

    “You have to weigh up carefully what will happen if we lose the ball and would you have been better to have played a shorter pass to keep possession. That is something that players maybe don’t do every week but it’s something I will have to preach and work on.”

    Well these are interesting comments, but none of this seems to be about technical abilility to my mind. This ia about improving decision making which has nothing to do with “technical ability” whatsoever. Hodgson is probably correct but the problem again cuts to this notion that our players are inferior in terms of quality of ball control, tackling passing and shooting.

    I spend a lot of time watching goalkeepers and have become more interested in it due to my son. I watch goalkeeping clinics, videos, and listen to his coach with a great deal of interest (former pro and international keeper). I was watching a lad of about 17 years of age in a goalkeeping session for a while with the most amazing handling and shot stopping capability that I have ever seen. His reactions were astonishing and he could catch a ball easily which most keepers wouldn’t even see. His problem (according to his team coach who I know well) was that he was completely useless when he had to think. He couldn’t play at all well in games because he didn’t know when to come out for a ball, or to time his run or would come out when he should stay put etc. His Dad told me that he was thinking about giving up the game because of this inability to perform in games and I told him that in my view this was a real shame because the lad had a natural ability which was a gift and which couldn’t be taught, but that he decision making could be improved by coaches taking the time to analyse and encourage him to do certain things at certain times etc. This is the same argument that Roy Hodgson is using here but it has nothing to do with “technical ability” at all but simply about getting players to use their intelligence (if they have any). I doubt very much whether the likes of Joey Barton would benefit from such a programme however.

  6. Goldy July 1, 2012 at 10:23 am #

    My point about the will to win was just meaning that it’s a typical English trait built into our culture and upbringing. We are a very competitive nation and this probably helps us and masks our lack of quality at times.

    The goalkeeper not seeing any action is a perfect example of why small sided games are planned to be introduced; kids can’t improve or practice if they don’t see the ball. Its all well and good for the stand-out players but some kids are late developers and shy so won’t have chance to discover their talents.

    Like I say it’s very small, detailed margins and looking in from outside the coaching circuit it may seem like nonsense. Truth is though that we produce good players as it is but not world class ones so every avenue needs to be explored. This is how it’s done in Spain, Germany and Holland so why not give it a shot? Makes sense to encourage a young player to do nothing but practice skills and to become creative but in a match simulated environment.

    The ball retention thing is simply down to the fact that players abroad are encouraged to be good on the ball rather than get up the pitch and score a goal. The better and more creative a player as a kid, the more chance they have of making it as a pro who can keep the ball.

    A high percentage of professional defenders were forwards or creative midfielders as kids. They adapt as they get older. Making it too much of a team game at 7 year old and wanting to win means that some kids will be stuck at the back and evolve into nothing more than sunday league defenders. This is the issue. Our will to win stifles potential development. I am guilty of this to an extent myself when coaching so I’m not preaching. The problem is when coaching, the parents want you to be a manager rather than a coach. To get the team to win. If you purely focused on Making the kids better players individually then results would suffer due to the win-at-all-costs teams capitalising on you’re lack of match organisation. You would lose your players and end up going round in circles. It’s hard to know what to do for the best.

    • Goldy July 1, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      My phone is to blame for dome of the dodgy grammar. Your’re and the like. Honest.

  7. Goldy July 1, 2012 at 10:32 am #

    And as far as the current England side go. Well we can speak of not being as good at ball retention all we like. It has always been like this. Our players aren’t as good technically and couldn’t emulate others. Simple as that. We have always found a way to be pragmatic with what we have. Will to win masking our abilities as I said before.

    I would like us to see a little more of the ball and am of opinion the faster Hodgson can adapt Gerrard to being a holding midfielder the better. In an ideal world 4231 would be employed with Gerrard and Wilshere holding and people like Jojnson, Rooney and Young supporting a forward. Who that would be is anyone’s guess.

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