After Wednesday’s dismal showing by the English national team, I wondered how many times England and the FA would keep making the same mistakes. No one seems ready or able to apply revolutionary thinking (or any thinking at all) to our favourite sport.
Football in England is notoriously nepotistic. Doubtless we’ll soon see another familiar face in charge of the England team – someone who’s linked with success from former years, when football was “proper”, when England were successful. ‘triffic.
But that’s exactly the trap. England are used to doing things in a certain way, whilst other nations have challenged themselves to change their thinking.
The biggest trouble for English football is at youth level. A lack of new thinking means that teams are built around the biggest kid, the one that all the others can hoof the ball up to, who can out muscle the defender and score with a header. This also helps to keep 12 year old legs fresh when playing on full size pitches. Great. That works. Until everyone is just as big as that guy and you have a teams full of players with just one way to play as they turn 16 or 17.
In Holland and Spain, they applied some challenger thinking to youth training. They got rid of goals for kids under 10. This would cause outrage in the overly competitive UK. But it’s brilliant thinking. Instead of goals, kids are rewarded for keeping possession on small pitches. If your team keeps the ball for 15 seconds and you get a point. Genius. They learn close control, passing, movement, tactics. Anyone else spot any of these qualities in the England team on Wednesday?
Then at 12 they change again. They give them goals. But 4 of them. Wonderful if you’re a striker, but a puzzler for a defender. You can’t defend by just clogging people as they head to your goal. You have to watch the man, you have to mark space. You have to be disciplined. Listening England?
What if we made a change? What if the person who comes into run the national team had never seen a football match in his or her life? What if they were just exceptional at organising people, at team building?
How would football in England look if Richard Branson was in charge? Or James Dyson? Or Lady GaGa even? We might not win, we might not have the best players. But we’d certainly be challenging.