Date: 12th December 2007 at 9:15am
Written by:

In the final part of a three week special revolving around England, Mr Bodell talks youth football

Since last weeks look at the two main candidates for the England job, we`ve had the surprise turnaround of the season regarding ‘the peoples choice`, Jose Mourinho, who now claims not to be interested because he`s received ‘a big offer` from a club. But what else do you expect with Mourinho? Perhaps those who wanted him can see the reasons for not wanting him now?

This week though, I`m going to look at ways to improve the technical ability of English players and increase their chances of getting into clubs first eleven`s ahead of foreigners.

I think for too long now, English footballers have been labelled as being not as good as some of those on the rest of the continent or those in say South America, where arguably the best players of all time have hailed from. To a certain extent I have to admit this is true, but I still think we produce some excellent players too. In the last ten years, Michael Owen, Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole and many others have come to prominence. I wouldn`t bet against some of those names being included in the Brazil team with the right documentation.

I think there is most defiantly a difference between English and Brazilian players, but then there is a huge culture difference which is the reason behind this. There are less and less places for youngsters to play football in this country, these facilities are becoming more expensive or more vandalised too. In Brazil, although in the poorer areas there are even less facilities, the youngsters play football for large amounts of the day and can hone their technical skills on the street.

English players therefore have to belong to a club to showcase their ability and become better players. But then this poses a problem in itself. The mentality at many youth football clubs seems to be win at all costs, and that usually means, hoof it long to the big man who smashes it in the net. Obviously it`s hard to coach young players into the mentality of passing the ball around and keeping possession, but I feel from having participated in youth football for the first time this season, too many teams play the long ball.

Now this includes my team, but to the managers credit he has focused on getting us passing the ball around and at times it does work. Factors like bad weather and bad pitches play a part, but ultimately, at the age of 15 or 16, players should be able to pass a ball 12 yards forward/backward/right or left.

But, because so many can`t do simple things at that age, it`s too late to learn really, it`s part of their system however much the manager hollers from the touchline to ‘keep the ball on the deck`, it`s not going to happen.

Thus, the way young players are coached needs to be addressed. Whilst listening to ‘TALKsport` recently, I heard an excellent suggestion from a caller who wanted youth football to have a rule whereby the ball could not cross head height. Like in 5-a-side. Hmmm, I wonder why Brazilians pass so well? Small-sided games?!

Another huge problem facing young English players is their size. To name but two, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Andy Johnson were both overlooked as young players, simply because they were too small. Thankfully for the English game they have both made it, and with top-flight clubs too, but they were lucky escapes.

Having read what top coaches and scouts say, too much onus is put on the size and physicality of the players who are scouted, picked up, and ultimately dropped out of academies because of they aren`t what they were 5 years prior.

So those are the problems with youth football and how young players are affected by poor coaching and so on, but more and more frequently in the last 7 years, clubs have gone for the foreign option when buying a player. You can and you can`t blame the English national side`s failure on foreign players. Are they better? I don`t think so. It`s tight, probably equal in fact, but you will always get bad foreigners and bad Englishmen too.

The problem lies with the greed of English clubs who charge hugely inflated prices for average players. Why pay £30-40,000,000 for Steve Gerrard when you can go to Shaktar Donetsk and pick up Elano for £11,000,000. It makes business sense really.

Therefore, like wage capping and manager sacking windows, I think it is time we introduced a minimum number of home grown players in Premiership and perhaps Championship sides. That`s home grown– not English. I think this figure should realistically be five. For example:

SMITH O`TOOLE Williamson McAnuff
King Henderson

Oh, hang on, that is our first team, plus the change every fan with sense should be calling for!

Teams can still remain competitive with homegrown players in their sides. Still buy players from abroad, still buy the odd Englishmen, but there needs to be at least five home-grown players. There wouldn`t need to be an age-cap on this, though obviously, the younger the better because they are being given their chance at an early age and will be able to develop when they can rather than when it`s too late.

With all these sensible suggestions, perhaps I should be Premier League chairman?!

Keep the faith,

Tom Bodell

Finally, it would no be right for me to finish this weeks memoirs without a mention of Al Bangura. I almost know I speak for every Watford fan when I say the decision to deport him is ridiculous. I wish Al every success in his appeal against the decision and have backed him in the GloryHorns petition:

Save Al Bangura