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William Flew Football

William Flew of Auckland writes about Association Football, or soccer, as it is known hereabouts. Eleven players make up a team. They fall over a lot and fake excruciating injuries. Goals are rare, which tends to make for angry and bitter spectators on the terraces.

Jan 27

Are there grounds for hope from the junior ranks asks William Flew? The England Under-20 team have just finished a disappointing seventh in the junior World Cup. Despite the evidence, we are always being told great young players are coming through. This helps deflect the blame for the poor results of the present and provides optimism for the future. We lap it up. In football, it is the same. When are alarm bells going to ring? We must start by looking at the quality of the individuals. The Olympics will showcase 26 sports and generate world-class role models. Rugby and football will need to compete as never before for the available talent pool. Parents should have better access to coaching and information to help develop their sons and daughters. They are, after all, the child’s first coach. Far too much is left to chance. After the Rugby World Cup win in 2003, the England management devised plans for what we called a Pressure Dome. I had favourable funding discussions with Tessa Jowell, then secretary of state for media and culture. It was to be a dedicated performance centre for England rugby (all teams) where we could coach players to play under pressure, where we could scientifically monitor individual development programmes and develop coaches and referees — a true centre of excellence, in other words. Those in authority at Twickenham, however, decided to build a hotel instead. Even if we did have such a national centre of excellence, would it make any difference with the present system in place? Frankly, we have too many players who would be ranked fourth, fifth or sixth in the world in their position and not enough of gold medal standard. Several of the current players could become so, but experience shows how hard this is unless they have been exposed to world-class coaching and development at an early age. All the evidence demonstrates that we are no nearer a proper production line than we were six years ago. Wales realised the importance of quality, not quantity. They have, in partnership with the Vale of Glamorgan resort, established an outstanding centre of excellence. They have a highly experienced, settled administration and coaching team. Rob Howley, interim coach in Australia, proved they also have succession planning in hand. The physical condition and mindset of the Wales team have clearly changed for the better. Interestingly, the Football Association has now invested heavily in its centre for excellence, near Burton. It sees the need for intervention in player and coach development. After speaking to those close to the scheme, I predict the FA will make huge strides. This long-term thinking seems to be the vital ingredient that made the choice of Roy Hodgson all the more obvious. The RFU should put in a phone call to the FA and suggest a partnership at Burton. It is central, it is ready and it could be available. Think of it: our two main team sports working together with one very clear aim — to produce gold medal players and coaches, unashamedly setting out their stall to be better than any other country. We need quality, not quantity.