By Paul Saffer
The stereotype of an English footballer is set in many people's minds. On the plus side: passion, strength and will to win. On the minus: a shortage of technical ability, assurance and ball control.
In his role as director of football development at the Football Association (FA), former England midfield player Sir Trevor Brooking has been setting about trying to correct the weaker areas of their national game, and he has no doubts that the problems start early.
"Our challenge is to make our better teenage players better technically," he told uefa.com. "That is why we are investing in the younger age groups. The combination of what we are doing and what the clubs are doing will hopefully push the number of English players in the Premiership above 40 per cent; I believe that fans like to see a group of home-produced players."
However, having spent less than two years in his present role, Sir Trevor is well aware that he has a long way to go. He said: "When I was eleven our basic skills was there and I was never worried about controlling the ball but just what to do next. Now some 12-year-olds at academies are worried about whether they are going to get the ball under control, which should never be the case.
"We should hone in on the six to eleven-year-old age group," he added. "Sixty per cent of eleven-year-olds leaving primary school are physically illiterate - there must be some talented footballers in that 60 per cent but they never get the chance to find out. At that age they can move on technically as they have massive enthusiasm which is why we need quality control at that level."
That means highly qualified coaches for youth football, and not just in the academies attached to professional clubs. "I watch a lot of small-sided football but it's run by volunteers," Sir Trevor said. "Teams may win an exciting game but it may be really poor quality. We need somebody to show them about keeping the ball at the back rather than whacking it up, somebody with the knowledge to show them how to improve the game because you are like a sponge at that age. We don't have enough people at the moment who can do that."
Bridging the gap
He added: "While the academies are doing a good job with the talented youngsters, you could go in at nine, but leave at eleven and go straight back to a local team with a dad coaching with no qualifications, so they have no chance of bouncing back again. We have got to bridge the gap."
The West Ham United FC legend is less concerned with results than performances at that level. Sir Trevor added: "
You have got to tell players how to get better and also deal with aggressive parents. They want them to win, we want them to get the ball down and develop their skills."
Still, progress has been made. "There has been a big investment by the clubs in the academy system," Sir Trevor said. "The FA Charter of Quality gives clubs access to players down to the age of nine as they felt that technically our youngsters were not as good as their European counterparts. Arsène Wenger said our youngsters have the character, personality and will to win but they are not as good technically. So the challenge is to improve technically without losing that desire which has brought us success in the past."
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