England Learning To Pass Like Spain?

A significant shift in the development of football in England? Louise Taylor at the Guardian:

England’s European Under-17 Championships victory owed much to manager John Peacock’s championing of a short-passing, tactically aware brand of football

If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, Spanish egos should be boosted by yesterday’s narrow defeat to England in the final of the European Under-17 Championships. The Football Association has used Spain as a key role model in a bid to overhaul youth development across England. With long-ball tactics now kicked firmly into the philosophical long grass, there is a greatly increased emphasis on technical excellence and possession football.

Yesterday’s technically adroit 2-1 triumph against Spain in Liechtenstein not only meant that John Peacock’s teenagers became the first England men’s team to lift a European trophy for 17 years but vindicated a policy designed to raise standards and attract silverware.

Taylor goes on to discuss the Football Association’s new coaching manual, The Future Game, an apparently “radical” document:

Recognising the need to raise the technical bar, Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of football development and Peacock, who aside from his U-17 duties is the organisation’s head of coaching, have fought fierce internal battles to raise the revenue necessary to fund the implementation of their new philosophy. The central tenets of the FA’s radical new coaching programme for young English players are set out in the recently published 275-page document The Future Game but living, breathing, short-passing, tactically aware manifestation of this earnest treatise’s importance arrived in Liechtenstein.

I haven’t seen this document, though I would like to. But Martin Samuel at the Daily Mail is unimpressed by one apparently missing aspect to it, dismayed that it does not discuss reducing the size of the pitch for younger players to be more appropriate to their size and physical capabilities:

‘Is there anything in there on pitch sizes?’ I asked the gentleman at the FA. ‘No,’ he replied. ‘That’s a rather abstract concept.’

But it isn’t. It becomes finite, the size of the pitch, if Brooking makes it so. Were he to instruct that it should be made relative to the size of the players, instantly we would have a better quality, more technical game.

Ever notice the size of the pitches kids mark for themselves in the playground or the park? Not big, are they? Kids don’t want some gruesome slog against the odds; they want a quick, fun game with lots of action and lots of goals. The faster the better, in fact: what do you think rush goalie is all about?

What is an entirely abstract concept is the vague notion, advanced by Brooking and others, that we should play like Holland or Brazil, France or Spain, Germany, Argentina, or whoever wins the World Cup this summer.

I’ve heard a million of these theories and they founder at the same stage: teach the Ajax method as much as you like, but if on Sunday the wind is against you, the pitch is sodden and the halfway line is 50 yards away, your 11-year-old goalkeeper will barely be able to get the ball out of his own penalty area, so the opposing forwards will push up and camp on the edge of the box, the wide players will close down your full backs and you will be trapped.

Samuel sounds like a man with a bee rattling around rather too loudly in this bonnet, even though he does have a point. But notably, he doesn’t discuss what is actually in The Future Game, and whether it is actually full of radical and useful ideas or not. Nor does Louise Taylor, and I’m guessing neither of them have actually read it. I’d sure like to see a copy of it end up in the hands of a football journalist incisive enough to give it a real critique.

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