While the focus of today’s speech is the future of the England Men’s teams, after a disappointing summer with both our development and women’s teams, I’m encouraged to report back on a very good performance by our Women’s U19 team who reached the final of the UEFA U19 Championships in Wales on Saturday and only lost in extra time to France. As we look to appoint a new Women’s Head Coach and a Women’s Head of Elite Development this gives us a strong platform to build on.
I have deliberately chosen to make this speech in an international week because I want to talk about an issue which I think almost everyone involved in football knows is the biggest problem the England team faces going forward. The issue, quite simply, is this. In the future it’s quite possible we won’t have enough players qualified to play for England who are playing regularly at the highest level in this country or elsewhere in the world. As a result, it could well mean England’s teams are unable to compete seriously on the world stage.
Now before I get into the meat of today’s speech it is important I say this: This speech is not designed to start a ‘blame game’. It is trying to set out the reality of a situation which should concern anyone who cares about the future of our national team. So let me stress up front this is not a criticism of the Premier League. I genuinely want to work hand in hand with the League to try to address what I see as a serious and growing problem.
The England team does not have a history of success. One World Cup win on home soil and a few semi-finals does not compare with the records of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Italy and more recently, Spain and France. However, just because we have not been as successful as we think we should have been in the past doesn’t mean we should accept the same going forward.
Let me be clear The FA is the organisation with the primary responsibility for giving the nation a successful English football team and on our past record we have to accept we have not done as well as we should. This means if we want to do better things have to change.
We have to get our development teams playing the right way, we must create an environment where the players want to play for the England teams and enjoy the experience and we need to ensure that our clubs feel that their young players are going away to learn and develop from the best coaches when they are part of the England set up.
We also have to improve how we identify talent, how we nurture it within our teams and we need to be clearer setting our targets so that players and everyone connected to English football knows what we are trying to achieve.
In St. George’s Park we have the most fantastic facilities. However to maximise what they can offer the England teams we must ensure we have the best of the best when it comes to specialist performance areas such as medical, sports science, psychology and analysis. We also must ensure we have the right Club England structure in place.
A lot of work is already going on, starting with the recruitment of Dan Ashworth who is based at St. George’s Park. Already we have appointed three of the games outstanding youth development coaches to join him, while Dave Reddin will be joining The FA as head of performance in the New Year.
Meanwhile we have appointed Gareth Southgate as our Under-21 Head Coach and we have deliberately broadened the role so he will oversee all our development teams. This should ensure more consistency in preparation, coaching and playing styles.
All of this is within the direct control of The FA and we can and must do better.
However, there are areas that we do not directly control – Youth Development in particular. In the late 1990s the club academy system was introduced, The FA’s National School at Lilleshall was closed and responsibility for developing players from eight years upwards became the responsibility of the clubs.
To be fair to the clubs there’s been huge investment since then, but as yet, nobody can say the game is seeing a strong return on that investment. This limited success resulted in the recent introduction of the Elite Player Performance Plan.
So The FA doesn’t control player development, the clubs do, and we also don’t determine how many young players break into first teams or how many games they get to play – or importantly start. Again this is the responsibility of the clubs.
There is also an issue about clubs releasing players. There have been numerous examples of clubs withdrawing players from our development squads over the years. Other nations don’t seem to have this problem. Only last week a player was recalled to his club from a development squad after we were told he was desperately needed by the first team, either as a starter or sub. After sending him back to his club he didn’t even get a place on the bench. That doesn’t help the boy or the England team.
Now some history. I was involved in the establishment of the Premier League when I was Chief Executive of London Weekend Television back in the early 1990s. I was the host of the original dinner when the five clubs decided to break away and set up The FA Premier League.
Back then no-one could have predicted that the League would be such a massive success, that it would be watched and discussed wherever you go in the world. In short no-one would have predicted it would become the most successful league in the world which it has.
At that famous dinner, some 20-odd years ago, the participants genuinely thought a strong Premier League attracting the best players from around the world to play alongside our English players would help create a stronger England team, that our players would learn from the best. That was how the idea was sold to The FA and at the time The FA said it was the main reasons why they sanctioned the breakaway league.
It would of course be disingenuous of me not to highlight the fact that I am of the view that The FA didn’t use the unique opportunity it had to make stronger demands or seek necessary assurances from the fledgling league. But that’s all history now – we are where we are.
One of the interesting things about life is what I call the law of unintended consequences. What none of us at that dinner could have foreseen was that because of the very success of the Premier League, 20 years later we would end up with a League largely owned by foreign owners, managed by foreign managers and played by foreign players and that, as a result, it could be argued that the England set-up has been weakened, rather than strengthened, by the creation of the Premier League. Saying this I am not being xenophobic but my job is to help ensure that English football and particularly the England team is in a healthy state.
I’ve been planning this speech almost from the day I was offered the job as FA Chairman and I have read with interest recently people arguing that English football needs a 10-year plan. I agree with that. But if we need a plan we also need targets so we can judge whether or not we’ve been successful.
So today I want to set the whole of English football two targets. The first is for the England team to at least reach the semi finals of the Euro Championships in 2020 and the second is for us to win the World Cup in 2022. Now this doesn’t quite give us ten years – the first tournament is seven years away and the other nine years – but what’s a year here or there. Oh and by the way to show we are making progress along the way I’d like to see us do well in the Under-20s World Cup in 2017 with the objective of that squad then moving on to the Under-21 Championships.
This takes us to Euro 2020, where we would expect Wembley to host a number of games, possibly England’s group games. This will give us a focus and a platform to have a real crack at making inroads into the later stages of the tournament. Home advantage at tournaments, has provided England with two of its best three showings over the past 50 years. And from there, we would expect to move on to the 2022 World Cup.
So are these realistic targets? Well without targets what are we working towards? I’ve no doubt some will say that targets are only burdening our players with more pressure but I don’t see it that way – top players have to be able to handle pressure if they want to be winners and we want to be winners.
Let me also make it clear that this does not mean we are writing off our chances before 2020. Qualification for Brazil is hugely important and I know how hard Roy Hodgson and the current players are working to get us there. I, for one, am confident we’ll make it.
One thing is crystal clear. Going forward we will certainly give ourselves a much better chance of winning tournaments if we have a bigger talent pool of players to pick from, which means having more English players who are consistent starters in the Premier League.
English football – and in this context I mean football played by Englishmen – has got a problem which is much bigger than just not doing well in a couple of tournaments. As I’ve said England is already short of players who regularly turn out at the top level for their clubs and are qualified to play for England but the real problem is that, year by year, the position is getting worse.
Clearly the first question to ask is does this matter?
It could be argued that if our top clubs are doing well in Europe – which most years they are – and the Premier League is incredibly popular around the world and bringing in large sums of money to this country, surely it means football in England is in a healthy state?
Well in the months since I was offered this job I have talked to quite a lot of people involved with the professional game and the one thing they all agree on is that English football needs a strong England team. Success in the Champions League with teams largely, but not exclusively, made up of foreign players is all well and good but it is not a replacement for a successful national team.
Sky commentator Martin Tyler summed it up in an e-mail he sent me when he wrote “the football industry seems to have lost sight of one major premise – when England does well everyone in the game is a winner whether you are Manchester United or Maidstone United”.
Fans certainly want a successful English team, television ratings show this quite clearly. Club matches occasionally get audiences in excess of 10 million when teams are playing an important match on free to air television. But when England are playing in the finals of the World Cup or the European Championships as many as 20 million people watch a game.
So if building a successful England team is important the question is how do we make it happen?
Let’s look at the numbers. Twenty years ago 69 per cent of all the players starting matches in the Premier League were qualified to play for England. Please note the statistic I am using in this argument. I am not talking about the number of English players registered to play for a club, what is relevant here is the number of English players who actually start Premier League matches. Now I know statistics can be manipulated but no-one can argue that the overall trend isn’t anything but alarming.
As I’ve said in the 92/93 season the figure for English players in the starting line-ups of Premier League clubs was 69 per cent. Ten years later that figure was down to 38 per cent. Last season, another ten years on, the same figure was down to 32 per cent.
But we already know the problem is going to get worse in the future. In that same 2012/13 season – last season – the number of English players under the age of 21 who appeared in the Premier League filled only 2.3 per cent of the total number of minutes played. This compares with 6.2 per cent in Germany and 7.3 per cent in France. In fact the CIES Football Observatory reported that only 35 English players under the age of 21 made appearances in the Premier League last season.
And just look at the transfer activity this summer. Two years ago 37 per cent of all new signings by Premier League Clubs were qualified to play for England. Last summer the figure was 28 per cent. This summer the figure was 25 per cent.
According to Deloitte, of the ?630 million spent by Premier League clubs during the transfer window which closed on Monday, some ?490 million went to overseas clubs for foreign players and a great deal of the rest was spent on foreign players already playing within the Premier League. In fact it has been reported this morning that only 9 per cent of that overall spend was spent on English players and of the total summer transfers only 32 players, 22 per cent, were English.
Last weekend only 65 English players started in the Premier League with another 14 coming on as substitutes. Taking into account that some of these players are not international standard I think it’s fair to say we already have a very small talent pool and it’s getting smaller.
Let me just explain with a couple of recent examples.
We were all thrilled when Wigan, the underdog, won The FA Cup last season – all except for Manchester City fans that is – but only one of the eleven players who started for Wigan that day was qualified to play for England, although to be fair another qualified player did come on to score the winner.
A second example, Sunderland have signed fourteen players during the summer transfer window. They are made up of four Italians, three Frenchmen, one Swiss, one Czech, one American, one Greek, one Swede, one South Korean and a sole Englishman. In fact, in Sunderland’s first game of the season against Fulham there were only four players on the pitch at the start of the game who were actually qualified to play for England.
Mind you in the Newcastle team beaten 4-0 by Manchester City on that same opening weekend it was even worse – there was only one English player in their starting line-up.
This is not, repeat not, a criticism of those particular clubs, of Premier League clubs in general or even of the League overall, but it does illustrate the growing problem we face. No-one planned this but it is the result of my law of unintended consequences.
When Sir Trevor Brooking reported on the England Under-21’s 6-0 victory over the Scotland Under-21’s to The FA Board two weeks ago he was enthusiastic about the performance of many of the players. But he went on to tell the Board “what I can’t guarantee is that these players will play regularly enough at the top level to develop into full internationals.”
In fact only three of the 23 players who were in that Under-21 England squad for the Scotland game actually started for Premier League teams in the first weekend of the season.
This is not only an English problem, although I suspect the problem is more acute here than elsewhere. But I was interested to read Italy’s coach saying this week that Italy needs more home-grown talent. He said: “It was thought that the presence of so many foreigners could be an incentive for our youngsters, but, as we’ve seen, that hasn’t been the case. We need to reflect on this. We have to study and plan.”
English football has come together in recent years to try to address the issues of youth development and there is no doubt progress has been made. The collective efforts following England’s poor performance in South Africa resulted in changes to pitch sizes and team numbers at grassroots youth level, while the Elite Player Performance Plan, led by the Premier League, is aimed at producing more top level players. The game has shown through this work that it can work together.
Where it seems we still have a serious problem is in the transition of young players – and particularly young English players – out of academies into first team football.
But this isn’t only a problem in the Premier League. If you look further down the system into the Championship, which, incidentally, is the fourth-best attended league in Europe, there are now a large number of foreign players from all corners of the globe playing in that league as well.
Now all this comes at a time when very few English players are themselves playing overseas – we are not Belgium or Holland where most of their top players are playing abroad or even France, Spain or Italy who are now frequently exporting significant numbers of players. Almost uniquely amongst the top footballing nations virtually all of our top players are playing in their home leagues so if the best of our emerging young players can’t get a game here it means we do have a serious problem.
Now we can’t say we weren’t warned. Six years ago, in December 2007, the Professional Footballers’ Association produced a remarkably prescient report entitled Meltdown in which it outlined the emerging problem.
Perhaps most important of all the Meltdown report said “What is at stake is not just the future of the England team, but the fundamental right of English players to rise as far as their talent will take them. That right is now denied. The truth is that we have become a finishing school for the rest of the world, at the expense of our own players.”
Of course since that report was produced in 2007 the problem has got worse, not better. Perhaps no-one in football was listening, maybe they didn’t care or, most likely of all, they didn’t know what to do about it.
So the question I want to ask today is a simple one. Do we let this trend continue or do we actually try to do something about it? Last season’s figure for the Premier League was 32% English players starting games. What happens when that declines to 25 per cent, to 20 per cent or even 15 per cent? Do we still ignore the problem and hope it goes away? Or do we take action now?
Personally I think the situation is serious, very serious. But saying that is easy. Before we can actually do anything we need to understand why this is happening. Almost everyone I have spoken to in recent weeks recognises the problem but they have offered a whole range of different reasons for why it is happening and, as a result, have suggested a whole range of different possible solutions.
So today I am announcing that I intend to set up and chair an FA commission, starting this month and reporting in the New Year, to ask three simple questions – firstly in the commission’s judgment why has this happened, secondly what could be done about it and thirdly to work out how, if possible, we actually make those changes.
The third is important because what I’ve discovered over time running a range of organisations is that getting the policy right isn’t always the hardest task. Often the toughest challenge is implementing ideas for change, particularly when the tanker needs turning. And English football, I think, is a tanker which needs turning.
Now I know setting up a commission might be seen as a bureaucratic response to a serious problem but if we are to have any chance of success going forward it’s important that football as a whole recognises the problem and also buys into the possible radical solutions which is why I have invited the Chairmen of both the Premier League and the Football League to join the commission along with the Chairmen of the League Managers Association and the PFA.
I would also like to take this opportunity to invite a wide range of organisations and individuals to come forward, to give evidence to our commission and to come up with ideas. Organisations ranging from the leagues and clubs to players organisations and supporters groups; Individuals ranging from former England managers and players to current players and coaches, from academics who have studied football to interested journalists. We want to hear intelligent views on what could be done.
OK, before people rush away and say the solutions are obvious let me tell you just some of the possible causes of the problem people have put forward to me over the last three months – and these have come from a range of serious people in football. They all agree there is a problem but, as I’ve already said, the causes they have put forward are many and varied.
Some say it’s because English kids are simply not good enough. That technically they don’t learn enough when they are young – up to the age of eleven – and as a result can’t compete with Spanish, French, Dutch or German kids as they get older. This theory would also partially explain why we weren’t winning European Championships and World Cups even when many more than 70 per cent of the old first division players were English.
Related to this explanation others say we simply haven’t got enough coaches trained to a high enough level. The figures here are interesting. England has 1,161 coaches at UEFA ‘A’ level compared with 12,720 in Spain and 5,500 in Germany.
At Pro Licence level England has 203 coaches, Spain has 2,140 and Germany has more than a thousand.
Now I am told by UEFA that these figures could be misleading because they are not necessarily comparing apples with apples. Some of our leading coaches have also pointed out that what matters is quality not quantity. Well the commission will investigate all this but on the face of it the numbers are worrying.
Now some of the youth team coaches I have met argue we do have the kids with the potential to be top class players but their argument is that not enough of them get a chance in the Premier League because it’s so much easier to sign someone from overseas rather than give the kid from the youth team or the reserves a chance.
I was interested to read Gary Neville’s view recently when he said “I’ve always felt the cream would rise to the top but I’m not quite so sure any more. I’m no longer sure that if a player is good enough he will have a chance of getting through.” If Gary is right who knows what talent the England team is missing out on?
Then there are others who say the problem of having so many foreign players is caused by the owners of Premier League clubs who are so impatient for success that no manager dare take a chance on English kids when it could mean putting his job on the line, it’s much easier to buy someone from overseas. They point for evidence for this lack of risk taking to the fact that in the year gone by the managers of the two English clubs which won the Champions League and the Premier League in 2012 both got sacked for not being successful enough and that the expected life of a Premier League manager continues to decrease.
Another explanation put forward by a lot of people is that it is cheaper to sign overseas players. They argue that the transfer fees clubs have to pay to sign foreign players are lower and that the wages English players demand are higher. This would explain one manager’s comment to me that English football is now full of a lot of very average foreign players as well as some brilliant ones.
Others argue that if your top league is largely foreign owned with foreign managers why should those in control care about developing the England team? Their national allegiances are elsewhere and they don’t have that fire in their belly for England. Why would they? For them England is just another national team not their national team, just one amongst many. Of course it would be remiss of me not to point out that The FA itself has appointed two well-paid foreign managers.
Now a lot of people say that things are already changing with the recently introduced elite structure for youth players. Fine but what I am told is if you look around the youth set ups of our most successful clubs today what do you find? A lot of young foreign players brought to England to be developed by English clubs. The argument goes that these foreign youngsters are not super numery, they are taking the places English kids could have had. This, too, is something the commission needs to investigate.
Yet another explanation came from a senior figure at one of our most successful clubs. His argument was that the gap in quality and playing styles between the Premier League and the Championship is just too wide. In short his case was that English boys playing in the Championship were not developing their skills in a way which would enable them to be good enough to become Premier League players so instead Premier League clubs buy from overseas.
OK so they are just some of the theories that have been brought to my attention, theories which the Commission will look at. And try to say: ‘do we believe it or don’t we?’ Other suggested remedies which we will consider include looking at if it’s possible to introduce quotas, in legal terms a complex matter but one which should be explored. We should also examine how the current work permit system operates – and it is worth pointing out that roughly 30 per cent of the players who received work permits this summer did not meet the standard criteria – and we should review the loan system to see if it can be made more effective in terms of developing players. I would also expect the commission to evaluate the pros and cons of a mid-season break.
Now I don’t know which of these many and varied explanations, if any, are valid. The one thing I’m certain of is that there won’t be one single cause for our problem. This is a complex issue – that’s why the Commission needs to listen to and examine the evidence, commission its own research, understand how other countries deal with this issue and then, and only then, make some judgments and propose some changes.
Of course the irony of my argument today is that the Premier League club which has probably done the most to bring through young English players over the past 20 years is the club which has also been the most successful over that time – Manchester United. Perhaps giving more English players a chance doesn’t necessarily spell doom and disaster?
Now as a former journalist I know this speech could well be written up as “Dyke declares war on the Premier League” but it genuinely isn’t that. English football has a problem. English football has to find a solution together. As I said earlier at The FA we know we have to up our own game.
But it is also crucial that English football finds a solution without undermining the undoubted success of the Premier League. We don’t want to kill the golden goose in the search of the golden egg but we do have to do something if the English team is to prosper in the future.
If not it’s hard to see England even challenging for the World Cup or the Euro Championship in the years ahead let alone meeting the targets I’ve set today.
If not we will be letting down generations of English kids who might otherwise have made it at the top level in football but weren’t given the chance.
If not we will be letting down the England fans who turn up in their thousands here at Wembley or watch the England team in their millions on the television. They want a successful England.
If not we will be letting down the 400,000 volunteers who work with kids every week across England in the belief that the very best will find their way through.
In short we all have a responsibility to do our best to reverse this frightening trend because if we fail we will be letting English football down and we will be letting the nation down.
I believe my job, as Chairman of The FA, is to ensure that the structures are in place to give future England teams the best possible chance of achieving success and that is what I intend to do.