If you care about football in England this is a book that you have to read. The author Matthew Whitehouse has managed to cover from A-Z the failures that have had an extremely negative effect on the game and generations of footballers. It also puts forward a wide array of solutions and ideas that can bring out the very best results for the game in the country and develop the most skilled footballers on a global scale.
Youth development might not be a subject that every football fan has taken interest in but this book gives you an excellent opportunity to learn about one of the most important aspects of the game if not the most important aspect of football and enjoy the process at the same time.
This is a must read for coaches. Some will without a doubt be familiar with the contents of the book to others it might be a wake up call. And if so a necessary one. I would say the same for parents whose children have chosen to play the sport and want to give their child the very best opportunity to thrive at it and enjoy what they are doing. The knowledge in this book will give you a very good idea of how to meet those requirements for your child.
In the past those in charge of setting out a blueprint for the English game have been following a method that can only be described as the definition of insanity. Which is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Decades of forced implementation from the FA of the kick and rush method style of play has had terrible effects on the game. It has served as a net which catches the skillful technician and tactician who turns the game into an art-form which football fans marvel at for making the game truly beautiful.
Some players have escaped that net and on to the pitch and into professional teams in England over the past decades and have thrived in teams which have used methods that suited their skills. If they were picked to play for England however they mostly suffered and were left chasing shadows and were mostly ineffective.
Which is not a surprise when they enter a team which does not follow the methods of most successful teams. As Matthew put so well in his book is that England have not learned from teams that lift trophies . Even when they are lifted by domestic teams.
The stubbornness on display for such a long period of time is almost unfathomable. And I shudder of the thought of all the talented players that never escaped that net and the positive effect they would have had on the game. You can only imagine how different the history of the game would have been if more of the so called magicians of the game would have been able to make their mark on it. Of course these players are not magicians as we often call them but a product of correct coaching methods and dedication to their craft.
I´m by no means condemning a direct method of playing football but using it as a sole method of coaching players is extremely detrimental to the their development. Ignoring so many important aspects of what the game consists of is foolish. It ignores far too many attributes which make a good all around footballer. It´s like building a race car which has speed and power but has major difficulties steering on a track which is curved and requires great maneuverability of it´s steering mechanism in order to not go off track time after time in the middle of a race. The car that England built was designed to go mostly in one direction and it has driven of the track far to many times without to many adjustments being made to the design. The FA and the Premier League are trying to make some alterations to the design however with the implementation of the Elite Player Performance Plan which aim is to put the players development as the number one priority and giving them a higher standard of coaching as we see in many other countries. This effort is very positive one which will of course take some time to bear fruit before the players developed in that plan will make it to a professional level.
In this period the people in charge of implementing it will have to take great care and consideration into the planning in order for them to be as successful as they want it to be. As for any long term project there will always be new challenges to overcome which cannot be foreseen at the start of such an ambitious project. There is at least one aspect which has to be addressed and that´s that the changes don´t deal with these issues outside of the academies. And if these measures are not applied to football which is not at academy level I fear that the project will not be effective enough.
I would strongly recommend that The Way Forward would act as a guide for the Elite Player Performance Plan as the variety of issues it addresses all need to be carefully contemplated.
Each chapter highlights something that needs to be corrected and offers an idea or ideas of how to find a solution so it can be corrected. How to improve the technical skills of players by putting emphasis on how to control the ball from an early age. Technical skill development is something that England lacks and various suggestions are made in the book on how to improve that. From street football, futsal to the philosophy of Wiel Coerver for example.
How to stamp out the results above creativity and development mentality. The questions of early specialization and if diversification might be the more sensible approach to making a more well rounded individuals. Developing game intelligence which can make the difference in developing mediocre players and world class players were the ideas and methods of Horst Wein and John Cartwrigth are introduced.
What academies are neglecting which includes the introduction of Anders Ericsson and Michel Bruyninckx ideas on putting more emphasis on cognitive development along with individualized training, physical development and the art of defending.
How England need to invest in coaching as it´s probably one of the most important aspects of youth development to have as many highly qualified coaches for every level to get the most out of the pool of players who are in the game at any given time.
Bridging the gap is another excellent chapter about how not nearly enough players from academies are taking the step up to the professional level. From hoarding talent to poor development loans. The academies have to improve so much on their decision making on whether and when they bring a player into their academy and which club they choose to loan them to. A system has to be developed which puts the players needs as the number one priority.
Finding the talent is another very interesting part of the book where the issue of how important the environment which a player is in is for his success. Malcolm Gladwell and Matthew Syed have made some excellent observations on how much opportunities and environment will play a big role in a players future success. The age advantage is also very well tackled along with how important a scouts work is. This is a demanding job which requires a very analytical mind with a great attention to detail. And far too often physical attributes have been chosen over talent and maybe most importantly intelligence . Sometimes to the point where it becomes a depressing farce. Mental toughness is one the most important attributes that a footballer needs. Carol Dweck and Dan Abrahams idea´s are introduced in these regards and shed a good light on the subject. The attributes that scouts look for need to be given more consideration from every scout in order to find more well rounded players.
The author also points out how the FA and the Premier League have failed English football. The lack of many combining factors like a clear vision, organization and trust. And to much greed, self interest and almost total disregard for youth development have damaged the game greatly.
Many nations have acted to ensure that their youth development is well managed, Holland, Spain, Germany and Belgium are good examples. There have been calls for a change in direction in the past in England like the Charter for Quality when Howard Wilkinson was Technical Director but the implementation was not successful due to a number of reasons mentioned in the book.
The Elite Player Performance Plan is now being implemented along with that the Future Game proposals having been approved by the FA which are very positive steps. The Future Game makes small sided games mandatory for youth teams up to the age of 13. Youth footballers will no longer be allowed to play on full size pitches, teams will play with fewer players on the pitch(5V5 and 9V9) and the goals will not be adult sized goals. The madness of youth players going out on the pitch playing 11v11 on a full size pitch will be a thing of the past. And the rule changes will be more focused towards development rather then winning at all costs.
Most of the money made from football in England is distributed to the top level of football and only a small fraction goes to youth development which makes little sense as it´s the foundations of football. While I find the changes that the FA have started to implement to be very positive and I have come across many coaches with the right mindset to make these changes . More needs to be done and I urge coaches, parents and football fans in general to read this book and become aware of the situation in English football. To provide more then just hope that these changes will be implemented but pressure if it will be needed. Being aware of the situation will help a great deal.
It will be a real shame if a league based in England will be void of players from it and the league will have to rely almost entirely on purchases from abroad where nations are developing world class footballers and the league game looses it´s roots to the nation.
I would like to thank Matthew Whitehouse for the time, effort and care he has put into writing this book and I hope as many people possible read it.
Arnar Steinsson writes about youth development for The Tomkins Times. A review copy of this book was provided by the author.
For more about Matt Whitehouse, read an interview here.