Original points are that of Paul Lawrence. Edited by Ed Delaney – @thedition.
I am writing to express my concern for the current situation of English Football as well as the future development of the game in this country. At the present time I think English Football is taking a severe downward spiral and is losing its reputation of being one of World football’s biggest nations. I believe the National side has lost the fear factor they once had, and clubs in England are also becoming less feared when they play teams from different nations. There is no denying that the elite club sides in the world are not from England but from countries such as Spain and Germany. When a ‘top’ English side draws a top Spanish side in the Champions league the English team is automatically labeled as underdogs; to some this may be a good thing however do we always want to be known as the underdogs? We should be aspiring to be one of the feared nations in the world.
Out of 500 players named over 20 squads in the English Premier League, only 222 are home-grown talents. That’s an astonishing figure compared to other nations. A model example would be that of Athletic Bilbao in Spain, they have installed the philosophy of only using players that are from the Basque regions. When Bilbao met the English giants Manchester United in the Europa League in 2012 they were given a lesson in fast paced passing football – United ended up losing 5-3 on aggregate. This was an eye opener to many and showed how good the standard of football in Spain is compared to England.
The principle of football ownership and general running of clubs is also something that is a major cause for concern. Owners who are in it because of their passion for football are becoming a thing of the past – Dave Whelan of Wigan still a shining example – and are rapidly being taken over by people who think they can make quick profit. Take QPR for example, which were taken over by the director of Air Asia, Tony Fernandes. They pumped millions of pounds into QPR to try to become one of football’s big names however this backfired when they were relegated last season. When experienced head of football management, Harry Redknapp, took over as manager there last season in a last-ditch attempt to save them from relegation he said in an interview, ‘There’s an awful lot of players at this club earning far too much money for what they are; far, far, far too much money for their ability and what they give to the club.’ This shows that spending ridiculous amounts of money on wages and transfer fees doesn’t always pay off. On the other hand there is Norwich City who are owned by British Businessman Alan Bowkett, supported by lifelong Norwich fans Delia Smith and Stephen Fry. They have recently announced that they have erased £23 million of debt. This means that they are free of external debt. This is a great example of how a club should be run financially. Carrow Road regularly sells out and because of these foundations there is a real passion for football at the club. The benefits of this sensible, patient style is that now they will be able to invest more money into their squad so that they will be able to ensure Premier League stability and compete in the top half of the table. In my opinion this is where football should be changed to ensure financial stability, therefore concentrating on improving their squad and youth setup.
A “long ball” label currently underpins English football and this stereotype has been relevant for as long as I can remember. This is something that needs to be changed in order to compete with the best in the world. The successful clubs of recent years have implemented a fast passing style whilst in possession, and a fast pressing style off the ball. This is something that very few English clubs have tried. Take Southampton for example, they play a high intensity passing game combined with fast pressing. It is no fluke that they are in the top half of the Premier League and took on, and beat the supposed big clubs with their usual self-confidence at the start of the season. They have a squad of players who are far from world-beaters, in their squad of 25 they have 13 home-grown players – including promising England talents such as captain Adam Lallana and 19-year-old James Ward-Prowse. The mix of technical ability and passion between the players alongside the style that Mauricio Pochettino has brought to Southampton has made them into a great team to watch. Other clubs such as Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich are also playing this way and they lead the line in international football at this time. The club I support is Coventry City, it is no secret that we are a terribly ran club off the pitch hence the reason we play our ‘home’ games in Northampton and began the season under a transfer embargo on minus 10 points. On the pitch however we are playing brilliant football and are the in-form team in League One. We are now mid table and pushing for the play offs. Steven Pressley and his players have been a credit to the club recently, Pressley has installed a fast paced, passing style of football and other League One sides are struggling to handle the Sky Blues. Recently Leyton Orient, nicknamed the ‘Orient Express’ came to play Coventry having won 10 out of 10 fixtures sitting comfortably at the top of the league. The ‘Orient Express’ came to an abrupt stop with a 3-1 defeat at the hands off Pressley’s young team. This shows that this style of play isn’t all about the players you have but how you adapt them to play the way you want them to. The 40-year-old manager has moulded his young side magnificently. They do say it’s easier to teach young dog new tricks.
Another massive problem in modern-day football is the inconceivable salary of the professional players. How can someone possibly earn £200k a week in the current economic state? It’s ridiculous. With an increasing amount of footballers declaring themselves bankrupt, it’s not like you can say they all use their fortune wisely. There are some exceptions to this, take Didier Drogba for example, he sends money back to his home country to develop infrastructure and improve the quality of life of the people in the Ivory Coast but unfortunately this is not a common occurrence in modern-day football. If I had the authority to make big decisions in football I would bring in a wage cap to English football, each stage of the English football pyramid would have a different individual wage barrier. For example no player in the Premier League could earn over £80k a week, £15k in the Championship and £5k in League one etc. This would encourage players to work harder to earn the highest salary they can get and play in the top leagues. No 10-year-old boy who aspires to be a footballer when they grow up want to do it for the wages. They do it because they love the game like so many millions. It is disgraceful how greedy some professionals and their agents have become in recent years. Would Bobby Moore have refused to play for his club unless they offered him a new contract with a wage rise? No he would not.
This again brings me back to the point about Grass Roots football; all the money that clubs would save from the players’ salaries could be used to ensure financial stability and then to invest into the surrounding area at Grass Roots level. This would produce more English talent and would ultimately make English football a stronger force in the coming future. I am looking to gain my coaching badges in the near future, as football management has always been something I have been interested in from a young age. I looked to see where and when I could gain my Level One qualification and was astounded to see that it would cost me £110 as well as travelling at least 10 miles to get there. To me this isn’t enticing young people to want to coach football, if anything it’s putting them off, as a teenager there are a lot of other things £110 could be spent on. So what are the FA’s plans in order to attract young, eager coaches? What’s going to happen when the current coaches decide they’ve had enough and want to stop? Then will there be a sudden light bulb moment that they could reduce the prices of gaining the essential qualifications by subsidising the costs with the ridiculous incomes from television rights? This is something that needs to be acted upon immediately, as England’s footballing future will be over before it’s even started.
Being a young football fan I have played football since the age of 9, I have played at Sunday league level my entire career. Sunday league football is very popular for both adults and children throughout England. I have played with very talented footballers who have never been given a look in at Professional clubs academies; I believe that if a player can stand out on a park pitch playing with friends, then they will stand out on the green carpets that the professional clubs play on with other talented players around them. More scouts should be sent to watch footballers at a young age so that good English talent does not get wasted. The quality of pitches, coaching and officials is crying out for improvement all over the country. Professional players are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds yet amateur football clubs are folding because they can’t afford to pay for essential equipment. To prevent things like this happening there should be mandatory rules for each professional club that means they need to invest a certain percentage of the clubs income into grass-roots football in that area. This would lead to a higher quality of pitches, better coaching and top-level equipment. This would be a long-term investment that would bring great rewards in the next generations of English football.
If I were a Football manager I would try to model my team on someone like Borussia Dortmund. With the ball, play a fast passing game that will pull defenders on the opposing team out of positions therefore creating space for the dynamic midfielders to exploit. A key thing in football that I think isn’t said enough is that the opposing side cannot score without the ball. Ball retention is key. The transition from attack to defence is also essential as when a team are piling players forward and applying a lot of pressure this is where they are most vulnerable, so to have fast players that can counter attack quickly and take the pressure of the defence are vital. Borrusia Dortmund is also a great example in terms of the relationship between fans and players and club and fans. This relationship is one that should be installed in every club, because after all it’s the fans that pay the players’ wages and makes sacrifices to watch their team play around the country.
As you can see, in my opinion English football needs big changes and big changes fast. Other nations have made big changes to their footballing structure and they have all benefited massively from it. Its England’s time now to start a new chapter in International football.
Thank you for taking your time to read this and hopefully I have got some points across that I think English football can benefit from.