Whether in the international setup or down at grassroots level, the key to youth development is broadening the talent base, says football journalist and grasssroots coach Pete Lansley.
There is a real case to suggest that youth development in England is starting to bear fruit.
The preponderance of some of the best foreign players in the world can at times dominate the starting line-ups in our biggest matches.
But although the riches on offer to young graduates can bring problems, an increasing array of players with genuine world-class technique is enhancing England’s development teams and some of the country’s top club sides.
It can be cogently argued that the fewer English players operating in the elite division, the less talent is available for Roy Hodgson to take to Brazil for this summer’s World Cup finals.
Yet options are emerging. Even at the top end, we no longer hail Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal imp, as our chief saviour. Ross Barkley, the Everton playmaker, has come to share that epithet. And that Luke Shaw at Southampton is a fantastic young left-back.
Look at the form Raheem Sterling, and he appears nailed on for Hodgson’s World Cup squad.
This week, yes. But he’ll have to get past Alex Oxlade-Chamblerain. And that’s with Theo Walcott ruled out. Who can forget Andros Townsend’s match-winning performances in the final qualifiers in October?
Yet Adam Lallana deserves another chance after his sustained form for Southampton.
If your place in the team is in jeopardy, or your role at work, you either focus more on improving your performance, preparing better, locating your A-game attitude, or you fall by the wayside.
Take my Under-18s squad. The striker thought he was the bees’ knees last season, with the attitude from hell: didn’t train properly, seldom tracked back; a red card waiting to happen.
This term, upon taking over the team, I told him he was out. But he wanted to play where he always had. OK, two weeks’ training in August but offer us an excuse – five minutes late, one drill you don’t fancy – and you’re out.
We’re going with the lads who pull together, even if they’re less talented individually.
You get the picture. He’s now got 19 goals, top scorer in the league, in the hunt for a title medal, maybe even player of the year. He ain’t perfect, still needs an arm round the shoulder, the odd chat outside school, but boy has he climbed on board.
The diligent trainers all get their field time, feel more valued and therefore reach more towards their potential, and with standards improved in midweek, the communal performance standard has gone up on matchdays. Whether at international level, or down at the grassroots, the key is to broaden the talent base.
Down in the muck and nettles, this will help more kids enjoy football, the camaraderie, keeping fit in the outdoors. In turn, by continuing to improve the coaching, the facilities, and the coordination between clubs and FA, this will increase the possibility of Tom Ince, Wilfried Zaha, Saido Berahino, Will Hughes and their successors pushing Barkley and Wilshere to maintain their progress.
Gareth Southgate can feel spoilt for choice as he prepares his England Under-21 squad for the Euro 2015 qualifier with Wales at Derby on March 5th.
Nipping down to St George’s Park this month, watching the England Under-17s and Under-16s, has borne out the depth of talent.
What is more, for every Demetri Mitchell, the Manchester United No. 10 in the Under-17s, or Marcus Edwards, of Tottenham Hotspur, in the Under-16s, who lights up in the role in the hole, the systems and the technical approach now apparent in the national teams are the same.
England is bedding in a new DNA right down through the age groups – hopefully for ages to come.
Pete Lansley is an FA Level Two coach, managing Wirksworth Colts Under-18s, Under-15s and Brassington Primary football teams. He also holds the FA Youth Award Module Two. He has reported for The Times for 13 years.
This article was originally produced for Vauxhall Football – proud sponsor of home nations football. To read more from Pete Lansley and other football news, visit vauxhallfootball.co.uk.