The verdict on the aspiring players and coaches who will work on its 12 perfectly manicured pitches will have to wait, but there can no complaints about the setting.
St George’s Park is built to deliver long-term results rather than provide a quick-fix to the English game’s ills, but it has much ground to make up, and questions remain as to whether this gleaming new asset is the answer to deeper structural issues.
In the 10 years since the FA bought the site it has had to accept that control of player development lies with the professional clubs. So the mantra of St George’s Park is not player development, but “coaching the coaches”.
David Sheepshanks, who, as chairman, has overseen the delivery of St George’s Park, neatly summarised what it took to get the project out of mothballs.
“When I was canvassing for support from the professional clubs the game changer was when I showed them the slide that said what St George’s Park was not going to be. We were not trying to build a new Lilleshall, or to use this place to develop players. What they wanted was us to invest in coach education.”
No one doubts that English football needs more, better coaches. The aim is that ‘SGP’ will produce a dozen coaches with the Uefa Pro Licence each year, up to a 100 more holding the A-standard, and act as the inspiration for thousands of others at grassroots level.
But as with players, the challenge is to provide the best coaches with the
opportunity to develop, and for that it needs buy-in from the professional
game, and specifically the
The League did not become a global phenomenon by being picky about where its talent comes from, and English players have not always prospered. The paradox is reflected by the performances of the national team. And as with the players, just 35 per cent of whom are English on an average Premier League weekend, so with the coaches.
Sir Trevor Brooking, who bears the scars of many battles over these issues, was frank about how much ground there is to make up.
According to a man who learned his craft under Ron Greenwood, years of neglect have left a caricature of the English coach and his players as long-ball merchants. “When I was playing we were lucky enough to have a great group of English coaches. I played under Ron Greenwood, and he brought through Bobby Robson, Terry Venables, Dave Sexton, Dario Gradi.
“Then we had our crowd trouble, we went out of Europe and we played some terrible football, we went very direct and damaged our reputation.
“Now there’s a tendency to believe that the English coach has a direct style. We do have to rebuild that and this place is a great way to start that. But it is only a starting point, let’s not kid ourselves we have some catching up to do.
“Unfortunately we have to got to accept there is a quite a global ownership in the Premier League and there is a perception to think that if you need foreign players then you need a foreign coach because they know who they are better, which of course is not the case. But we do need to do that bit of catching up.”
Sheepshanks believes SGP will change both perceptions and reality, and is hopeful that opportunities will follow at home and abroad.
“Definitely,” Sheepshanks said. “Howard Wilkinson’s vision of this as an Oxford and Cambridge of coaching is a really good guiding principle. In 10 years’ time or even five, I want people to be talking about the enlightened level of coaching that is on offer here, and seeing that it is offering aspiring young coaches the best jobs and the biggest jobs of all. I want aspiring coaches to think that if they want to get on, they have to come to St George’s Park.”
If that is the reality, the 10-year wait may have been worthwhile.
AGE NO BARRIER FOR BERNSTEIN
David Bernstein’s chances of being given a one-year extension as Football Association chairman will face their first hurdle next week when the FA Council meets to debate the issue.
The chairman is pursuing an extra year despite being over the mandatory retirement age of 70, and has persuaded a majority of the board to approve the move.
The extension requires a change to the FA statutes, and the first step is gaining approval from the 115 FA councillors, who are expected to give the required 51 per cent approval at their meeting next Wednesday.
After that Bernstein will need the support of 75 per cent of the FA’s shareholders, which includes the county FAs, as well as the professional clubs, the Football League and the Premier League, which may be a harder campaign to win.
Meanwhile, the search for a successor to Premier League chairman Sir Dave Richards may focus on candidates with first-hand experience of clubs.
A nominations committee chaired by Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck is putting together the job specification, but there is strong support among club owners for a chairman who puts their interests first and acts as a check on the executive.
PRESSURE MOUNTS OVER HILLSBOROUGH INQUESTS
The Attorney General is coming under pressure to make a final decision on whether seek new inquests into the deaths of 96 Liverpool fans at Hillsborough by the end of this month.
Re-opening the inquests is the top priority of the bereaved families following the full and unequivocal vindication by the Hillsborough Independent Panel, which released its findings last month.
The inquest process has to start with Attorney General Dominic Grieve asking the High Court to overturn the original verdicts of accidental death, but while there is an expectation that he will make the request, there are suggestions it may not happen until the new year.
With a Parliamentary debate due early in November and pressure from the families continuing, Grieve will be urged to speed up his deliberations so that the road to justice can follow belated acceptance of the truth.
FA UNLIKELY TO CHARGE COLE OVER TERRY EVIDENCE
The Football Association is unlikely to pursue fresh disciplinary charges
against Ashley Cole and
An independent commission found that Cole’s evidence had “evolved”, and raised “very real concerns about the accuracy of Mr Barnard’s recollections” and his motivation during the affair.
But with the FA and its disciplinary unit, which was also criticised by the commission, desperate for and end to the controversy, there is unlikely to be any further action.