England has opened the doors to its new training base in the heart of the English countryside. St. George’s Park is the Football Association’s master plan to create a world-class generation of players, coaches, and sport scientists. The 330-acre, $158-million facility boasts 11 world-class pitches, a biomechanics lab, hydrotherapy suites, seminar rooms and gyms.
Nine out of the past 11 years the England national team has been managed by two foreign coaches. During this time many an English coach cried from the rooftops about the “betrayal” and “embarrassment” the FA had bestowed upon a great footballing nation.
Sven-Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello came into the job as champions, boasting 35 league and cup trophies between them. The Swede’s and Italian’s reigns were both been seen as catastrophic disasters despite the pair having the best post-war win ratio of any England manager.
West Ham United’s Sam Allardyce is one of the most outspoken and critical of a non-English manager in charge of the Three Lions. His claim is that if his surname were Allardici rather than Allardyce his stock would raise considerably, bemoaning that top domestic jobs only go to “foreigners.” Big Sam was quoted as saying, “I would be more suited to Inter Milan or Real Madrid; I would win the double or the league every time.”
You can’t knock Sam’s confidence or ambition. Despite his tactics of hitting the ball directly to a target man, Sam has made some important contributions to the advancement of sports science and coaching methods in England, such as introducing computerized player-data analysis. Ultimately, with four English managers in a division of 20, what are they doing to put themselves in contention for the top jobs? Are they perfecting their trade, or merely looking for the next pay cheque?
Steve McLaren, another failed England manager, has diversified, plying his trade with varied success in Germany and Holland. McLaren has tasted Champions League football, won the league in the Netherlands, and picked up a shexy Dutch accent to boot.
It seems to me that the coaches who were handed their first jobs in football because of who they knew, not what they knew, are not prepared to side-step or diversify to move forward. If moving abroad was good enough for now-England manager Roy Hodgson, Terry Venables, and the legendary Sir Bobby Robson, it should be good enough for all.
St. George’s Park can offer the next generation of coaches a real chance to gain the skills to become wonderful leaders, but once leaving SGP if these coaches do not seize the chance to move out of their comfort zones, if they don’t submerge themselves in different footballing philosophies and cultures, then for all the FA’s spending and grand plans another opportunity will be wasted.
As Socrates once said: “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”