TEN games. Ten wins. England couldn’t have made qualification for next summer’s European Championships look much easier. But while Roy Hodgson’s men have done a great job, their success shouldn’t be allowed to mask the fact that England’s production line is still in bad shape.
Yes, you’ve got talented lads like Ross Barkley and Dele Alli coming though. But they are the exception, not the rule. And until England starts valuing its youth coaches, that won’t change.
What do I mean by that? Put it this way – a first-team coach at a Premier League club could have an annual salary north of six figures. A guy coaching the Under-13s in an academy is probably lucky to earn £20,000.
That isn’t a vast amount of money. You can’t use it to save for a house or pay into a pension. It isn’t a career.
So what happens is that people don’t see it as one. At first, they’re enthusiastic. But after a while, they think ‘Hang on, what’s the point in me working six days a week, probably 8am to 8pm for this?’
Then they’ll do one of two things – quit the game altogether or jump at the first job which offers a decent wage packet.
The impact on young players is obvious. Coaches are jumping ship left, right and centre and each new one comes with a fresh set of ideas. As a result, there’s no consistent message, no structure, no long-term plan.
But if you value coaches – and by that I mean pay them properly – people would be happy to stay in a role for four, five, six years. Then what you’d get is dedicated guys who specialise in a particular age group and develop a really deep understanding of what those kids need.
Now, what you’ve got is first-team coaches, part-time volunteers or kids straight out of college and university, using these jobs as a playground to learn. Is that really going to produce the next generation of England stars?
In Holland or Germany, you’ve got specialists at every level between six and twelve. Even the great Dennis Bergkamp was happy to work with the Ajax Under-12s for a few years.
Could you see Wayne Rooney doing the same? We’ve got players with magnificent experience and all the coaching badges. But they look at the English structure and say ‘Why am I going to go from £40,000 a week and work as a coach for 20 grand a year?’
Now, I’m not going to say these guys should be earning ten grand a week for working in an academy. I’m not stupid.
But you have to make the pay structure reflect the kind of coach you want. If you want to win the World Cup, you aren’t going to do it by paying peanuts to inexperienced kids.
Things are improving. The Premier League have brought out this new Elite Coach Apprenticeship Scheme (ECAS) which is all about bringing in experts, learning from other sectors and bringing those messages back to clubs.
But, again, that’s tilted towards Under-21 coaches and only at Category One clubs. Even at that level, you won’t get a youth coach earning over £35,000 grand a year which is peanuts when you consider what’s coming in from TV money. And as for the FA, I’m not sure they’re doing anything at all.
That has to change. Because until we start giving youth coaching the respect it deserves, English football will continue to suffer.