The English national team has long been known for their inability to cut it when it comes to the latter stages of major international competitions, regularly coming unstuck against more skilful, creative and more composed nations. However, with the England Under-20 side having won the World Cup back in 2017, the Under-19’s lifting the European Championship in the same year and the senior side having reached the World Cup semi-finals in Russia 12 months later, it seems that the tide may well be turning for the Three Lions.
Following England’s embarrassing defeat to former minnows Iceland at Euro 2016, the Football Association came up with a list of five key new DNA elements that would help to enhance their training program:
England’s new DNA approach has been coming to life at St. George’s Park, their world class training facility, which features no less than 13 pitches, including a replica of the field at Wembley Stadium. As well as this, sports science facilities, a state-of-the-art gym and even a hotel are found at the venue which opened back in 2012.
Learning from the Best
Those at the top of the English game have admitted that they look at models created by the likes of Spain, Holland and Germany in creating their new approach, as well as areas closer to home from the world of cycling and hockey. It was France who led the way in this area however, creating the famous “Clairefontaine” training facility back in 1988, where all of their football teams still convene today. France won the World Cup on home soil just ten years later, with England having a similar goal.
Another part of the plan is to expose players to as many leagues as possible, which those in charge believe will increase confidence levels when making the step up to senior level. In what has long been a major talking point surrounding the English game, over 60% of all Premier League players are foreign, with English youngsters having often been neglected in favour of a big-name import. As a result, promising youngsters have often ended up plying their trade in the lower leagues. We have already seen this coming into effect in recent times, with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Reiss Nelson and Ademola Lookman having all starred in the German Bundesliga over recent years.
Premier League Integration
The number of youngsters included in match day Premier League squads is certainly increasing, suggesting that the Elite Player Performance Program, introduced in 2012, is starting to bring about results. The top-flight’s Head of Youth Neil Saunders is in charge of helping to produce more home-grown players, which is achieved by developing a more player-led approach. The likes of Phil Foden, Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ryan Sessegnon and Morgan Gibbs-White have all been beneficiaries of this scheme, with all having played top-flight action during the 18/19 season.
The program aims to promote empowerment for each player, aided by the improvement of training facilities, coaching and education. However, there is still clearly work to be done, with the number of academy players progressing through to the first team of Premier League clubs still low in comparison to other major European nations. Following a study by the CIES Football Observatory, 23.6% of first team players in Spain were home-grown between 2009-2017, while in France, this figure sat at 23.2%. However, in England, a disappointing 14.1% of top-flight players were home-grown.
The FA are under know illusions that they clearly have further work to do, with this being a long-term project that stretches across a large number of teams and areas. However, English football is certainly on the right track in this area, with a number of gifted youngsters having emerged over recent years.
While replicating the model used by England is unrealistic for most local clubs, there are certainly aspects of the new DNA that can also be utilised. It is undoubtedly key to create consistent coaching plans that have clear goals in mind, whilst coaches can also offer additional support when it comes to confidence and igniting passion.
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