Vote today… and say NO to big goals and long balls
23:00 GMT, 27 May 2012
23:00 GMT, 27 May 2012
This afternoon in the Royal Suite at Wembley Stadium, a meeting will take place that could shape the future of English football.
Forget, for the moment, Saturday’s friendly with Belgium. This is not about preparing for one tournament, but 20.
Get this call right and a new, progressive chapter for the national game can begin; get it wrong and much of what the Football Association hopes to achieve at its St George’s Park facility in Burton may be undermined.
From 2pm, the Annual General Meeting of FA shareholders will consider the most radical overhaul of youth football ever proposed in this country. It has been a long time coming, and this is the final hurdle.
Building for the future: The St George's Park facility
Pitch and goal sizes, team numbers and competition formats are all under consideration. To effect change, the FA requires 75 per cent of 1,120 votes cast by an unwieldy consensus of the professional game, the semi-professional clubs, county associations and administrative bodies such as the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Every idea is a bright one. Each concept has been crafted with the needs of the young footballer in mind.
We should, in theory, produce better technical players because of this. We should, for those who are not born to play for Manchester United, at least have more fun. What could possibly go wrong You’d be surprised.
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The county associations are the key to this and the FA are nervous. Gareth Southgate, the head of elite development and Nick Levett, national development manager for youth and mini-soccer, have been doing the rounds in recent weeks in an attempt to win hearts, minds and votes at grass roots level. It is not as easy as it would seem.
At county level, there is resistance. One of the proposals is for the end of formal leagues up to the age of 11, to be replaced by three six-week trophy events, separated by non-competitive fixtures. This does not play well with those who enjoy being head of a clearly defined league. Counties fear erosion of power, perhaps of finance, certainly of kudos and control.
In essence, these suspicions are groundless. Trophy-winning youth football tournaments will still need organising, whether in a league or cup format. Indeed, the new way will be more fulfilling. Instead of a 26-week slog through a conventional league programme, which leaves most with little to play for after the first few matches, the six-week trophy events can match teams of equivalent skill.
The strongest can play a brief round-robin league, with a prize at the end, so can the mid-ranking teams, and the weakest. It should end the youth football phenomenon of the 10-0 defeat, or worse, 10-0 followed by 8-0 followed by 9-0 and finally 14-0, until everyone loses interest. And it is only until the start of senior school, the age at which more conventional formats return.
Yet, there are many frightened men out there; scared that the 11-a-side game is under attack, or that their tiny band of wannabe Wayne Rooneys will not fulfil their grand and rightful destiny as the under-9 champions of East Cheam District League, Division Three, sweeping all before them.
The complication is that FA shareholders do not all operate a one man, one vote system. There are 767 county votes in total and they come in blocks. Birmingham, for instance, is worth 42 votes; as is London. Trade union style, one man will arrive at Wembley with a mandate for his entire area.
Key vote: Gareth Southgate
So if Southgate and Levett have managed to get Cambridgeshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Devon, Dorset, Herefordshire, Huntingdonshire, Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Somerset, Westmorland and Worcestershire onside, but Birmingham and London vote against, the nays still have it 84 votes to 82.
Indeed, Birmingham and London are proving difficult to convert, as is Staffordshire, which holds 23 votes — and the St George’s Park complex. The doubters do not even have to turn up, because block votes can be cast by post or proxy, and the FA are expecting no more than 100 people to attend this literally game-changing event.
Some of Levett’s ideas have already been watered down, but on the basics being put before the shareholders there can be no compromise. The FA want to reduce team numbers so that the under-7 and under-8 age groups play five-a-side football, under-9 and under-10 play seven-a-side, and then nine-a-side for under-11 and under-12, only moving to full size pitches, targets and team numbers at under-13.
This would bring our youth game into line with many of the major European countries where smaller pitches and reduced team numbers lead to increased action, frequent contact with the ball, and appreciably better technique.
No more clod-hopping big boys at the back, being told to hoof it long; no more mighty atoms attempting to defend the same size goal as Petr Cech; no more aspiring Fabio Capellos on touchlines, barking adult instructions at innocents, installing a win at all costs mentality where simple pleasures of fun, friendship and skill should be.
There is absolutely no point wondering why our elite footballers do not possess the ability and tactical understanding of their rivals in tournaments, and then voting to maintain the status quo and the system that nurtured these in-built flaws.
Here is a genuine opportunity to create change. Not the superficial change of a first England cameo for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Cameo: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appeared against Norway
This is real change, lasting change, change that will define not the 2012 European Championship or the 2014 World Cup, but competitions in destinations unknown.
This is the chance to build for 2066. At the very least, we can give a kid something more to look forward to than a six-goal thrashing in a quagmire each Sunday, or banish for ever the forlorn sight of the sodden goalkeeper wondering how he can grow three feet in the next minute to save this penalty.
Incredibly, there are people who oppose this, who think 46 years without a major final is not long enough.
They would rather preserve a personal fiefdom than cut to the heart of the malaise in the English game.
England’s problems start, not against France on June 11, but years earlier, on ill-fitting park pitches in our own backyards.
Until we realise that, youthful generations will be held hostage by men without imagination, but an unfortunately large share in the future of our game.
You look a bit of a turkey, Michel
It has been another barnstorming week for the presidency of UEFA chief Michel Platini.
Having said two days after the bidding process opened that he would be supporting Turkey as hosts of the 2020 European Championship — only to discover that just about every other credible rival then failed to declare an interest — it now transpires that the Turkish Football Federation does not have full government guarantees supporting the project.
Istanbul is also bidding to be Olympic host city in 2020 and Platini insists he will withdraw support if it is chosen, understandably feeling the country could not adequately focus on two major sporting events in such a short space of time.
Yet in accepting Istanbul’s candidacy, along with that of Madrid and Tokyo, International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge announced only the Olympic aim had official government backing.
Revered: Michel Platini the French football maestro
‘We know there is a bid to stage the 2020 European Championship, but this does not have the financial guarantees of the government,’ he said. ‘In Turkey there is only one official bid, which is the Olympic bid.’
Where does this leave Platini
Panicking. The only other confirmed interest in Euro 2020 comes from Georgia and Azerbaijan, while implorations may attract a second joint bid from Scotland, Wales and Ireland, three countries that do not have a single shared border between them.
Platini says he is not happy for Turkey to continue pursuing both events, yet there would be no problem had he not declared his hand so prematurely, scaring off alternatives.
How did he not see this coming Liverpool won the 2005 Champions League final in Istanbul’s newly constructed Olympic Stadium. The Turkish constitution incorporates parts of the Olympic charter.
Istanbul bid to host the Olympics in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012. UEFA’s president has too many people fawning over him for once being a very good footballer. Had he emerged from any other profession he would, by now, be known as a fool.
Determined: Micah Richards still has a shot
Micah right to keep faith
Micah Richards, we are told, will continue to pursue his international career despite being snubbed by England manager Roy Hodgson.
Why wouldn’t he Richards is 23. Even if Hodgson sees out his entire four years as England manager, Richards will not be past his peak.
And what happened to trying to change a man’s mind, or working to improve your game Since when does a player chuck it in just because he is not on the first squad sheet Is the modern professional truly this precious
Phil Jagielka willingly accepted a place in Hodgson’s stand-by squad, and, increasingly, is tipped for late inclusion in the final 23. If Hodgson loses any player through injury, he is likely to reconfigure his numbers to accommodate the Everton man.
Jagielka may yet show the value of perseverance and Richards must, too.
More Blatter bluster
Well, that didn’t take long.
Bayern Munich lose the first penalty shoot-out in their history, and FIFA president Sepp Blatter calls for another method of deciding important matches.
And who does he want to look into this problem Franz Beckenbauer — of Bayern Munich. Meanwhile, Sheffield United manager Danny Wilson should not hold his breath for Blatter’s call.
It is unlikely his disappointment even registered in Zurich. Maybe, in the event of a draw, the mandarins could simply present the trophy to the wealthiest, grandest, most privileged club on the park. You know they want to.
Women need punters
There is a Stephen Sondheim song from A Little Night Music, entitled Every Day A Little Death. It could be the signature tune for women’s football in this country.
On Saturday, Sky television cut from the Women’s FA Cup final between Birmingham Ladies and Chelsea, before the penalty shoot-out, in order to broadcast the League One play-off. Not the match itself, you understand; just the preview. The shoot-out was shunted to the hinterland beyond the red button, so we could observe Jordan Rhodes warming-up.
Cue predictable outrage. Vicky Jones, captain of Liverpool Ladies, tweeted: ‘Absolutely shocking. No respect. Would this have happened for the men’s FA Cup final’ And, of course, it wouldn’t.
Then again, the men would not be playing in front of 8,723 — the lowest crowd for the women’s final since 2005 — at Ashton Gate, where the capacity is over 21,000 and the top-priced ticket was 5.
The play-off attracted 52,100 to Wembley, which explains Sky’s priorities. They go with the majority, because that is what advertisers want.
The women’s game does not need more self-righteous comparisons. It needs punters. It goes to red button access because it is of minority interest and its showpiece fixture attracts roughly the same gate that regularly attends Oxford United. If women’s football is ever to get respect, stop tweeting about it and go.
Home grown: Hoilett
One of the benefits of UEFA’s financial fair play rules is that they encourage clubs to produce talent, rather than rely on the transfer market.
This is how it plays out in reality.
Junior Hoilett has been at Blackburn Rovers since he was 13. He is now 21 and out of contract in the summer. Compensation if he signs for an English club would be fixed at around 4million. If he goes abroad, however, rules change and he could be signed for as little as 750,000.
Werder Bremen and Borussia Moenchengladbach are interested, but suppose a truly powerhouse European club got involved From Munich to Madrid the elite already have the greatest benefit from FFP, with more spending power than any domestic rival. Not content with that, however, they can also take the best young players at knockdown prices.
Under FFP rules, Blackburn can only spend what they make. What price a youth policy, then, when UEFA’s compensation levels depress the market A club that has the most money gets a break, while Blackburn are financially handicapped by having the cream of their youth product seized on the cheap.
UEFA might want to investigate the meaning of fairness in a dictionary because they seem to have it confused with something else.
Missing the point
The most bizarre argument for David Beckham’s inclusion in the Team GB football squad is that it is not a serious entity, merely a one-off event never to be repeated, and can therefore be used as a glorified testimonial to add a bit of celebrity sparkle to the occasion.
If this is the case, what is the point in providing a team at all Leave Olympic football to those countries that extract some value from it.
If Louis will keep quiet at Liverpool, I'm a Dutchman
The idea that Louis van Gaal could be a benign and agreeable presence as sporting director at Liverpool is a bit like saying Ken Livingstone would be just the man to head up the quango that provides the checks and balances on the position of London mayor.
No time to gloat
Neil Warnock says he wasted no time texting Queens Park Rangers owner Tony Fernandes following the club’s narrow Premier League survival.
‘My three away wins don’t look so bad now,’ Warnock crowed, having been dismissed by Fernandes in January. Warnock’s single home win in 10 matches, however, was the reason Rangers were in trouble in the first place.
One can only hope that Fernandes retained the wit to remember that in his reply.