The new breed of English footballer
Tuesday 9th October 2012 was the day heralded to be a fresh beginning for young English talent. The opening of the £105 million complex near Burton is designed to revolutionise the way that England coaches its future stars. After seeing similar approaches work in Barcelona with ‘La Masia’ and in France with their infamous academy at Clairefontaine, the FA see the project as ‘key to the future of English football’.
The former FA technical director Howard Wilkinson dreamt of the project back in 1998 and he, along with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, was in attendance for the grand opening. When questioned regarding the aims of the complex in the future, Wilkinson replied, ‘we have only 30 per cent of the players in the Premier League being English and that is ground that we have lost’.
What Wilkinson is saying is that there should be more English talent at the pinnacle of the English league. In theory this makes sense but should the current crop of English players be anything to go by, do we want more English players as the heroes of our nation?
Over the past year, John Terry, the idolised former English captain has been embroiled in a despicable and shoddy affair regarding racism. In essence, we had the supposed zenith of English football insulting another player because of the colour of his skin. Such is the ferocity of what Terry clearly said, that it’s quite extraordinary that another English superstar Ashley Cole, regardless of his own skin colour, would have the tenacity to support Terry over the allegations.
English football finds itself at a crossroads. With the new centre at Burton, we have a chance to create more than a new breed of footballer. England can revolutionise everything that a footballer means, St George’s Park could be the start of a new culture of responsibility. Playing football for your country must be more than the mere game, the new breed can be footballers who are not only adored for their exceptional ability but admired for their personalities. Out of the recent England teams there are only a few examples of the behaviour that should flow through the blood of the three lions.
One is Steven Gerrard, whose glittering career has been full of truly outstanding moments. In terms of football, his efforts that hauled Liverpool back from the precipice of failure in Champions League final of 2005 should considered as one of the finest performances of the 21st century. Gerrard is unique, his commitment both to club and country almost unparalleled in the modern game. Despite the well-known transfer speculation that riddled the majority of his heyday, he maintained that Liverpool would be the one and only club of his career. For England he has always given exciting and committed performances, recently being the only English representative in the best team of Euro 2012.
However, the reason why Gerrard is the model for which England aim is for his off-field behaviour. After suffering intense personal tragedy losing his cousin in the horrors of Hillsborough, Gerrard’s tenacity and dedication has epitomised that English spirit that every countryman yearns to see. He has not got caught up in some of the fancies and enticements that have seen fellow internationals fall into the pits of public opinion.
Ultimately, England has a remarkable opportunity to establish itself as a football nation whose starts recognise their roles beyond the field of play. We must strive to create an attitude that is woven into the fabric of every player, an attitude which would never condone racism or get lost in the attractions that modern day football is littered with. Howard Wilkinson wants to see more English players, which I entirely agree with, but they must be made of different mettle, in the future our heroes cannot afford to be of previous standards. With Roy Hodgson, England has a clever and insightful man who can guide our team to fabled heights. But he will only be able to do so with a team full of professionals who endeavour to represent their country in a respectable manner.
I do not expect to see every English player swap their money churning autobiography for the foundation of a worthy charity, although any that wish to follow Didier Drogba’s example are more than welcome to do so. I would just ask that with this new centre of excellence English coaches create heroes who genuinely understand that with ability comes responsibility.
Raphael Salama, Football Correspondent