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Book Review: The Way Forward: Solutions to England's Football Failings

9th September 2013

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Matthew Whitehouse's The Way Forward: Solutions to England’s Football Failings offers an in depth look at the failings of English football, from grass root level, right the way to the top. And yes, it is comprehensively depressing. Perhaps more than any of us, Whitehouse is able to pass comment on the malfunctions of our football system; he's a UEFA 'A' licensed professional coach, so we have our standard pub talk converted into the practical, a textbook on what is wrong and what desperately needs to change.

For years it has been well known that the English game is failing to produce the kind of talent that could reinstate us as a serious, modern footballing nation. To understand how its gone wrong Whitehouse looks at when, specifically the appointment of Allen Wade as technical director of the F.A in 1963. With the influence of such managers as Stan Cullis he steered a generation of coaches towards the kick and rush blueprint that would dictate the English perspective on how the game should be played for almost half a century. Consequently, only 38% of players considered good enough to play in the Premier League are English – and that includes a number of players that probably aren't.

Whitehouse highlights how we have routinely sacrificed home grown players of genuine technical ability partly because we as baying fans like to see nationalistic stereotypes, namely grit, determination, blood, sweat and tears. Players like Glen Hoddle, John Barnes, Paul Scholes and even Michael Carrick have never really been afforded the time to influence the national team as their ability was squished amongst the crash bang wallop going on around them. We’re too busy lauding over turbo charged freight trains without brains and generally play the game as if we were re-enacting the first march over the Somme. And let’s not even go into the soul destroying insistence on our international teams using the redundant 4-4-2 troop formation.

Not forgetting that at grass roots level we don't train our young players at the right age, give them enough coaching time or even teach them the right skills. So the “Platinum Generation” will have to come from our TV-coma-induced-fat-zombie children who will undoubtedly fail us because ideally they'll have been playing tiki-taka/samba street football since they could walk. Which isn't likely as there's nowhere for kids to play these days and we're all scared of youths loitering in public places. If a few do turn out to be reasonable despite the odds, the big guns will sign them up to an inexplicably affluent lifestyle that curtails their determination to such an extent that they're out of a career by 17. Failing that they'll discover the latest FIFA console game and realise that’s more fun.

So Whitehouse believes these failings are pretty comprehensive, it is practically everyone’s fault, fair enough.

But there is light at the end of the tunnel. However it involves a total makeover, from the number of professional coaches employed (2,769 in England compared to 34,790 in Spain), to better training facilities at schools, banishing 11 year-olds in academies playing on full sized pitches and shifting thought to developing the person as well as the footballer simultaneously. Imagine the player Paul Gascoigne should have been? Stan Colleymore? Robbie Fowler? Joe Cole? Sports psychology, as Andy Murray will tell you, can change a career.

So if it hasn’t been too painful already for you to watch our national team, or indeed if you would like to further compound your insurmountable dislike of the FA and Premier League for their greedy corporate agenda then this is certainly an insightful read. It is difficult to straddle between the informative and the entertaining but The Way Forward certainly reveals where youth development needs to improve both in football and perhaps in a broader context. As ever, we aren’t the ones that need to be taking the notes though.

The Way Forward: Solutions to England’s Football Failings by Matthew Whitehouse is out now from Bennion Kearny.

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