The premature exit of the England national team from an international tournament is always guaranteed to stoke the fires of debate surrounding the development of football in the UK and, inevitably, the standard and provision of coaching
and coaches. The England squad’s underwhelming performances at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, losing two of their three group matches, taking just a single point and failing to progress to the knockout stages, for the first time since the 1958 finals, refuelled a topic which is rarely, if at all, off the agenda. When the discussion is at its most intense, no area of English football is spared. The senior national team’s continued failures serve as the catalyst, but the examination runs deep – from the analysis of foreign players imported into the Premier League, to the Academies of professional clubs and right through youth football to grassroots level and the way in which children of primary school age are coached. All areas of the game are scrutinised. England’s failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships stimulated the Football Association into identifying the need for a new coaching strategy. The FA Vision 2008-12 outlined that strategy. Writing within the document, Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s Director of Football Development, stated:
“Anyone who watched a thrilling Spain win Euro 2008 needs to accept that without radical change and investment in English football we will continue to fall behind many other countries in the technical development of our players.”
That same document contained an extract from the UEFA Coaching Convention in 2008, which emphasised the challenge ahead. If the FA sought to improve the development of English players by educating its coaches, there was obviously work to be done. Examining the number of coaches in England qualified to the three highest levels - UEFA Pro Licence, UEFA A and UEFA B - in comparison to coaches in other leading European nations exposed clear shortcomings.
“In comparison to our European counterparts, we do not place the same degree of importance on the status of coaching in this country. This must change if we are going to progress,” wrote John Peacock, the FA’s Head of Coaching. “There has to be a genuine desire to create a coaching culture where coaching is considered a profession,” he continued. “To develop world-class players, we have to produce more skilled, qualified coaches, who can support players at every stage of their development. “We must produce ‘good teachers of the game’, who will educate and inspire their players. We have to be more flexible in our teaching of the modern game, if we are to produce creative and inquisitive coaches and players of the future.” By 2013, the number of coaches gaining qualifications recognised by UEFA in England had reputedly grown – to 1,161 at UEFA A, and 203 at UEFA Pro. But other nations had increased their volume of qualified coaches in proportion too. Jamie Houchen, the FA’s Head of Learning, offered an explanation to ESPN: “In the last ten years, England has developed more grassroots coaching qualifications than any other European country,” he insisted. “UEFA deals in A and B licences for coaches. At the FA we have developed our own pathway, which we have refined for our own needs – Level One and Two certificates – but UEFA don’t include the latter within their figures.” Houchen estimated that anomaly accounted for almost 70,000 coaches at a certain level slipping ‘under the UEFA radar.’ During the same year, while FA chairman Greg Dyke announced bold targets for the England senior national team to reach the semi-finals of the 2020 European Championships, and then to actually win the 2022 World Cup, Henry Winter, Chief Football Writer for the Telegraph, mused that a more recommended goal would be to drive the number of UEFA A coaches in England up to 10,000 by 2017.