As the FA announce the opening of the new national football centre – St Georges Park, their PR team has gone into full swing in trying to convince us all that the £105 million project is money well spent, but I’m not convinced.
Then FA Technical Director Howard Wilkinson began this project by modelling it on the famed centre of excellence in France – Clairefontaine, which has produced footballers such as Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka in recent times. With similar projects such as Barcelona’s La Masia helping to supply an exceptionally gifted side as of late, it only seems logical for England to have their own equivalent.
But the big problem is that we have created exactly what we shouldn’t. Yes it will probably be the finest facilities in the world when compared to others as the FA will tell you, but a huge amount of money was ploughed into this project and whilst it is only in one location – relatively remote Burton, it is a privilege for only a handful of youngsters. It won’t be a place to improve the national game as a whole, but a place to improve those very lucky few who are picked to represent their country at their age level. We won’t have a football league system filled with English talent, we will be left in a similar position to what we had during Sven Goran Ericsson’s England reign with a predictable squad, rich of talent.
The FA are claiming that coaches at both club and grassroots level will be improved at St George’s Park with and so this will trickle down through down to all levels. But the chances of making it as a professional footballer ultimately lie on the local facilities available to a child, and a youngster who is showing promise somewhere like Plymouth, Dover or Carlisle won’t be as likely to fulfil his potential without the best facilities nearby, even if he does have a better than average coach. If he were however good enough to be asked to go to the national centre of excellence, he could easily become disillusioned with the game through having to travel long distances to meet at St Georges Park – which would be time taken from spending time with friends and family, something essential through adolescence.
What should have happened is the FA invest their money into at least nine football centres, to supplement a London based centre of excellence. Every region should be served by the best facilities for the best youths to be able to visit on some weeknights and weekends. not on the off chance they within a commutable distance from Burton or are within the top 20 in the country for their age group. Wilkinson should have noted this with France’s football site, Clairefontaine, as it’s one of twelve centres of excellence dotted across their country and isn’t alone in nurturing young talent. In the same fashion, La Masia is essentially the centre of excellence for those in the Catalan region of Spain, just like other clubs have elite centres across the rest of Spain. The £105 million needed to be spent on multiple locations and not just one, and as a result, I wouldn’t be expecting a big return on this investment.
This article was written by the Abbott Clarke Partnership – specialists in savings and investments advice.