The English Model vs. the Continental Model

by Michael Healey

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

The recent successes of the Spanish National team in the last two international tournaments, 2008 European Championships and the 2010 World Cup has highlighted a wind of change in world football. Couple Spain’s international glory with the emergence of Barcelona combining winning football with fantasy, flair and creativity and you have a recipe for success.

The amount of sustained continental glory over the last few years (Barcelona has won 3 of the last 6 Champions Leagues) proves all the hard work the Spanish FA and their leading clubs to develop players into playing with style and confidence, is the correct formula to succeed in the modern game.

Players such as Xavi and Andres Iniesta have proved vital for both club and country with their quick minded play, easily distributing the ball to a player in space with a stroke of either foot, or out-smarting an opponent with a drop of their shoulder. The simplicity of their play is attributed to years of hard work from coaching staff at Barcelona. Being able to see what is happening before it happens on a football field is a trait that not many people are lucky enough to have. It has often been mentioned that Xavi and Iniesta have a telepathic understanding between one another as they play keep ball away from opposition midfielders and defenders alike.

Other notable performers from Barcelona, who have performed consistently for club and country, include Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and David Villa (although he has only been at Barcelona for one year). Add players such as Xabi Alonso, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and David Silva into the mix and it soon becomes clear how talented the Spanish National team actually is. Players who regularly perform at the highest levels in the highest competitions are going to breed a certain type of success.

If you throw Lionel Messi into the mix then you have a football team that can only be dreamed about. Although Messi is Argentinean he has been at Barcelona from the age of 13 and has been developed into the Barcelona way of playing football. With stunning close control, speed that makes him accelerate from defenders as if they are not there, quick train of thought and all around brilliant ability has taken him to the be named the best player in the world.

All the successes that have been achieved have taken a long time to come to fruition. Barcelona’s rise to the top has been credited, and rightly so, to former player and manager Johan Cruyff. Cruyff brought his own methods and ideals to the club he loved and implemented them into the clubs framework, from the youth team to the first team. The ‘Dream Team’ of 1992 has been matched and over took by the team of 2011.

La Masia, Barcelona’s youth training facilities situated next to the clubs ground Camp Nou, is a vital cog in the process of developing youth players. Having youth players’ living at La Masia to train and also to study helps mould the players to the same way of thinking, the same mentality to go out onto the pitch and play with confidence and style.

So what is England’s problem?

Although England have many established world class performers such as Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard, they continually struggle on the big stage, namely in big matches at international tournaments. The 2010 World Cup was set to be England’s big tournament, the one were everything would fall into place and England’s finest generation, since the 1966 World Cup winners team, would finally make an imprint on the biggest stage of all. They failed. Miserably. A 4-1 defeat to Germany in the second round of matches only highlighted the team’s lack of strength and character.

Unable to breakthrough resolute defences in the group stage, frustratingly so against minnows Algeria, and unable to keep possession of the ball in key areas proved England’s Achilles heel.

On the domestic front it is not all doom and gloom. Having an English representative in 6 of the past 7 Champions League finals is an achievement in itself. But the problem is that, although the English clubs are achieving success in Europe, their squads are heavily dependant on foreign players.

So how can the English FA implement this winning formula?

The English Football Association are currently attempting to bridge the gap to the rest of the world. Currently building the St George’s Park Centre in Burton-on-Trent Staffordshire is the FA’s idea of bringing young players up to a certain way of playing. But is this enough? Just to have a national centre of football? It is a start from the FA’s hierarchy to have somewhere to house the young players and coaches but it is what the players will be coached upon that will be important.

How the FA plan to use this venue is anybodies guess. But how could this new centre be used correctly to produce the best players?

Having a football centre of excellence is not an uncommon thing in football. Clairefontaine in France is often referred to as an example to follow for the FA as it has housed many of the worlds leading players including Thierry Henry and Nicholas Anelka and culminated in France Winning the 1998 World Cup and the 2000 European Championships.

Gaining foreign experience is vital for England to be able to have a future of players who can play intricate, attacking football and be comfortable on the ball. Taking the La Masia approach of having students living and sleeping on site, could prove an appropriate option.

Bringing in foreign coaches to provide their own insight into how foreign teams work could help. Teams such as Liverpool have brought in coaches from abroad to help boost their youth team. Rodolfo Borrell and Jose Segura were brought in from Barcelona in aid of bringing there formula to Liverpool.

The FA also need to ‘coach’ their coaches from grassroots level upwards. Too often are Saturday and Sunday league coaches look to bigger, stronger youngsters to play in their teams instead of small players who can use the ball better.

One of the last up and coming English youngsters was Theo Walcott. A player who possesses lightning pace and good movement has struggled to live up to expectations, only showing signs of his promise in fleeting occasions. Players such as Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson are showing signs of being England’s new pass masters, with quality distribution being in both player lockers.

If England are ever going to reach the pinnacle of world football again and challenge for international honours then the powers that be need to step up now and take the continental approach.

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  • darren

    give it time and the Germans will be in the same position as the Spanish.

    unfortunately we’ll be having the same old debates. We haven’t got a clue how to develop football at grass roots or youth level.

    has Burton abbey actually opened yet? thought not, case rested

  • Adam

    Last I heard, Burton was being built and is due to open in 2012(ish!)

    The problem is a lack of heart and desire on and off the field. There is no pride in ‘a job well done’ anymore, and I am actually worried that in future England could plummet to the same levels as Scotland and Wales in International Football. Don’t think it can’t happen – other sides like Spain, Germany and even the USA and Australia are getting stronger and if England gets left behind it will be unthinkable.

    How do we solve the problem? Well, getting rid of the passionless money-grabbing Capello would be a start. Next, we have to appoint an Englishman who will instill pride in the team – problem there is who?

    Non-League might prove helpful in finding new talent, and this in turn would stop clubs below the Football League from going bust. If clubs at Steps 5/6 can act as ‘nurseries’ for players, we could see more players with pride, passion and heart coming through to the Football League. Skill can be coached, passion and pride and true leadership can’t – but it can be brought to the fore with help.

    England can, potentially, win the World Cup in 2014 – the question is do the players, management and staff at FA HQ really want it as much as say France, Italy or Germany?

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