The National Football Centre at St George's Park offers a chance to improve the standard of coaching for youngsters
David Sheepshanks wants St George's Park to become the "mecca" of English football. If the National Football Centre is successful, says the NFC chairman, then by definition England will never again have a foreign manager of the senior side. He also hopes that the next generation of players will not be "spoon-fed" and take personal ownership of their careers.
Speaking as the site in Burton, which features two hotels, a state-of-the-art medical department and a precise replica of the Wembley pitch, was officially opened, Sheepshanks said: "It's a nerve centre, it's a think-tank. I could almost say, if I was allowed, a mecca. Of the values we've created around this place one of them is to be accessible, because we want it to be aspirational. The other part that sits alongside is that it is a meeting point for the game, a congregating nerve centre.
"We have identified a number of desired outcomes so they include increasing the number of qualified coaches in this country, increasing the standard of qualified coaches, [and] it also includes increasing the number of homegrown managers managing our Premier League teams and available to our international teams. So if we get this right, by definition, we should never need to appoint overseas."
The Football Association have yet to fill the key post of technical director, whose responsibilities include putting in place the programme for the training of coaches. While Sheepshanks said the post is to be filled "very soon", he is confident that whoever is appointed will ensure the next generation of home-grown managers are successful.
"The technical director will appoint his or her coach education staff and we have some very good coach educators, and I don't think anybody should forget that," he said. "[Of] the ratio of coaches to players – if we have seven million players in this country we have 103,000 qualified coaches, a ratio of one to 69. If we do it right and hit our target of a quarter of a million qualified coaches in this country by 2018, that ratio will be one to 25.
"The teacher has the defining influence. We're coming up to the Olympics and there won't be a champion who hasn't got a world-class coach behind them. I really strongly believe we are set on the right path. We actually have consensus and peace in the football family – the Premier League and the Football League have all bought into this. They are very happy. They want to do the EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan]. We want to do EPPP because the two fit together: [it] requires a higher standard of coaching in every age in the country. It's raising the bar, it's creating more of a career in the coaching of younger age groups by demanding a higher standard of coaching."
Sheepshanks is clear that Roy Hodgson, the England manager, and the technical director must be "singing from the same hymn sheet" in setting the direction of St George's Park. England have won one major trophy – the World Cup, 46 years ago – and after Hodgson's side were knocked out of Euro 2012 in the quarter-finals, Sheepshanks hopes a new breed of player will be encouraged.
"The football delivery side will be down to the technical director," he said. "We've all seen how the Euros played out and the superior technique of the Spanish. Trevor Brooking [director of football development] is always saying that we need to develop more technically adept players but also more responsible, thinking players. Players who are decision makers.
"So the ethos of St George's Park will be to focus on those skills. But also to encourage a sense of personal ownership and personal responsibility for your career development. And I would say – this is me speaking as a chairman of a club nearly 20 years ago [Ipswich Town] – that we saw at academies how we increasingly did more and more for players, and kind of spoon-fed them everything."
Sheepshanks also defended the FA's decision to give Hodgson a four-year contract when other nations tend to appoint for the two-year cycle of major tournaments. "I think it's a great statement and I sense a real groundswell of support for Roy and what he's trying to achieve."
Sheepshanks did accept that Hodgson's job is dependent on results. "It'll always be results, won't it? We're always judged by results," he said.
While Sheepshanks admitted that the FA have "taken the risk" by funding the £105m St George's Park, he is confident that it will be a success. "It's a calculated risk, you invest in the people and you create a business plan and you test it, and ultimately if you believe in it you vote for it and you go for it." Read More
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