June 2014. I stood in Manaus, São Paulo and Belo Horizonte, watching the England team fail, AGAIN. The state of the English game was being questioned and not for the first time.

As pundits and commentators looked for blame, the lack of grassroots funding from the FA reared its head. Yes, grass roots funding/ participation is an issue in its own right, but is the lack of grass roots funding and international failure really cause and effect? No. The line of thought that piling cash into grass roots football will suddenly cure England’s inadequacies is ill informed. Whilst increasing funding is definitely the right thing to be doing, we are kidding ourselves if we think this will culminate in elite level improvements.

This week an FA panel deemed Arsenal’s signing of Gabriel Paulista (a Brazilian defender – slight contradiction in terms) as acceptable. A player who, at the age of 24 has never been capped internationally at any level. How can a signing like this be deemed acceptable? How will it IMPROVE the elite level of the English game? This is an indictment of the FA’s attitude to English players. The progress and opportunities given to British players by professional clubs is being stifled by signings like this and the acceptance of these signings by the governing body responsible for the national team. The process has no transparency or credibility.

The reason England continue to disappoint isn’t because the youth talent pool is too small, but because the talent that is there isn’t nurtured and developed to reach its full potential. England’s recent history has been one of producing a good number of decent players. However decent players will not win International competitions, world class players will. To turn a decent player into a world class player requires facilities, top level coaching, funding and most of all,OPPORTUNITIES. Unfortunately professional clubs have no obligation to the International game. Other than potential commercial advantages of owning England Internationals, these clubs have no reason to push for improving English talent.

So, what’s the answer? Quotas for English players? Maybe. Financial incentives for producing England Internationals? Hopefully not. My proposition is a bit simpler. Let’s get everyone to stick to what they do best and let them tackle the issues they have the attributes to solve.

Grassroots participation: The FA has significant funding and access to all parts of the game, with the experience and infrastructure from top to bottom. I am confident if they set this as your number 1 target, they can sort it.

International success: It’s time for the professional clubs of this country to step up. They were put where they are now and made great by the England Internationals of the past and it’s time they gave something back. Would Chelsea be where they are today without the likes of Terry and Lampard? Would United be the biggest club in the world without Beckham, the Neville’s, Butt, Scholes etc? The answer is simply no. It’s time they now showed appreciation for what their past England greats gave to them and put England’s international success back on their collective priority list. I’m not naïve enough to believe these clubs will simply start to do this as a gesture of goodwill. However if the Premier League and the FA began to exercise the power it has, I’m sure clubs could be coerced.

Whilst I am far from being a fan of ‘rugby football’ I do admire the stance of the RFU. I personally feel their approach of restricting International players from playing club rugby abroad is too extreme. However, at least they are exercising the power they have for the good of the game.

So, what needs to happen?

  1. Clear rules and enforcement of these rules on the signing of international players into the English game and transparency in the process.
  2. The FA and premier League to join their collective powers and provide a united strategy to improving the English national team.
  3. An acknowledgement by the professional clubs in England that the future success of the England team features as a recognised priority.

The money, facilities, coaches and talent pool definitely exists in England to produce a world class England team. All we need now is the will of the professional clubs to acknowledge and address the issue collectively, which will require a big push from the FA and the Premier League.

At Orange Soccer we want to see improvements at both grass roots and elite level and have strategies to attack the issues separately. Whilst there will be some cross over as players develop from the bottom to the top, there must be a clear, transparent, focused approach on how the issues will be dealt with in their own right.

Do you agree/ disagree? I want to hear your views.

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Orrin BenfordComment