..the Oval or Villa Park.. (Philip Larkin, MCMXIV)
It’s disappointing to learn that Frank Lampard’s move to Barcelona is not an attempt to get out of the mockney bubble, but because Chelsea won’t pay him Â£130,000 per week and because he’s being henpecked on the issue. Good for his other half.
Readers of Stephen Oppenheimer’s Origins of the British will recognise Rafa Benitez’s latest foray for what it is: Miguel Veloso, now at Sporting Lisbon, is a true British midfielder in the Bryan Robson mould, in the sense that all true British midfielders are actually of Iberian origin if you go back far enough. Rafa is right to keep things within the family: according to Alan Shearer, this sort of thing helped win the title for Blackburn Rovers.
Interesting days at West Ham, who have done nothing but suffer since Iain Dale started his contradictory blog, a site which does for the Boleyn Ground what the gypsy curse did for Derby. It works for the Conservative Party, too. Nevertheless, at least the word is out, and Kevin Nolan of Bolton will be the latest player to refuse to pretend that its still Trevor Brooking’s club (if it was ever that at all). Still, as Manchester United discovered in 1974, sometimes relegation can be a necessary purgative.
Darren Bent has moved from Charlton to Tottenham Hotspur: that’s about the right level, isn’t it? But with rumours linking Martin Jol with the England job this coming January, don’t be surprised if Bent finds himself plying his trade under Paul Jewell, who is first in line for the White Hart Lane vacancy when it arises.
And finally, some genuinely good news about skills:
Judging by the limited technical standards of the majority of English schoolboys, Brooking and Lampard have their work cut out. Some help is at hand. Brooking, the Football Association’s director of technical development, and Lampard, the Chelsea midfielder, yesterday launched a Â£10 million ‘Skills’ programme: one million children aged five to 11 will receive tuition from 66 – the FA’s favourite number – specialist skills coaches, including former players such as Mark Walters.
Catching them young, as Brazil and Holland do, and following Manchester United’s impressive example of working in small-sided games, often four versus four, may nurture techniques that last a lifetime. “We have a group of very talented individuals with England,” Lampard said, “but in big tournaments, when we come up against technical teams, they do have better basic skill levels which they have learned on the beach or in the street.”
Early learning is essential. “As a parent, you wouldn’t wait until your child was 11 to teach them good behaviour because they would run amok,” Brooking said. “It’s the same with technique; you have to work on it early. Once you go into 11 v 11 matches (aged 11), with all these people running at you, you panic because you haven’t the confidence to play a 1-2 to get out of trouble. We also have to change the philosophy of some of the people on the sidelines. We squeeze the flair out of youngsters because they are scared to make mistakes. A youngster also has to understand that step-overs are good, but sometimes a simple five-yard pass is the killer pass. Cesc Fabregas’ reading of pass selection is as good as anyone.”
Mention of Arsenal’s gifted Spaniard raises another issue. “Only 40 per cent of starting XI players in the Premiership are English,” Brooking continued. “In Italy, it is 74 per cent Italian. We want to go up to 70 per cent – but it has to be on merit.
(Except that I’d take exception to Lampard’s “beach or the street” comment. England’s teams were already losing to e.g. Hungary, Brazil etc. long before the motor car drove children indoors. Brazil in particular have taken childhood training extremely seriously from as long ago as the early 1930s).