England football centre: what's the point if clubs don't care?
William and Kate open state-of-the-art facility – but don't you hold your breath for any improvements
THE Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially opened the new England football centre on Tuesday, accompanied, predictably, by lots of guff about how it would transform the fortunes of the England football team. One after another the great and the good of the English game queued up to lavish superlatives on the £105 million state-of-the-art complex in Staffordshire.
England captain Steven Gerrard believes that St George's Park, as the 330-acre site in known, will have a huge impact on the Three Lions. "The place has blown me away," said Gerrard, whose England side will train at the centre ahead of Friday's World Cup qualifier against San Marino at Wembley. "We're lucky to have facilities like this. It's a long-term plan and hopefully it can bring success to the national teams."
England team-mate Wayne Rooney was also taken with the 11 outdoor pitches, a full-size indoor 3G artificial pitch and an altitude chamber to replicate playing conditions around the world. "It's a great platform for the younger generation and for young coaches as well," said Rooney. "I think it's going to benefit the whole of England, especially the younger players."
Manager Roy Hodgson, asked if St George's Park might ultimately lead to World Cup success for the national side, replied: "I'm rather hoping that the work that will go on here and the amount of effort we'll put in here to help produce better players and coaches will lead us one day to that World Cup victory."
It was left to the FA's director of football development, Trevor Brooking, to bring the assembled throng back down to earth. Brooking, one of the finest players produced by England, was also impressed by what he saw in Staffordshire, but he knows that state-of-the-art facilities can only do so much in lifting the quality of English football.
"We've got to bring it to life with the quality of the coaches and raise that level of English players in the Premier League," said Brooking. "At the moment it's 35 per cent [of English players in the League] and we'd like to raise it to 45, 55, 65 per cent. The depth of choice then for the England senior coach would be much greater. That's a challenge for us all."
Alas, it's a challenge that is doomed to end in failure because the English Premier League is, to all intents and purposes, in foreign ownership. Twelve of its 20 clubs are under – or partly under – foreign ownership, including the big five that provide the bulk of Roy Hodgson's England squad: namely, Manchester United and City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal.
Furthermore, none of the five clubs is coached by an Englishman and thus they care not a jot for the health of the England national side.
Look at the England squad selected to face San Marino on Friday. Many of the players barely get a look in for their club. Theo Walcott of Arsenal hasn't started a Premier League game this season, while Danny Welbeck has started just two for Manchester United.
Chelsea defender Ryan Bertrand, called up as a replacement for the injured Kieran Gibbs, has played six minutes of football in Chelsea's last three games - not the best preparation for a World Cup qualifier. It's a similar story for experienced players such as Gary Cahill, Joleon Lescott and James Milner, who's been an unused substitute in three of Manchester City's last five matches.
Last week England midfielder Adam Johnson, who moved to Sunderland from City in the summer, issued a warning to the next generation of players hoping to be picked up by one of the big clubs.
"I would probably advise young English players you probably won't get the chance to play as much as you would like," said Johnson. "It is excellent when a club like City come for you and you're going to play for the champions, but you don't actually play for the champions. You're a squad member, it's totally different."
St George's Park might well be state-of-the-art but until attitudes change in the Premier League it will do nothing more than produce a great England Under 21 side.