The FA must take a leaf out of British Cycling’s book with St George’s Park:


The brand new complex at St George’s Park in Staffordshire is impressive. At 330 acres, it contains amongst other things an exact replica of the Wembley turf, an indoor 3G artificial pitch, an altitude chamber, and a running track. Most importantly though, it has the potential to develop a new ‘Team England’, much like the Manchester Velodrome did for British Cycling. It is this model that must be the blueprint for the FA to follow if England is to achieve success.

Of course, it is not as simple as just replicating the success of cycling as there are numerous variants such as surroundings and personalities that make it different. Also as a sport, football is not like cycling, and vice-versa, and therefore any attempt at replication in that sense is invalid.

It is the approach and attitude that bred the success of British Cycling which needs to be attained and adapted to fit within football’s framework. Richard Moore’s ‘Heroes, Villains and Velodromes’ particularly emphasised the impact the Manchester Velodrome had on the success. With a base that was state of the art, the message spread to the cyclists that they had the potential to achieve and the backing to realise that potential. This helps create self belief, something very important for athletes and something the England men’s team always seem in need of when it comes to a penalty shoot-out.

At £105 million there have been understandable questions raised as to whether this is money well spent. Could the funds have been distributed to all levels for better facilities, equipment and coaching rather than something that appears elitist in access? Throwing money at a problem does not solve it, but merely papers over the cracks. In this case though, facilities have been created which appear to want to tackle English football at its roots, even if it’s only international players that will physically experience it. The coaching programmes that will be run will provide the best opportunity to create the best coaches.

In addition to this, the latest developments in sport science will be readily available to help better understand the human body during the game and identify ways of improving. The game has become so much more technical that this is going to be an added advantage for analysis. Again, British Cycling have been pioneers in this field and the rewards for their endeavour are clear to see.

This is arguably one of the most positive steps the FA has ever taken for football’s development. But at the moment that is all it is, a step. It is unlikely that the effects of this process will be felt before the turn of the decade; what has been created at Burton is a long-term project. The FA still needs to take a look at itself and conduct a complete restructure to complement these new facilities. It is no good creating the possibility of achieving success without having an administrative organisation that can effectively implement this.

The players of the next generations will also have responsibility on their shoulders. When it comes down to it, it will be them who are actually trying to execute everything that will have gone before. If in, say, 20 years time the England team as a whole, that is men’s and women’s and  juniors up to senior’s, have failed to show improvement then they, along with the FA will be at fault. But the plan is right, the inspiration and precedent is available, and the chance is now there. This could create a true ‘Golden Generation’ with a real justification for that label. Let this be the beginning of something new.

Find me on Twitter here: @dmsmith1987

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