A thousand mile shadow looms large over St. George’s Park. France’s Clairefontaine and Italy’s Coverciano are the blueprint but Barcelona’s La Masia is the prompt that earmarked a 30 year idea for development at a 330-acre stretch of land that harbours the hope of a generation of English footballing success.
Almost ten years ago, the ancient plans to implement a National Football Centre took a leap towards becoming a reality as Howard Wilkinson unveiled his grand plans for the future of the game in this country. The rise of the Wembley arch would halt those ambitions in 2004.
And they remained at that stage for another eight years until January 2010, when the FA announced plans for a national home for the team that would kick-start a revolution.
Or at least a revolution from an English perspective; the Three Lions remain the only major football-playing nation without a centre of excellence as a source of players for the future.
"Even Bulgaria have one," National Football Centre (NFC) chairman David Sheepshanks exclaimed at the ground breaking ceremony that marked the FA’s first attempts in earnest to develop a national hub.
From a rolling boil to full inferno, the FA have now adopted the idea they have shunned for an age to such an extent that they are willing to base much of the criteria of the new England boss around Burton.
That man, Roy Hodgson it has today been revealed, will be charged with operating from the base and will be involved with every age group all the way up to the senior team in order to explain to them “the importance of international football,” according to managing director of Club England Adrian Bevington.
One questions the merit of their place at a national football centre if they are unaware of the importance of international football.
But does English football need a £100 million facility containing 12 pitches, and indoor pitch, gyms, video analysis suites, sports science facilities that is being propped up by the inclusion of a 230-room hotel and a housing scheme?
France’s Clairefontaine was heralded as a success in the aftermath of Les Bleus' 1998 World Cup success on home soil; the likes of Thierry Henry, William Gallas, Nicolas Anelka and Louis Saha all travelled along the production line that was the source of their powers.
For their recent friendly against Germany, not one of the starting XI were nurtured there. Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema, two of the most talented footballers France have produced in the last 20 years, had nothing to do with Clairefontaine.
Similarly, Italy’s Coverciano, a font at which most managers worship was also a point of reference for the FA, with Stuart Pearce travelling to the outskirts of Tuscany to examine the facility in the aftermath of the unveiling of the plans for Burton, is a reference point.
Neither Coverciano nor Clairefontaine specialise in developing players any more, that is the job of the professional teams within the country – and as Sam Wallace in the Independent rightly points out, Burton was never designed with the objective of developing the country’s youngsters; only to be a base to operate from and to provide first-class facilities.
Would a youngster attached to a club such as, Manchester United, say, be allowed to leave in order to progress with England at Burton? Unlikely.
The appointment of a technical director to oversee the project should at least give some indication of what direction the project is heading in – as the job advert put out by the FA reveals, the new man is required to work with the Premier League on the Elite Player Performance Plan to help allow young talent make it to the top tier of English football.
Admirable, but not exactly the conveyor belt of next big things being rolled out into the national side that will secure England’s bright future as an international power.
It seems strange that the FA would put such emphasis on the role, and seemingly rule Harry Redknapp out of the equation in part because of his lack of commitment to the project when it itself seems so unclear of what to do with this hulking expanse of land it has expensively acquired.
"St. George’s Park is very much majoring on creating a new centre for coach education," and not creating "a finishing school for youngsters." Sheepshanks said after visiting La Masia in March. Perhaps that's where Hodgson fits in, although the position for him is surely as the project's director of football in that case.
"If the team are at St George's Park for 10 days, it's perfectly reasonable to expect a new manager to wander from one room to another and spend some time talking to the younger players,” Bevington said of how the England senior team will use the base.
But does it make any sense for the senior side to travel the 100 miles or so to Burton for one of the half-dozen or so games they play at Wembley a year? No, of course it doesn’t, so it comes as no surprise that they will continue to use the Grove hotel in London as their base the day before the game, while also using Arsenal’s Colney training ground at times as they have done in the past.
After such a muddled inception it is no surprise that the future of Burton seems as unclear as ever. Perhaps Roy Hodgson is the man for England because the FA were afraid Harry Redknapp would tell them how fruitless their endeavor looked.
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