The changing philosophy of English football

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The current crop of Spanish talent is the most decorated and entertaining international team in footballing history. Quite a claim, but one that many would struggle to disagree with.

Their free-flowing and expansive style of football has brought them unrivalled success, and most importantly, their philosophy is proof that size doesn't matter.

Relying heavily on their first-touch, passing and ability on the ball, the Spanish philosophy is simple. Keep the ball, and your opponents cannot score.

The decision to focus on the technical aspects of the beautiful game rather than the physical is what sets Spain apart as a sporting nation. From an early age, Spaniards are constantly practicing with a ball at their feet, opting to play their infamous 'Tiki Taka' form of football over the traditional 11-a-side format more commonly utilized in this country.

In England, youngsters who are physically capable are often selected ahead of those more technically able, again highlighting the differing approaches between two of the world's biggest footballing nations.

A long-standing problem in the self-proclaimed 'home of football', is youth coaches' willingness to attempt to transform an athlete into a footballer, rather than a footballer into an athlete.

As has been proven through Spain's success, when trained and harnessed correctly, flair and skill far outweighs power and athleticism. With that in mind, is it fair to say that the priorities of football development in this country are outdated and at detriment to England's long-term success?

Whilst England are left to play catch-up, maybe the reality of their decline at the top level of international competition has finally struck a chord, with key decision-makers finally accepting that something needs to be done to address the worrying situation we find ourselves in.

It would appear that inroads are being made and foundations are being laid that should (hopefully) result in a more prosperous future for English football.

The FA have recently announced plans to overhaul the youth development programme at grassroots level, with an emphasis on smaller-sided games during the critical stages of a young players' development. It is hoped that this will bring a "greater number of touches of the ball and involvement in the game, helping develop greater technical skills at a lower age."

And as these plans get the go-ahead, all is not lost with the first-team either, as there are reasons to be optimistic about the immediate future of the England side too.

As Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took to the field in Oslo a little over a week ago, there was an underlying belief amongst Three Lions fans that they were witnessing the start of something special. Perhaps, the arrival of the 18-year-old onto the international scene represents the possibility of a new dawn?

As far as Chamberlain's international prospects are concerned, the early signs are good. But fans and the media alike must not get too over-excited by England's 'next big thing', so as to avoid putting too much pressure on Chamberlain's young shoulders.

But as the 18-year-old came off the bench to make his England debut against Norway in a pre-Euro 2012 warm-up fixture ahead of this summer's championships, the Southampton academy graduate did little to dampen the ever-increasing expectations.

Replacing Ashley Young in the 73rd minute, Chamberlain's appearance as a second-half substitute was full of promise. Although it was a far from polished performance, the son of former England international Mark Chamberlain, looked calm on the ball, played without fear and most importantly, looked comfortable with the ball at his feet.

It is that latter quality that is particularly worthy of note. For too long, English players have been accused of being athletes who lack the technical ability of their international counterparts. Often associated with a direct approach, English teams are renowned for their physicality and power.

The Premier League is widely regarded as one of the most physically competitive leagues in the world. But with the emergence of players of Chamberlain's ilk, and with an increasing awareness from the powers that be that football philosophy in England needs to change, maybe, just maybe this is the beginning of a new era.

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Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain

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