Friday 22 September 2017

FA now have top facilities to facilitate the top facilitators

Dion Fanning

It was the perfect day. Indeed when the news came through that Adrian Bevington, managing director of Club England, had delivered a PowerPoint presentation to the England players the night before, it seemed like the perfect week.

Bevington is a man who looks like he is always coming from or heading to a PowerPoint presentation but to deliver one to the players on an issue as important as their code of conduct ensured a central role for the PowerPoint presentation.

This was a triumphant time to be a high-ranking official at the Football Association. This was the ideal week for the English FA to roll out their national training centre. They were preparing for a home game against San Marino, the fixture you would create if you were trying to find one to match the words 'inconsequential bullshit', so any distraction was welcome.

People were looking for something to conceal the void and the FA provided it with shots of Ashley Cole, Andy Carroll and others relaxing in a whirlpool and talking to Prince William. Ashley was something of a problem in this story, which was essentially a story of the triumph of bureaucracy. He is not of that world. He is England's angriest man since John Osborne, although Cole has a lot more talent.

His anger does not undermine the validity of most, if not all, of what he says. For some reason, his tweet that the FA were a "bunch of twats" scandalised many people. When the works of Osborne were considered a generation later, it was hard to see why people were upset by the themes when the writing should have bothered them.

Cole works on a similar level. He spoke the truth to power but the English football commentariat felt they must condemn him as he was guilty by association with John Terry.

He had apologised for his tweet and had been fined but England wanted more conformity from Cole.

Like Osborne, he has an ambivalent relationship with his country. Osborne wrote the polemical letter 'Damn you, England', Cole posted a BBM, 'I hate England and the fucking people.' Osborne considered a type of Englishman, "Untouchable, unteachable, impregnable."

Cole offers a vision of England too but he had to be penalised for speaking his truth.

This was not the week for ambivalence, not with the joy of the opening of St George's Park, even if nobody seemed sure what it was for. While Sam Wallace in the London Independent sensibly and repeatedly pointed out that this was not a national academy, few could stop talking about it as if it was a national academy.

The England players provided the necessary soundbites, suggesting that it would be a great place for a youngster to be inspired and learn the game, even though only representative England sides would be using the facility.

The best young English players will be educated at the clubs' academies so St George's Park will be using its excellent whirlpool facilities for the education of coaches when England teams aren't there.

So it was fitting that Bevington had kicked things off on Monday night with a PowerPoint presentation as this will be the home of the PowerPoint presentation.

David Sheepshanks, another outstanding member of the corporate class which runs football, also pointed out that this would be like Oxford or Cambridge but without students. So not at all like Oxford or Cambridge then. Instead it would be for coaches to educate coaches and educate them to a high standard, which is why Sheepshanks used the Oxford and Cambridge line.

Sheepshanks had said it could be a factor in England winning the World Cup. He said it might help them in ten years' time but he did enough to keep the "can we win it?" question in play. It was also expected to inspire England against San Marino.

The rest will be in the coaching of the coaching. This is England's problem. The game has been surrendered to the corporate class. The football man was harmed by PowerPoint just as the steam train driver was made obsolete by the diesel engine.

Yet it remains to be seen if they can produce a vision. They can deliver codes of conduct and try and manage expectation but the cultural shift that will allow English players to play without fear needs more than a few hours in a whirlpool, with or without Andy Carroll.

The corporate class has prospered in the England that is untouchable, unteachable and impregnable. It is a world that likes the word 'innovation' but has never grasped its meaning. The impregnability of their thoughts and their emotions has created a sporting culture that is limited in imagination and incapable of playing without fearing the consequences.

The FA will be coaching the coaches but England as run by the FA creates nothing as well as it creates bureaucracy.

On breakfast TV last Tuesday, Trevor Brooking was delivering the message. Trevor can be relied upon in this situation. He can be relied upon in any situation, but particularly early in the morning. The smooth man is valued in this world, the smooth man who can deliver a smooth message at a rough time early in the morning is especially valued.

Nobody was surprised either to see that Jim Rosenthal had a role on the big day as the dignitaries were shown around the beautiful pitches.

It was spectacular and seductive but then somebody would talk about what it would do and you would go back and check and read that wasn't what it was built to do.

They talked of Clairefontaine, the one-time home of Gerard Houllier, effectively the spiritual home of bullshit, but it turned out that this was no Clairefontaine.

That doesn't mean there won't be bullshit spoken there. It will flow like water. Ashley Cole had an alternative vision. If he had the ability to deliver a PowerPoint presentation he'd rule their world.

dfanning@independent.ie

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