Coach youngsters in skill and guie

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The immediate hope for English football is that manager Roy Hodgson comes up with more answers than Football Association chairman Greg Dyke did in his ‘state of the football nation’ speech this week.

Don’t get me wrong. Dyke is a vibrant new force at the FA. He speaks with passion and with a genuine concern for the domestic game. It would be a dereliction of his duty if he did not try to address the issues which have seen England win just one major tournament in their history.

The willingness to tackle English football’s thorniest problems was the good bit.

Yet, for all its resonance, there was not one shred of original thought in his speech, the main thrust of which identified a dwindling number of Englishmen in the English game as the main reason for the underachievement of the national team.

To steal a line from Basil Fawlty: “He should go on Mastermind. Specialist subject? The bleeding obvious.”

After all, Kevin Keegan was warning that future England managers would soon need to trawl the lower leagues to assemble a full squad back in the last century.

Since then the FA has appointed two foreign managers to manage England and done the square root of diddly squat to address the problem of foreign players stifling the opportunities open to home-grown talent.

“The situation is very serious,” said Dyke.

“English football is a tanker which needs turning.

“And we all have a responsibility to do our best to reverse this frightening trend because if we fail we will be letting English football down and we will be letting the nation down.”

Fine rhetoric, not so fine when it comes to ideas and vision to match the words?

How is Dyke going to make owners such as Roman Abramovich or Sheikh Mansour or the Glazers at Manchester United buy English players or employ English managers?

How is Dyke going to offset the tide of foreign imports given that quotas are out of the question owing to employment regulations in the European Union?

Managers do not look at passports when they need to reinforce their squads. They identify talent and value for money.

None of which is meant to decry Dyke’s attempts to wrestle with English football’s problems but essentially blaming the Premier League, or highlighting issues such as no mid-winter break, do not go to the core.

Why is it that Belgium, a country with a a population of 11 million compared to England’s 53 million, has football talent popping up all over Europe, especially in the Premier League with such as Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and Thomas Vermaelen?

Why is it that Holland, a nation with 16 million, reached the last World Cup final and regularly scatters fresh crops of young, technically-gifted footballers around the top European clubs?

Could it be that, like Spain and Italy too, they concentrate on producing youngsters honed in technique and players comfortable in possession? Could it be that their ethos is skill and guile rather than pace and power?

Could it be, too, that England has 200 or so professionally-licensed coaches while Spain has more than 2,000?

These are not Premier League problems, these are problems for the FA as guardians and leaders of the English game. Grass-roots problems which successive FA chairmen have failed to grasp.

Producing more English talent, not merely more English footballers, is the key. More precocious stars such as Jack Wilshere, whose quick feet and sharp mind will be crucial against Ukraine next Tuesday.

There are those who argue Mesut Ozil’s transfer to Arsenal will be detrimental to Wilshere’s progression. The truth is it is just as likely to be beneficial, Wilshere learning from the best just as Paul Scholes once did from Eric Cantona at Manchester United.

Dyke’s determination is to be applauded, but it is time English football stopped blaming foreigners and looked for real solutions to England’s demise.

n England manager Roy Hodgson’s natural instinct is caution. It is not a commodity which normally wins great prizes, although it is one which fashions its fair share of draws.

It is why in Kiev on Tuesday against a handy Ukraine side Hodgson must abandon his defensive leanings and be bold, sending out an England team to play with verve and at a high tempo. An England searching for goals in a bid to qualify for Brazil 2014.

Group H is tight. A draw might be a good result. Yet it might also prove terminal. Being cautious is too much of a gamble.