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Football may be the national game and the Barclays Premiership may be the most commercially successful league in the world, but in tournament after tournament, the England team have been a disappointment. Other countries cannot understand why the home of football has not been more successful in World Cups and European Championships.

One reason may be that English players are technically inferior to their continental counterparts and, to try to address the problem, Watford will today announce a pioneering scheme that, if successful, is likely to be adopted by many leading clubs.
Instead of attending one of the academies or centres of excellence attached to the top clubs, usually training a couple of evenings a week after a full school day, from September, 35 selected Watford boys, aged 12 to 15, will attend a local school, the Harefield Academy. Newly built at a cost of £35 million, the academy will allow the boys to play football for about four hours day as well as undertake academic studies. Their day will end at about 6.15pm, when they will be taken home to their families.

Mark Warburton, the assistant academy manager for Watford, said: “We are trying to ensure that the youngsters don’t waste so much time in the travelling. We are not just about producing better players. We are out to give them a more rounded background so that they are socially adept and technically gifted.”
 
Warburton, formerly a successful businessman, is a Uefa A coach, who has visited clubs such as PSV Eindhoven, Ajax, Valencia and Sporting Lisbon to study their programmes. “Someone such as Dennis Bergkamp [the former Arsenal and Holland forward] is a prime model for us. Fluently skilled, disciplined and respectful, he is also well-educated,” Warburton said.

Nick Cox, the academy’s head of education, said: “What we have tried to do is to construct a day which increases the amount of contact time the boys have with both football and their academic work. At the moment, the system does not allow boys to excel either as footballers or academically and it is also disruptive to their family life. Now we can help them to become professional footballers.

“However, we know the vast majority will not succeed, so we have a plan B in place to ensure that they are rounded individuals as well.”

The Harefield Academy has ideal facilities, including an all-weather outdoor and indoor synthetic grass pitch. The academy is also helping promising young athletes in other sports. Lynn Gadd, the principal, said: “We are already used to tailoring our curriculum to talented sporting youngsters. If they go away for competitions or training, we have established an online learning scheme.”

Sir Trevor Brooking, the FA’s director of development, has lamented the shortage of youngsters having “quality time” with the ball and hopes that, eventually, the scheme will embrace lower age groups because, by the ages of 11 to 12, youngsters are playing 11-aside matches, where there is a more pressured type of football.

He is awaiting the Richard Lewis report, which is due shortly, into the structure of youth football but is encouraged by Watford’s initiative. “Unless we invest in youngsters, as Watford are doing, we will not be producing players at the age of 16 who can challenge for places at Premiership clubs,” Brooking said. “These clubs are recruiting from all over the world.”

The average percentage of home-bred English first-team players in the Premiership is 42 per cent, the lowest in the top leagues in Europe, below that of Germany, with 45 per cent, and well below that of Italy, the World Cup winners, with 74 per cent.

Watford’s scheme may begin the revolution. As Warburton said: “It’s like the first sub four-minute mile. Once the breakthrough occurs, everyone else follows.”

Catch question

Promising young players must live within a catchment area of a maximum 90 minutes’ driving time of their club

At present, Watford’s academy players train two nights a week after school and play matches on Sunday mornings

Travelling can be long, tiring, expensive and problematic if parents struggle to get time off work or are short of money

Inspired by continental models, Watford’s plan from September is to integrate school work and football training, transporting young players to and from a single school with excellent sports facilities

The aim is to cut travelling time, reduce costs for parents and increase the amount of football the children play from about five hours a week to about 15 hours, while maintaining educational standards

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Source: TimesOnline.com


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