England celebrate after winning the 2014 UEFA Under 17 European Championships (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Bongarts/Getty Images)
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England’s schoolboy success only adds to sense of confusion

Were FA’s ‘old school’ methods the right approach all along?

With a swing of Jonjoe Kenny’s right foot, English football’s ills were cured.

The England Under-17 side, in capturing their second European title in five seasons, were able to showcase the merits of a grassroots system that had shunned modern thinking and ploughed straight on with traditional means.     

Greg Dyke’s controversial plan to introduce a ‘B team’ competition into the English football league structure disappeared to the cupboard containing the Premier League’s ‘39th game’ proposal and Richard Scudamore’s custom-made golf clubs.

The parents screaming from the touchline on local playing fields every week were vindicated. The ham-fisted youth coaches who habitually used the stronger, taller kids at the expense of their smaller, snappier peers, were victorious. The dinosaurs that had ensured the acquiring of a UEFA ‘A’ coaching qualification cost five times as much in the UK as in Spain, saw their pricing plan justified.

It was enough to make you wonder what the fuss had been all about.

At the same moment as England’s youngsters were completing their penalty shootout triumph, esteemed Spanish journalist Guillem Balague was hosting an evening with colleagues from Sky’s football magazine show Revista de la Liga. The panel dissected the merits of the English and Spanish games – two pyramids often heralded as being amongst the most exciting and dynamic in the world.

I had expected Balague and guests to have a set of ready-made steps for English football to take to ensure their successes in the international arena matched those of their Iberian cousins.

Instead, the author of A Season on the Brink was forced to defend the controversial Spanish television rights arrangement – a package notorious for benefiting the nation’s biggest clubs – Real Madrid and Barcelona – apparently reinforcing the superiority of the two giants at the expense of a competitive top flight. Hadn’t this been something cited as a reason for England’s international poor fortune?  

Instead, the panel were far keener to talk about the concept of Spanish ‘B’ teams and how a similar infrastructure would work in England. To reinforce his point, Balague invited onstage a former Watford scholar - Austin Eaton – forced to ply his trade in Chile and Spain due to his lack of opportunity on these shores.

Whether or not Eaton is able to turn his career around working at second division side Cordoba is as much of a mystery as how many of England’s under- 17 squad – by now celebrating on the giant screen behind Balague’s head- will go on to represent the full national side. What is clear, however, is that the concept of ‘wasted’ youth is a powerful weapon. 

In that respect, the decision to jettison Ashley Cole from England’s World Cup squad for this summer’s tournament in Brazil is illuminating. Cole, a veteran of 107 caps for his country, seven FA Cup winner’s medals and three Premier League titles must have been incredulous as he replaced his handset after Roy Hodgson’s call to effectively signal an end to the Englishman’s 13 year international odyssey.

Cole, despite a reduced role at club side Chelsea this season, could still argue to be amongst the finest full backs in Europe, yet there were few condemning Hodgson for picking 18-year-old Luke Shaw – an international novice - in his stead.

It is representative of an English desire to roll different dice, even if better dice are already in hand.

English football, much like many of the nation’s other sporting pursuits, is a box of contradictions. Dyke’s England Commission report published last month seems unsure if we are too hard or too soft on our young players.

For all the trendy criticisms of the footballing infrastructure in this country, England have, three times in the last five major tournaments, been a set of penalty kicks away from a semi-final berth. Had those shootouts ended in triumph rather than heartbreak, England’s competition resume would be one dwarfed only by Spain and Germany across the same period.  

Conversely, during the same era, and with a largely identical set of players, there have been extraordinary failures too.  In the 2007-2008 Champions League season, the Premier League laid claim to three of the four semi-finalists, yet the national side were unable to qualify for that summer’s European Championships. The division in the successes and failures of the period is stark.

In the aftermath of Germany’s surprise 2010 World Cup showing, former coach Jürgen Klinsmann talked about how, after Germany’s footballing nadir in 2004, he had sat down with future manager Joachim Löw to discuss the restructuring of the nation’s football setup. 2010’s semi-final run was, he claimed, a vindication of that policy.

It was the sort of sound bite that drove the English press into raptures. The idea of being able to combine the most precious of sporting commodities – youth - and the chance to rail against an out of touch football administration was an opportunity too good to miss.

The nature of the sport dictates that judgements are made of infrastructure and managerial decisions on the basis of one kick of a ball, stroke of fortune or moment of stupidity.

The reality of so many British successes in a catalogue of sports across the last decade shows that management flabbiness is not endemic.

And so, if England’s senior side do follow their schoolboy counterparts in celebrating success this summer, expect the national game to be trumpeted as a hybrid of ruthless commercial endeavour and competitive self-interest.

If not, however, Messrs Balague and Dyke might be knocking on the door with a few questions.

 

 

 

You can follow Cameron on Twitter here.

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The most terrifying thing about Donald Trump's speech? What he didn't say

No politician uses official speeches to put across their most controversial ideas. But Donald Trump's are not hard to find. 

As Donald Trump took the podium on a cold Washington day to deliver his inauguration speech, the world held its breath. Viewers hunched over televisions or internet streaming services watched Trump mouth “thank you” to the camera, no doubt wondering how he could possibly live up to his deranged late-night Twitter persona. In newsrooms across America, reporters unsure when they might next get access to a president who seems to delight in denying them the right to ask questions got ready to parse his words for any clue as to what was to come. Some, deciding they couldn’t bear to watch, studiously busied themselves with other things.

But when the moment came, Trump’s speech was uncharacteristically professional – at least compared to his previous performances. The fractured, repetitive grammar that marks many of his off-the-cuff statements was missing, and so, too, were most of his most controversial policy ideas.

Trump told the crowd that his presidency would “determine the course of America, and the world, for many, many years to come” before expressing his gratefulness to President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama for their “gracious aid” during the transition. “They have been magnificent," Trump said, before leading applause of thanks from the crowd.

If this opening was innocent enough, however, it all changed in the next breath. The new president moved quickly to the “historic movement”, “the likes of which the world has never seen before”, that elected him President. Following the small-state rhetoric of his campaign, Trump promised to take power from the “establishment” and restore it to the American people. “This moment," he told them, “Is your moment. It belongs to you.”

A good deal of the speech was given over to re-iterating his nationalist positions while also making repeated references to the key issues – “Islamic terrorism” and families – that remain points of commonality within the fractured Republican GOP.

The loss of business to overseas producers was blamed for “destroying our jobs”. “Protection," Trump said, “Will lead to great strength." He promised to end what he called the “American carnage” caused by drugs and crime.

“From this day forward," Trump said, “It’s going to be only America first."

There was plenty in the speech, then, that should worry viewers, particularly if you read Trump’s promises to make America “unstoppable” so it can “win” again in light of his recent tweets about China

But it was the things Trump didn't mention that should worry us most. Trump, we know, doesn’t use official channels to communicate his most troubling ideas. From bizarre television interviews to his upsetting and offensive rallies and, of course, the infamous tweets, the new President is inclined to fling his thoughts into the world as and when he sees fit, not on the occasions when he’s required to address the nation (see, also, his anodyne acceptance speech).

It’s important to remember that Trump’s administration wins when it makes itself seem as innocent as possible. During the speech, I was reminded of my colleague Helen Lewis’ recent thoughts on the “gaslighter-in-chief”, reflecting on Trump’s lying claim that he never mocked a disabled reporter. “Now we can see," she wrote, “A false narrative being built in real time, tweet by tweet."

Saying things that are untrue isn’t the only way of lying – it is also possible to lie by omission.

There has been much discussion as to whether Trump will soften after he becomes president. All the things this speech did not mention were designed to keep us guessing about many of the President’s most controversial promises.

Trump did not mention his proposed ban on Muslims entering the US, nor the wall he insists he will erect between America and Mexico (which he maintains the latter will pay for). He maintained a polite coolness towards the former President and avoiding any discussion of alleged cuts to anti-domestic violence programs and abortion regulations. Why? Trump wanted to leave viewers unsure as to whether he actually intends to carry through on his election rhetoric.

To understand what Trump is capable of, therefore, it is best not to look to his speeches on a global stage, but to the promises he makes to his allies. So when the President’s personal website still insists he will build a wall, end catch-and-release, suspend immigration from “terror-prone regions” “where adequate screening cannot occur”; when, despite saying he understands only 3 per cent of Planned Parenthood services relate to abortion and that “millions” of women are helped by their cancer screening, he plans to defund Planned Parenthood; when the president says he will remove gun-free zones around schools “on his first day” - believe him.  

Stephanie Boland is digital assistant at the New Statesman. She tweets at @stephanieboland