Rio Ferdinand calls for radical reform and a new identity for England

Rio Ferdinand believes England must be prepared to miss out on qualifying for major tournaments in order to Undergo radical reform and rediscover their identity.

The Manchester United defender says that process needs to start with the implementation of a new philosophy that can be applied to England teams at all levels – something he believes has been overlooked ever since Glenn Hoddle was dismissed as manager in 1999.

Emphasising the need for change, Ferdinand said there is a disconnect between the senior national side and the Under-21 and youth teams, in stark contrast to many other football nations. He also expressed major concerns about the technical abilities of upcoming English players and questioned whether youngsters are being taught basic skills.

For the Football Association to put things right and avoid the sort of ignominy England endured this summer, when the Under-21s and the Under-20s performed miserably at the European Championship and World Cup respectively, Ferdinand believes it will "take someone to grab it by the scruff of the neck and say, 'This is what we're going to do and we're going to take 10 years to do it.'"

In Ferdinand's eyes England need to go back to the drawing board and establish a clear way of playing across all of the country's representative teams, which is something that Dan Ashworth, the FA's director of elite development, has accepted is a vital issue that he intends to "pin down".

Ferdinand, who retired from international football in May, said: "What is our identity? I've said that on Twitter I don't know how many times, and people come back and say, 'What are you talking about?' But what is our identity? We started to see something when Glenn Hoddle was in charge, a bit of an identity then, free-flowing football, and you would say we were starting to get an idea of the pattern of what he wanted to implement in the team. Since then I don't think we've actually really seen an identity, where you could say: 'That's an England team,' where you look at the Under-21s and go: 'That's an England team.'

"If all the names were taken off the back of the shirts and the colours were changed, you couldn't go in there and say, 'That's an England team, that's our identity, that's the way we play.' And that's from the Under-16s right up to the senior team.

"Whereas you look at an Italian team, a Dutch team, a Spanish team, a German team or a Brazilian team, without seeing the names on the shirts, you would identify them because they're working from a script. You could put an Under-16 lad into the senior Spanish team or Italian team, he might not have the attributes in terms of physique and speed to be able to deal with it but positionally I'm sure he'd know what to do because that's what they're taught, day in, day out."

Ferdinand claimed that Hoddle was the only one of the six permanent England managers he played Under – Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson, Steve McClaren, Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson – in an international career that yielded 81 caps who put in place the sort of structure he is advocating.

"Hoddle – and this is no reflection on how good or bad the other managers were but it's just what I saw – said this is the way we're going to play and, when a new player came in, they knew exactly what was going on because there was a system we played and which was adaptable, and you could see that would have filtered downto the other teams, to the Under-21s."

Ferdinand says Hoddle had a big say in what went on with the Under-21s because he was close to Peter Taylor. "I just don't think you see that connection between our team and the Under-21s, or the Under-17s and the Under-20s team and the senior team, and I think that doesn't bode well for the England team.

"I hear there is a new system being put in place and that St George's Park is part of that. Time will tell us what is going on.

"We might not qualify for a World Cup or a European Championship but I would rather not qualify for one or two tournaments knowing that in 10 years' time we will have an identity that everyone can identify with and be proud of."

While Ferdinand points to young, talented players who are already part of Hodgson's senior set-up, he says the key element is getting them to perform collectively – a conundrum successive England managers struggled to resolve with the so-called "golden generation" of which the central defender was part and which included Steven Gerrard, Paul Scholes and Frank Lampard.

Ferdinand has reservations about what is happening in the lower age groups. "There are some quality players," he said. "You look at our club alone: [Danny] Welbeck, [Phil] Jones, [Chris] Smalling, [Tom] Cleverley. At other clubs you've got [Daniel] Sturridge, Jack Wilshere, [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain. There are a lot of talented players around but I think what has been the problem for years is how you put those talented players into a team to work.

"And then I think you've got to look deeper than that and look at the younger age groups. Are they being coached right? Is their development right? Are they getting enough hours?"

"Young players in other countries … I watched the Under-20 World Cup, there was a kid called Quintero playing for Colombia, the way he receives the ball – you don't really see young players in our country doing that. I can name loads of other players, they receive the ball with players around them and manipulate the ball, protect the ball – are we being taught those basics the way other teams are? You can't tell me that we haven't got some great young players coming through, like the names I've mentioned. But the basics that we're being taught, are they there?"

Although there is widespread criticism of a culture where young footballers are seen to be given too much too soon, in particular when it comes to the financial rewards, Ferdinand believes the biggest barrier to success for homegrown English players is the lack of pathways to the first team.

"Are the kids getting the opportunities nowadays that we had? Harry Redknapp [the West Ham United manager at the time] wasn't scared to put me in. His job wasn't on the line after two or three games if he hadn't won."But the stakes are much higher now, it's a risk and a manager is thinking about himself 'I want to continue in this job, I want to make sure that I'm here for three or four years. If I bring that kid in and he messes up a couple of times … '

"Harry Redknapp used to say to me, if you make a mistake don't worry, just don't make the same mistake in a game twice. He wanted you to learn from that and keep playing football. Do kids get that time now? Do managers have in their knowledge that the owners are going to sack them if they put a kid in and it reflects badly on a few results? There are so many different things that you can hang it on but I think this [the state of English football] is probably an accumulation of all of them."

Rio Ferdinand will be working with BT Sport as an interviewer, programme-maker and football expertPowered by article was written by Stuart James, for The Guardian on Monday 12th August 2013 23.00 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © dullhunk

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