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Tackling the Talent Gap in England



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Fabio Capello’s England squad selection for the World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Croatia asked more questions than it answered. The inclusion of Jimmy Bullard and omission of Michael Owen garnered the most press, but one or two other absences have induced bemused faces on Fleet Street.

The real concern should be that a vast chunk of Capello’s squad is formed from the remnants of the failed ‘golden generation’. Nobody would suggest dropping Rio Ferdinand, John Terry, Ashley Cole et al. But Heskey and David Beckham are almost symbolic of a past era encroaching into the present, and Bullard is nearly 30.

The first of those qualifiers has now been played, and the warning signs are there for all to see.

The result was a meagre 0-2 win for Capello’s side and the performance did little to signpost an emphatic World Cup campaign. The whole experience was just a little too familiar at certain stages: Beckham right, Joe Cole left, Heskey and Wayne Rooney up front. It could have been Steve McClaren’s England, or, worryingly, even earlier.

Croatia will be an altogether more troublesome prospect.

Following a summer of thumb twiddling and transfer market stalking, it might be time to reprise the argument over why England can boast one of the world’s most lucrative top flight divisions — and provide both finalists in the Champions League — at the same time as producing such unmitigated failure at international level.

The Football Association believes, correctly in my opinion, that we need to start with an overhaul of grassroots youth football. The National Game Strategy and the Respect campaign are testament to the FA’s determination to act.

However, the recent takeover of Manchester City cemented the status of the Premier League as a rich man’s playground. Quite how that will affect the game remains to be seen, but it certainly won’t help.

Still, that’s no reason to sit back and give up on our football future. Credit to Cherry Red Records Combined Counties League Division One outfit Dorking, then, for grabbing the bull by the horns and putting in place a soccer school with a difference — in an area where the cream of the football talent seems destined to be picked up by Chelsea at an early age and spewed back out into the lower leagues without ever getting a real chance to showcase its ability.

The SpinVox Adventurers Football School, headed up by Dorking’s Director of Football — former Leatherhead and Tooting & Mitcham goalkeeper Tony Webb — aims to provide top quality coaching to youngsters from Surrey. But Webb also wants the school to teach its players about respect, nutrition, fitness and the laws of the game. Put simply, the Dorking football school is an admirable attempt to provide an intensive, rounded football education.

Dorking FC have big ambitions for the school, and genuinely hope to become a centre of excellence for the county and beyond. After all, Webb and his coaches — all FA Level 2 accredited as a minimum — have their ears to the ground more than the big London clubs. Eventually, Webb hopes that Dorking can become such a focal point for young local talent that the Chelseas of this world know exactly where to look for the next John Terry. This can only be good for the kids.

Of course, money helps. Voice-to-screen company SpinVox has been able to provide support to the school, particularly in terms of equipment and kit. The company also sponsors Olympic canoeist Anna Hemmings, and the Spinvox Adventurers Football School is part of an ongoing commitment to talented young sportspeople.

The final full week of the summer holidays saw Tony Webb and his colleagues putting local under-11s through their paces at the club’s Meadowbank ground. In a perfect world, one of those lads would become aligned to the club’s future academy, get spotted by Chelsea and wind up as England captain.

It might seem like a losing battle when Manchester City are busy spending over £30m on Brazilian forwards, but at least the good people at the game’s ‘real’ end are willing to go head to head with football destiny to give talented, determined youngsters a chance to show the big boys what they can do.