St George's Park 'statement of intent'

David Sheepshanks says St George's Park is a statement of intent and will become a "Mecca" for students of the game.

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David Sheepshanks: The national football

David Sheepshanks: The national football

The national football centre at St George's Park has sent out a statement of intent to the rest of the world and will become a "Mecca" for students of the game, according to chairman David Sheepshanks.

England teams, starting with the under-17s next month, can now begin using the £100million facility on the 330-acre site at Burton-upon-Trent.

The Football Association devoted months to researching best practice in various sports around the globe, but now Sheepshanks hopes they will become the reference point for other nations.

"Hopefully the rest of the world will see this as a statement of intent by English football, which we will go on seeking to improve," he said. "It is a nerve-centre, a think-tank. I could almost say, if I was allowed to, a Mecca.

"It is a meeting point for the game, a congregating nerve centre where it doesn't matter whether you are coaches, chief execs, physios, commercial directors, nutritionists - it is a place where the game can come together.

"We will welcome anyone who wants to come and we will be listening.

"One of the reasons we got here is because we listened to what everyone else told us, and we will go on listening because the day you think you have got to the top of the mountain is the day you start going down it."

Sheepshanks said the senior England team's failure at Euro 2008 was the tipping point which persuaded the FA to bring the site out of mothballs - it having been deemed too expensive - and complete the development.

But even since that moment four years ago, there have been other reminders just how far England have fallen behind the leading nations.

"When we didn't qualify for the Euros that was the starting point and then we had another sharp reminder in 2010 in South Africa (at the World Cup)," he added.

"We have had two big wake-up calls at two big tournaments in succession and now we have had another - not just England but other countries - from what Spain has taught us.

"Their performance in Kiev (in winning Euro 2012) has just confirmed the decisions taken in 2008 and 2010 to build St George's Park were absolutely the right ones."

A technical director has yet to be appointed, and although Sheepshanks has no say on selection, he wants a progressive thinker to drive through the reforms needed for coaching from elite to grassroots level.

"The appointment is almost as important [as building St George's Park] when you consider the job of the future development of the game," he said.

"He is highly likely to be appointed with consultation from the England manager (Roy Hodgson) because the idea you didn't have two working together in such pivotal positions is unthinkable.

"I think it will be someone who is very forward-thinking and committed to the long-term success of English football.

"Trevor Brooking (director of football development) has said we need to develop more technically-adept players but also more responsible, thinking players who are decision-makers.

"He is absolutely right and the ethos of St George's Park will be to focus on those skills, but also to encourage a sense of personal ownership and responsibility for career development.

"We have some fantastically entertaining and gifted players, but we need to move on to a new direction to encourage personal ownership of each individual's career."

Below the technical director the staff employed to deliver the educational side will also be key as the FA look to more than double the number of qualified coaches.

"We have seven million players but only have 103,000 qualified coaches, that is a ratio of 1:69," said Sheepshanks.

"If we do it right and hit our target by having 250,000 coaches by 2018 that is a ratio of 1:25.

"The teacher has a defining influence - there won't be an Olympic champion in the next few weeks who does not have a world-class coach behind them.

"We have consensus within the football family as the Premier League and Football League have bought into this because the Elite Player Performance Plan requires a higher standard of coaching at every age group in the country.

"We have some outstanding coach educators in this country, however, if we want to be best in class we should not necessarily think all of our coach educators should be home-grown.

"We need to recruit from the best in the world and learn from the best in the world.

"We have some great strengths in England and we should look to align both, and I think St George's Park will give a new standard of education for coaches which will enable us to be adaptable, flexible and to have our cake and eat it."

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