Britain needs talent

Posted on July 28, 2011 by


‘If England had the equivalent of the French youth academy Clairefontaine they would already have won another major championship.’  Sven-Goran Eriksson

Clairefontaine academy is a haven for young French footballers. Located near Paris – the heart of France, players are taken at 13 years of age, made to be good, and then pumped out into the football circulatory system for us to watch. Well it’s not that easy but you get the drift. Oh and by the way, Clairefontaine is 1 of 12 similar football academies across France that is funded by the French Football Federation and the French Football League. England has none. Great.

Clairefontaine has been responsible for producing players such as Thierry Henry, William Gallas and Nicolas Anelka. And since the academy was built in 1988 France have reached two World Cup finals, winning one and a European Championship. It’s no coincidence that there is an influx of French talent across the European leagues and especially in the English Premier League. Clairefontaine choose from around 1500 kids from the Ile-de-France region every year and whittle that number down to 24. The young protégés live at the academy and attend the local school during the week and then return home to their parents and play for their local football teams at weekends. These young players play football every day, their lives are fuelled by a sport they enjoy playing and they have some of the best coaches around.

‘Great footballers are technicians’, they ‘master the ball’ – ‘forget about the psychical aspect of training.’ André  Merelle, Clairefontaine Diector


In 2001, having been inspired by Clairefontaine, The F.A made plans for an English equivalent. However, one decade on and ‘The Burton Project’ is still not complete. It was supposed to be the home of English football, a centre born from a desire for success. Yet, our future National Football Centre has hosted a mere few England youth training sessions and regular weekly amateur games in ten years. It’s still half built. There are several world class pitches with under soil heating but no changing rooms. There are grounds men but there’s no one to ruin the ground for them so they can make it nice again. Now I can see Wayne getting changed on the side of the pitch without a changing room, in fact he’d probably wash in a large puddle somewhere afterwards, but as for John and Frank, I think the project needs a few million putting in first and maybe some warm fluffy towels.

It comes down to money as many things do. The Wembley Stadium expenditure was a huge investment (especially since they have to re-lay the pitch every week) at over £750m. The collapse of Setanta Sports was also a bit of an obstruction for the F.A. Nevertheless, they’ve mustered up some sort of plan with the finances they’ve got and as of 2010 work started again. It took some time to get everyone on board as Trevor Brooking said but we’ll soon have a National Football Centre. It’ll have everything that Clairefontaine’s got. The sports science rooms, indoor facilities, everything. All we need now is a 13 year old English Vieira to play with Wilshere right?

In fact though, our national centre will be totally different to Clairefontaine. We can’t send the best players from say, Manchester to a centre nearby for them only to come home at weekends. Our grass roots structure is far different. I’m not saying it’s worse, because that’s a long argument. But our centre will be more orientated towards the coaching side of things. The centre will train coaches whilst it will also be a base for the England National Team before International fixtures. It’s about getting the best coaches coaching younger age groups as well as the older ones (whereas nowadays if you’re a good coach you usually progress up the age groups). It is only then that we will unearth players with the technique that we yearn for in our young English players.

Trevor Brooking on The Burton Project. Insightful:

An unimpressed Staurt Pearce on The Burton Project:

Posted in: Europe, Football