Howard Davies: There are few England-qualified players in the Premier League

The MT Diary: Howard Davies says new FA chair Greg Dyke will have a tough job on his hands turning around English football.

by Howard Davies
Last Updated: 25 Sep 2013

This summer was a good time to stay at home. As London basked in Indian summer sun, my Avios clock stopped ticking for a while. (I must drop Willie Walsh a line to reassure him that I haven't died.)

It wasn't exactly a quiet time. I ploughed through 58 submissions to the Airports Commission, each with a different approach to capacity planning, from islands on stilts in the Thames to spaceports and runways equipped with maglev take-off vehicles launching jumbos silently into the west London skies.

I haven't had so much futuristic fun since I gave up reading The Eagle. But it did give me the leisure to reflect on some of the curiosities of our national life in the midterm dog days of our Parliament.

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Margaret Hodge, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, is clearly enjoying her continuing spat with the BBC. (When at the Audit Commission, I did battle with a leftist firebrand at Islington Council of the same name, who wanted the council to refuse to set a rate. I wonder if they are in any way related.)

She certainly has a point in her pursuit of Auntie's naughty payoffs to her favourite nieces and nephews.

I imagine most readers of this journal have faced the problem of how to downsize, rightsize, or simply excise a now useless company bedblocker. Those tedious people from HR tell you it is vital to have a good cause to dismiss or you will face a Tribunal case.

You look back at the target's annual reports and discover a succession of managers, frightened of the sight of blood, have given glowing reports, perhaps in an attempt to get some other unlucky department to take the person on. So a case based on bad performance looks hard to sustain.

Then you have a bright idea. Let's declare a redundancy. Statutory scheme kicks in, usually funded from some head office budget. Job done. But once again HR raises objections. You can't declare a redundancy unless the job has truly gone. So you end up with an awkward conversation in which the bullet has to be bitten.

That's not the way it goes at the Beeb. The head of television was made redundant, with a payoff of around £700,000. HR went along with it (the relevant person has now quit).

Now, I don't watch a lot of TV, unless I can't physically get to Lords or the Etihad stadium, but my researches suggest programmes are still being broadcast and the medium is alive and well. I think the ex-head of HR will be in great demand.

Advice of the sort she is prepared to give will be invaluable to managers everywhere. She can bring her lawyer along too.

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Greg Dyke was director-general in the days before BBC management salaries went off the scale. In his time, only the 'talent' wrote their own cheques. MPs seem less concerned about that. But now he is dealing with a group of people with an even more highly developed sense of entitlement: footballers.

Dyke is well qualified to chair the FA. We played together in a London Weekend kickabout for more years than was good for us. There's a wealthy knee surgeon in east London who used to make a good living from my ligaments and cartilages.

Dyke was a combative, terrier-like midfielder, more Joey Barton than David Silva maybe, but a force to be reckoned with. He will need all that aggression and more if he is to turn around English football.

The problem is clear: there are fewer and fewer English-qualified players in the Premier League and those who do still turn out regularly for the top teams are mainly in the later stages of their careers. Think Terry, Lampard, Ferdinand, Gerrard and Barry. Even Wayne Rooney looks as though his best days are behind him (you can see a fat boy struggling to get out) and Joe Hart has started throwing the ball into his own net with alarming frequency.

Players under 21 who are qualified for England accounted for just over 2% of the total playing time in the Premier League last year. In Spain and Germany the proportion, while still below 10%, was three or four times as high. And our young players do not figure largely, or even at all, in the squads of teams in the other top European leagues.

Why is this? One possible explanation is a lack of highly qualified coaches. There are five times as many coaches with the top EUFA qualification in Germany as in England and eight times as many in Spain. Another is that English teenagers are keener on raising the wrist than on keepy-uppy.

And our leaders set a poor example. The only box Tony Hall, the current DG of the BBC, has been seen running into is the Royal Box at the Opera House. And the prime minister must take his share of the blame. When did you last see him playing head tennis with Kevin Keegan, as Tony Blair memorably did?

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So Dyke has a job on his hands. But we used to be in despair about our cricket team and you often heard gloomy prognoses about the disappearance of the game from state schools, as playing fields were sold for development. That has been turned round. The England team's relative success may be partly due to Australian decline, but there was an active strategy too.

We made a systematic attempt to find South Africans and Australians, who had been properly coached and who had an English great-half-uncle or who had once spent a week in Brighton. Then we bribed them to pretend to be loyal to Queen and country.

The FA should take a leaf from the ECB's book. It would be far quicker than training 10,000 more coaches.

Howard Davies is chairman of the Airports Commission.

Follow him on Twitter: @howardjdavies

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