How the FA rebuilt England: Now-departed Greg Dyke and Dan Ashworth were key to creating St George’s Park, a DNA and a winning habit at youth level… finally turning us into genuine challengers on the international stage – SPECIAL REPORT
- England have notably improved since the barren years after their World Cup win
- Three Lions only had four semi-finals in the 30 years between 1966 and 1996
- However they have now reached the last four in their last two major tournaments
- Here is Sportsmail’s inside track on the FA blueprint for the major improvement
- Find out the latest Euro 2020 news including fixtures, live action and results here
Having appeared in just four semi-finals from 1966 to 1996, England have now reached the same stage in their two most recent tournaments — plus a third if you include the 2019 Nations League.
The stark improvement is the result of years of work by multiple people, on the pitch and behind the scenes.
Below, Sportsmail examines some of the factors which have raised standards and made England challengers on the international stage.
England have reached the semi-finals for the second major tournament in a row
Greg Dyke’s twin targets
There was scoffing at the time but the targets FA chairman Greg Dyke laid out after his appointment in 2013 were significant and the starting point for England’s improvement.
‘The first (target) is for the England team to at least reach the semi-finals of the European Championship in 2020,’ said Dyke, ‘and the second is for us to win the World Cup in 2022.’
Then-Football Association chairman Greg Dyke set bold targets which ‘changed the mindset’
Dyke formed a commission to examine how to improve the team. ‘Dyke’s report prompted a real change in mindset,’ explains Mike Rigg, the FA’s former head of talent identification.
‘At the time, the targets set a goal for everyone and it was, ‘OK, if you want us to win the World Cup we can’t keep doing what we have been doing’.’
Dan Ashworth’s appointment
Dan Ashworth is reluctant to take credit for England’s improvement but Rigg describes his appointment as FA director of elite development in September 2012 as a ‘game changer’.
Ashworth, now Brighton’s technical director, arrived amid widespread FA reform.
Dan Ashworth, now Brighton technical director, being appointed was called a ‘game changer’
Gareth Southgate as Under 21 manager, Dave Reddin as head of performance services, Matt Crocker as head of development team coaching and Rigg were key appointments around the same time and they shaped England’s future.
‘Ashworth was sitting at the top, overseeing everything in a really strategic way,’ says Rigg. ‘The foresight of the FA to appoint someone like him made a significant difference.’
Ashworth was one of the creators of the ‘DNA’ philosophy introduced by the FA, with Crocker also a driving force. ‘It wasn’t widely accepted as a good move but it started to change the way people played and coached,’ says Rigg.
The DNA introduced some consistency to the England set-up throughout the age-groups and ensured players knew what was required of them as soon as they walked through the door.
It is now common for all the coaches from Gareth Southgate down to have regular meetings
Having a common strategy also helped make up for FA staff having less time with players compared to club coaches. Previously, coaches of each England team — as good as they were — were doing their own thing and playing different systems and styles.
That all changed, so players aged 15 and upwards know what is demanded of an England player tactically, technically, physically and mentally. There is room for flexibility, as the senior team’s pragmatism and formation changes during the Euros show, but the core principles remain.
With the approach joined up, it is now common for all the coaches from Southgate down to have regular meetings, sharing ideas and developing the identity.
Making senior internationals at youth level
FA research on 10 countries in 2013 underlined that success at youth level led to success at senior level. One aim of the DNA was to create a seamless transition as players progressed through the age groups.
That is being achieved if you look at the players Southgate has picked for this tournament. In 2017, England’s youth teams enjoyed a remarkable year which highlighted the progress being made. In six tournaments that year, England won four, finished runners-up in one and reached the semi-finals in the other.
There was also a marked focus on making senior internationals based on success at youth level
Eleven players Southgate has called upon this summer were involved in those squads and many others have earned senior caps. Jadon Sancho and Phil Foden helped the Under 17s get to the Euros final and win the World Cup four years ago.
Reece James was part of England’s Toulon tournament winning squad. Dean Henderson and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored the winner in the final, helped England to glory at the Under 20 World Cup.
Jordan Pickford, Ben Chilwell, Jack Grealish and James Ward-Prowse were part of the Under 21 Euros semi-finalists while player of the tournament Mason Mount, James and Aaron Ramsdale helped win the Under 19 Euros.
That success helps with something Southgate has spoken about a lot — this generation of players don’t feel the shirt weighs as heavily as others did.
The FA have been keen to widen tournament experiences, ensuring players are better prepared for them. The Under 15, 18 and 20 teams were created to give youngsters more opportunities to have international minutes.
Southgate was keen for teams to go to the Toulon Tournament and get competitive experience
England ended their long-running involvement in the Victory Shield, a home nations competition, in 2015 to expose their Under 16s to a wider range of opponents from around the world.
In 2016, Southgate took his youth team to the Toulon tournament to gain more competitive experience. They won it with Pickford, Chilwell, Ward-Prowse and Grealish all in the squad.
Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP)
With 90 per cent of a player’s development coming at their club, the introduction of the Premier League’s EPPP system was another game-changer, according to Rigg.
While it was not without controversy, it led to better coaching and more training and game time for youngsters, and coincided with significant investment by clubs in their academies and facilities.
The result is better quality and a larger pool of players available for the FA, who raised standards under Ashworth and his team at the same time, employing higher level coaches such as Steve Cooper, manager of that successful 2017 Under 17 team.
St George’s Park
The opening of the national football centre in October 2012 was pivotal. Everything the players need is at the state-of-the-art HQ. The FA take huge pride in the number and range of sporting organisations who have been keen to see how it works.
England’s state-of-the-art base St George’s Park (above) was an important step on the journey
St George’s Park is also a key factor in another area the FA have worked hard on — persuading dual or multiple nationality players to pick England above other countries they could represent.
Nothing is taken for granted by the FA, so the impressive Staffordshire venue is an important tool in the charm offensive.
While some players will slip through the net at younger ages, that is another area the FA have worked hard on in recent years. Before Rigg, the FA had never had anyone focusing solely on talent identification.
Led by Ashworth, Southgate and Rigg, better relationships were formed, building trust between themselves and the FA.
Previously, without a big enough workforce to scout, the FA were heavily reliant on inside information from clubs about their best eligible players.
England also worked on talent identification to make sure players did not slip through the net
The clubs, though, had their own agendas and at times were not keen to let their best players drift out of their sights for international duty.
Under Ashworth, the FA’s team of talent spotters swelled to ensure nothing was left to chance. They were tasked with building even more detailed profiles on eligible talents. Such a thorough approach helps the FA get to players sooner.
Rigg says: ‘We were given far more resources and it all came back to Dan’s vision as technical director and saying, ‘If you want to do things properly, this is what is happening at clubs and we’re going to have to replicate it’.’
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