St George’s Park doesn’t Mata unless attitudes change
Roberto Di Matteo is not the most demonstrative of characters. To be brutally honest, there are times during his press conferences when the urge to check for a pulse is nigh-on irresistible.
This comes in handy for the Chelsea manager when you-know-who and his Twitter-happy chum are on the agenda. It is also a useful defence mechanism when Di Matteo is called upon to venture an opinion that might be construed as a challenge to the powerbrokers at Stamford Bridge.
But ask him about Juan Mata, and he positively gushes. No wonder. Not only has Mata been Chelsea’s most consistent player in a season that is starting to take shape, but, for the moment at least, he is their exclusive property.
The absence of Mata from the Spain squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and France is a telling example of how English clubs benefit from the terrifyingly high standards Vicente del Bosque imposes on his World and European champions.
Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla, a player of similarly sumptuous technique and talent, is also on the outside of the Spain squad looking in. His club colleague Mikel Arteta, who has been consistently overlooked by his country, would walk into the England side should he choose to take advantage of his residential qualification.
This highlights a broader problem, which will not be solved by the fantastic facilities at the FA’s National Football Centre. Even in the best-case scenario, it will take a generation for the English game to succeed.
Coaching in this country is abject and inaccessible for many. Courses for both prospective and existing coaches are sparse and costly. Despite the understandable praise for the principle of a hub such as St George’s Park, the system depends on the administrative capacity of county FAs, which tend to be hidebound by bureaucracy.
More trust is being placed in smaller, more technically adept players at youth level, but the central problem – that boys are treated as commodities rather than individuals – is likely to become more acute, rather than less, because of the greed enshrined in the Premier League’s ruinous Elite Player Performance Plan.
Mata was encouraged to play the right way by forward-thinking coaches. Had he been English, his progress would not have been guaranteed. Beware men in FA blazers talking about a quick fix.
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