Monday, 3 March 2014

England appoint Aidy Boothroyd U20s boss. Hope springs eternal, eh?

Aidy Boothroyd.
Boothroyd: new Eng U20 boss. This is not a joke.
Well, that's debatable actually...

Some days you wonder if anybody even turns up for work at the FA. I have visions of a solitary, fusty chap in his eighties steadfastly manning the ship – replying to letters, making a few decisions, pottering away quite happily in a small office in Soho Square. We'll call him George...

[dream sequence]

George quietly bumbles about his business undisturbed most days. Occasionally Trevor Brooking pops in with a ham and mustard sandwich, scratches his head as if not knowing what to do, before leaving again with a baffled expression an hour later. That's unless there's a showpiece game coming up, when a load of haircuts in fancy suits suddenly rock up claiming they've been "working from home".

But most days George is on his tod. He's been told he can bring in an office temp if he wants, but he doesn't like to be a bother, plus that would mean fixing that new-fangled computer whatchamacallit. The old thing hasn't worked since 1997. A dusty Encarta CD-Rom lies next to it, long since repurposed as a drinks mat and covered in coffee rings.

Recently a letter arrived from Gareth Southgate's agent, which George opened, in which it became apparent that Southgate wanted to appoint a new manager for England's Under-20 side. "Under-20s?" thought George? "I don't think we have an Under-20 side. Perhaps he means Under-21s. I'd best give him a quick tinkle and check."

The phone rings and goes through to Southgate's agent, Ashley Woolfe.

"Good afternoon Mr Woolfe. I'm calling with regards to your letter about Gareth wanting to appoint a new member of coaching staff. I just wanted to check if there'd been an administrative error. Your letter discusses the matter of Gareth appointing a manager for the Under-20 side. But we don't have an Under-20s, as far as I'm aware."

"Actually George, turns out you do. I must admit it came as a surprise to Gareth when he found out about it last week. It would appear that other countries have been focusing on this age group for some time now and we've been a tad left behind. Can't the FA find somebody who'd be willing to give it a bash?"

"Well, it's just me in the office today. It's just me in the office most days actually. I try and pass things up the chain of command, but unless it's to do with a sponsorship deal I don't generally hear anything back."

"I see. Well, since this appointment is rather small beans, perhaps you could arrange something yourself, George? I'm sure a man of your experience has a wealth of contacts."

"I suppose I could see if Phil Neal's free. Although saying that, I think he's got rather a lot of after-dinner work on at the moment, wouldn't want to overload the chap. Tell you what, I'll have a look into who else is out of work and see what I can do. Stay on line, I'm getting my book."

And so George reaches to a shelf on the wall. There, next to some signed photos of Tim Flowers and a dusty old box of Terry Venables' The Manager board game, sits a tatty old contacts book. George's pride and joy. He flicks to the pages marked '2013/14 Managerial Departures' and thumbs down the list.

"Still there Ashley? Right... hmmm... let's see.... Sean O'Driscoll? Too much of a fancy-dan for my liking. I don't like watching his teams play. You'd think they'd never heard of hitting the big man up top. Tony Mowbray? Personally I can't understand a word the man says, and again, his teams are a bit tippy tappy aren't they. Nobody ever won anything playing football like ballet, did they? Ah, now then, Aidy Boothroyd's available. There's a hot young coach with a bright future. I had him earmarked for the top job a few years back. Not sure why the hell he's out of work, poor chap. I'll offer him the job, it'll get him out of the house. Cheerio then."

[dream sequence fades to black]


So that's that. If you're still reading, sorry it wasn't very exciting. But now that I've created an ambiance of measured calm (read: boredom) with that gently paced opening scene, hopefully it affords the following highly considered and cerebral observation the necessary space to breathe. What I'd like to say, as eloquently as possible, is:

Aidy Boothroyd?! FOR F***'S SAKE, FA!!

*downs bottle of bleach*




Deep breath. I feel mildly better now, but Jesus H Batman On Stilts, what are the FA playing at in appointing Boothroyd? Answers on a postcard.

Have they ever watched a Boothroyd team play football? It's an absolute abomination. A relic harking back to the early 1980s – all high tempo, put 'em under, let 'em know you're there, game management and all that guff.

When the news broke and one or two choice words were aired on Twitter, Northampton Town fan Ben Trasler had the following to say. (Boothroyd of course having recently been let go from Northampton for turning them into an incompetent shower of ugly hatred that was – and may still be – on course to drop out of the Football League).

"When winning, it's ugly. When losing, it's barbaric," said Trasler. "God, it was awful. He's the reason we're in the poo*".
(*Not the actual word he used.)

I can't really better those sentiments. There are a few unscrupulous types managing in the lower leagues, but there can be none more steadfastly committed to winning ugly than Boothroyd. To watch a Boothroyd side is to willingly torture your own eyeballs. Seriously, my corneas would rather take a direct spray from a can of Lynx Java followed by a plunge into a heavily over-chlorinated swimming pool, than watch a Boothroyd side close out a 2-1 win. The closing minutes of a narrow Boothroyd win are football's equivalent of trolling. 

Every time I've seen his teams play, I come away a little sickened. It's as if he spends serious time on the training ground teaching his players how to master little niggly fouls that aren't quite worth a yellow, how to charge down clearances with your studs up so your opponent might smash his toes to smithereens on the follow-through, how to spend 40 seconds getting ready for every throw-in when protecting a lead, how to pump the ball into the channels so it plops just short of the corner flag and both defence and attack then embark on a sprint race to get there first, before all getting there at roughly the same time, the ball almost an irrelevance as they inevitably crash into each other. It's a dispiriting experience.

And this is how we want England's promising Under-20s to be taught how to play? Our mentality in England is that, if you're a gifted teenager, we'll bung you straight into the Under-21s anyway. Or even the full squad. So who goes in the Under-20s? The slightly less capable teenagers and 20-year-olds, I guess. The ones who need working on if they're ever going to make the step up.

And Boothroyd will work on them, alright. You can take that as read. But in this age of pristine pitches in which highly technical sides like Spain and Germany dominate (while the England national side consistently founder), what good is Boothroyd going to do with our young nearly-good-enoughs that aren't quite the real deal?

He's probably going to make them play like grotty little sh*ts, isn't he. That's going to win us future World Cups for sure. Hey Sepp, maybe just give us all the trophies now to save time, eh?

*slow hand clap*

Well done, FA. Top marks.

Boothroyd: not a good thing.
But I suppose we shouldn't be surprised. Stuart Pearce and Peter Taylor were hardly names to make us think the FA were going to propel this technically semi-talented crop of young English players into something that might make us proud. 

A key driving force behind this appointment would presumably have been FA 'director of elite development' Dan Ashworth. Indeed, he is quoted as saying: "I’m delighted with the appointment of Aidy, he’s an outstanding coach of younger players and has a fantastic record of developing youth."

Wasn't Ashworth supposed to be a progressive appointment by the FA? I seem to remember some people being quite pleased when they prised him away from West Brom with the prospect of more than doubling his £200k annual salary. And yet apparently Dan Ashworth is "delighted" with Boothroyd. This ought to trouble anyone hoping for England to "do something" at any international tournament at any level in the future. And, frankly, if the Under-20s won the 2015 Toulon Tournament by playing to a Boothroyd template, it would give me very little encouragement for the future, because that way of playing is thoroughly old hat at the highest level. I know football tactics can move in phases, and maybe there's just a chance that kick-and-rush will have it's day again in the future, but we can't be planning for it on the off chance that a direct and heavy-handed brand of football has an elite resurgence.

A couple of years ago Zonal Marking editor Michael Cox tweeted this clip of England Under-21s training under Stuart Pearce. If you haven't seen it, I urge you to have a look (it's less than two minutes long). 

The squad are playing a game of 'two touch'. It's both hilarious and heart-breaking as the young players, limited to two touches, resort to raining shots in from anywhere rather than rely on their technique and movement to craft something better.

The FA put this video ON ITS OWN WEBSITE, as if it's something to be proud about. "Check out how much our young boys like smashing the heck out of footballs, folks! Brilliant eh?"

Listen carefully and you'll note at one point a distant voice incongruously yells: "Is anybody there?" 

Sometimes I ask the very same question about the FA. The lights are on but nobody's in.


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