Danny Mills is determined to make a real difference in his new role on the FA commission tasked with improving English football.
During the last international break I devoted this column to discussing the problems facing English football and how best to solve them.
I was prompted by Greg Dyke’s first public speech as Football Association chairman and it got me thinking. Rather than simply cutting loose here, why don’t I write to the FA and spell out my views? So I did.
Using bits of my column I sent an extended letter detailing my concerns and the possible answers. What came back was an invitation to join the new commission set up by the FA to assess the state of the game in this country.
I’m honoured by the opportunity but very conscious too of the responsibility it places on me. These are critical times for English football and the need for change is so obvious that I don’t see any way of avoiding it. Certain people will try to avoid it, of that I’m sure, but not if I have anything to do with it.
The plan is for the commission to meet two or three times a month and discuss the way forward with regards to improving the technical ability of youngsters, the representation of English players in the Premier League and the strength of the national side.
Howard Wilkinson is on the panel as a representative of the League Managers’ Association along with the Football League’s Greg Clarke and the PFA’s Ritchie Humphreys.
Glenn Hoddle has been included along with Dario Gradi (a proper football man if ever I knew one).
Together we need to draw up a plan and a strategy to protect the interests of the sport, not just at Premier League level but right down to kids’ football. And if that means upsetting a few applecarts then so be it.
I come at this from quite a unique position. I’m obviously an ex-professional who, despite not being the world’s greatest player, did well with the talent I had. But I’m also a father of four children, three of whom play football regularly, so I’ve a pretty fixed view of what is going wrong at an early age. On top of that my media work lets me see international fixtures, Champions League ties and some of the best players in the world.
So if I can’t contribute something to this and make a difference then I’ll be seriously disappointed with myself. The reason I wrote to the FA in the first place was because I think I know where the failures lie.
For starters you need changes to the way junior football is run and managed. Get rid of league tables and let young lads concentrate on playing the right way rather than playing for results. At a higher level, limit the number of foreign trainees that professional clubs can sign and find a way of making investment in English talent as affordable as investment in overseas players.
Restrict the amount that young, inexperienced professionals can be paid. And create first-team quotas which allow clubs to import quality pros but make them focus on domestic responsibilities too.
It’s not massively complex stuff but it is going to require a lot of co-operation. And frankly, I’m going to speak my mind. I’m not affiliated to anyone – not the LMA, not the PFA, not the FA and not the Premier League. I’m an independent voice and I plan to act like one.
I really don’t want to see the protection of vested interests or resistance to change simply because it threatens a few faces in high places.
This is all too important to worry about that.
You’ll have seen that the Premier League turned down the chance to be part of the commission and the fact that the organisation’s not involved stands out like a sore thumb. I’m surprised by that and very disappointed. It’s poor.
I don’t understand why the Premier League would have a problem with taking part.
The bottom line is that if big change is to take place in this country then it’s going to affect the top flight.
The men who run the Premier League have a duty to accept that, as great and successful as their own product is, other levels of the sport game are suffering. I go back again to something I said in my original column. The FA has been in existence for 150 years. The Premier League started in 1992.
Years of competition and administration went into making the game as popular as it is and I sometimes feel that the Premier League is guilty of forgetting that.
This isn’t just about them. I’m a huge fan of the Premier League but if it disappeared tomorrow, you’d still have 72 Football League clubs.
You’d still have a massive non-league pyramid. And you’d still have the hundreds of local matches going on every weekend.
That isn’t to say I’ve got all the answers because I don’t. But something in the English psyche must change.
I’m privileged to be on of the commission and we need everyone to rally around it. Then it needs to deliver results.