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INTERVIEW: A starting point for debate

17 May 2014

Managing director John Nixon on an interesting debate

It’s now just over a week since the FA Chairman’s England Commission released its report into the problems facing English football, complete with a set of proposals they hope will have a positive impact, if implemented, on the national team’s performance in the major cup competitions.

We sat down with managing director John Nixon, currently a Football League representative on the FA Board, to get his thoughts on what was a comprehensive and detailed document.

In the first part of a three part interview he outlined the background to the report and the starting point for what should be an interesting debate when the Football League holds its AGM next month.

“I think it’s important to note that the Commission has produced a report with a number of points and issues which are still up for debate at this stage,” he said. “They are not in any way signed, sealed or delivered because the intention was to float some ideas to get people talking about ways of attacking some of the issues which currently affect the game.

“The key point for me, having read the report from cover to cover, is that it contains a lot of facts and details that have given us all a starting point for the debate which has to follow.” 

“As a bit of background, Greg Dyke came into the job last August and he stated that one of his main aims was to make English football better at the very top tier. In other words, he felt the England team had to get stronger. 

“What we don’t want to see is our national team going to the World Cup and European Championship competitions and falling at the first hurdle. We want to see an England team which has a good chance of success and, if we’re being honest, we haven’t had that since 1966.

“One of his prime objectives, to make English football attractive at international level again, was to get an England team which could compete to win in the European Championships of 2020 and in the 2022 World Cup. To get there they have had to do a lot of work in terms of looking at how we compare to other countries and how we do our own business at national level.”

“The report everyone is currently talking about is the first part of that process,” he added. “A lot has been said about the report, in the press and on the TV stations, but one thing we have to bear in mind is that it contains facts and details which show how we’ve got to a position where the England team is no longer firing on all cylinders.

“What we don’t want is to be in a situation like Scotland, for example, where they qualified for the World Cup twice in a row, quite a few years ago now, and have since disappeared almost completely from the reckoning. That’s because the quality of their players has dropped due to them not being tested at the right level. 

“If you think back to when Scotland were a very good side, the majority of their players were coming into England to ply their trade. That is no longer the case and they have suffered, because the Premier League is now attracting some of the best players from right across the world. It’s become harder for lads north of the border to get their chance because of that.” 

“One of the facts we can’t dispute is that if we’re going to have a strong England team then our players have to be playing in the Premier League, or in one of the other top leagues in Europe,” he said. “In 2012/13 the figure was that 32% of the players playing in our top flight were eligible for England selection. If you spread that across the 20 teams it means that we only had between 30 and 40 players who were getting experience of playing the game at our highest domestic level. 

“If you then look at the top four clubs, who represented us in the Champions League, you find that only 28% of their players were eligible to play for England. That shows we are really struggling for quality in depth at that very top level.

“Come forward to 2013/14 and we find that only 22 English players appeared in this season’s Champions League competition. In comparison, there have been 75 Spanish, 54 German and 47 Brazilian players taking part. That shows that the top performing countries are doing well at international level, probably because they have a bigger pool of players who are doing their jobs at the very top levels of the domestic game around the world.”

“The problem is compounded by the fact that we only have 51% of the players at Championship level, the second tier of our game, who are qualified to play for England,” he said. “That outlines the issue Greg Dyke is trying to get us all to address, and that’s the starting point from where the rest of the debate should follow.”

The second part of this interview will appear on the official website on Sunday.

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