Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Glenn Hoddle, Giving a Little Back Through His Football Academy in Spain

Glenn Hoddle was the most gifted footballer of his generation. Blessed with sublime technique and a phenomenal range of passing, he was revered at all the clubs he played for in his 20 year career as a player but is most famed for his time at Tottenham Hotspur.

As a manager he has led teams at all levels of the game. From guiding Swindon Town into the Premier League to becoming player-manager at Chelsea and then on to his spiritual home at Spurs, Hoddle accumulated vast management experience during his career as a manager.

Even becoming England manager in 1996 and steering them to the World Cup '98 before an ill-thought-out interview would cause him to resign.

So it's fair to say that when it comes to professional football Glenn Hoddle has seen it all. Still a young man at 51, Hoddle has so much to offer the game we love. But instead of managing a team in the Premier League he has chosen to walk away from the professional set-up he knows so well and move to Spain.

What could convince Hoddle to move everything he knows and loves to foreign shores? Especially as he has no intentions of managing a Primera league team.

Glenn Hoddle has set up an Academy for young footballers. Players who have tasted rejection at a young age, where the Premier League team that had signed the player as a child have now decided that as a teenager they don't require their services any more.

This is the one of the toughest parts of the football world. Managers do it everyday, call the player to his office give them the bad news and send the player on their way. That most of these players have no education or had given their education up as they chased a dream has no bearing on the manager's decision.

They're not needed at the club. They're on their own.

Over the last five years through a consultancy company, Glenn Hoddle has been analysing English talent within the Premier League. And last season the findings were alarming.

Only one in three players starting matches in the Premier League is English. And young English players account for the majority of trainees being released before they can realise their ambitions.

Glenn Hoddle has decided to curtail these figures himself, by setting up the world's first independent football academy. He has chosen 40 players, who were deemed unwanted and were disregarded by their clubs, and has offered them a route back into professional football.

Hoddle is convinced that these youngsters are released too early and that had they been given another year or two of professional coaching, they could have attained the level needed to make a career as a professional footballer.

This season he has selected 40 players who have been released. Each youngster came to Hoddle's attention through a scouting network that he has assembled over the last few years. He now has contacts in almost every club in England as he searches for a "diamond in the rough".

The training facility in Montecastillo in the vicinity of Jerez was financed, designed, and built by Hoddle as he pumped millions of pounds of his own money into the venture. He stresses that this isn't a "Big-Brother" type contest to win a contract, but is his own genuine attempt at giving a player the skills needed to reach the highest level.

After playing in Monaco for five seasons under Arsene Wenger, Hoddle is convinced that players in England start off on the back foot when compared to their European counterparts. In England it is common for only the top Premier League sides to have the best facilities.

Whereas in Europe and especially France, where Hoddle has most experience, players are brought up to expect excellent facilities with almost every club. The talent conveyor belt in France of recent years is testament to this.

With that in mind, Hoddle has developed his facility to match those of the best European clubs. The Montecastillo resort was already established as one of Spain's best tourist haunts, and Hoddle has added his superb football facilities to the enclosed resort.

The facilities boast indoor and outdoor pitches, golf courses, swimming pools, gyms, and class-rooms for in-depth tactical training.

Hoddle is justifiably proud of his achievement but stresses that they will only receive true success when a player is signed by a team.

He said: "Our success comes from how many players we get back into football. The opportunity to change someone's life is quite exciting and that's what we're trying to achieve. This is (purely) about developing players, it is not about academies or reserve team football where we have to win matches to be successful

"We have played Sevilla and Betis and a lot of our players have said that they aspire to playing in Europe, a lot are quite small but are very technical. We have got three or four very technical players who would suit Spanish, Italian, or Dutch football and it's opening their minds towards playing abroad."

And although no player has successfully graduated from Glenn Hoddle's Academy, it is generally felt within the footballing community that it's only a matter of time before this happens.

So much so that Hoddle has recently sold 30 percent of the facility in Jerez to the Emirates National Bank of Dubai for £2.7M. This injection of money has allowed Hoddle to finance a second Academy in Portugal where he hopes to take not only 18 to 20-year-olds from England, but youngsters from around Europe as well.

When asked why he set the Academy up in Spain, Hoddle replied: "This is a stepping stone for them in a different culture and climate and we are setting them up to have that option, they are also learning languages (here) and putting things in place.

"They are improving astonishingly and they continue to improve. Slowly but surely we will get some players back into the game"

Hoddle believes that all the youngsters who have come through his door have been subjected to the fundamental failings within the English game. And during the course of his Academy training he has noticed the basic lack of technical skills in his players.

"I don't think we work on technique in training as much as we should do (in England). I've seen that as a player, I was naturally gifted, but I worked hard on it, it doesn't come easy. If you're good at something you practice more, and you get better".

In British football and certainly English football there is a preference for big, strong players over technical players. These powerful youngsters are then thrust into action against other players of a similar nature. Here they learn the skills that English football is famous for; desire, never giving up, fighting for every ball. But the technical skills so evident in Continental Europe and South America are distinctly lacking.

Millions of pounds has been spent on state of the art facilities and the FA are currently trying to get a training facility to rival Clairefontaine off the ground as more money is pumped into facilities. But Hoddle feels differently.

"Building a fantastic facility for youngsters is something which is good but I think the majority of the money would have been better spent on coaching. I think it goes down to eight, nine, and ten-year-olds. I don't think players in England play with their heads up as they are coached abroad.

"Continental players see a picture quicker than English players and if you have that and you have better technique then you have an advantage. At young ages they are like sponges and can take things in. I don't think we coach enough.

"My experience of coaching in England is that in many cases the thought is how tall and how strong they are and whether they can get box to box. If that is the priority the smaller players with better technique can get left aside"

To address this situation the FA have recently launched a new coaching agenda where experienced coaches will train selected 11 to 13-year-olds around the country. At the moment the norm is for inexperienced coaches to train kids before they move on to adults. With this in mind England is decades behind when it comes to modern football.

And even though Hoddle is training 18 to 20-year-olds he believes it's never too late to start coaching technique properly, and even at this late stage of development coaching can go a long way.

Hopefully for the sake of Hoddle's Academy and for young players everywhere he's right.

twitter / WillieGannon