The FA

Dan Ashworth: My 2017

FA technical director looks back at the last year for England and the organisation

Thursday 28 Dec 2017

2017. It will probably go down in history as the best year on the pitch for the English Football Association, apart from 1966 when we won the big one.

It all started around March and April , when it was the first time that all of our development teams had qualified for their respective Finals: men’s and women’s U17s, men’s and women’s U19s, the U20 World Cup, the men’s U21s and the women’s seniors, who would all be competing throughout the summer.

England's 2017
  • Men's seniors: 2018 World Cup qualification
  • Women's seniors: Euro semi-final
  • Men's U21s: Euro semi-final
  • Men's U20s: World Cup winners
  • Men's U19s: European champions
  • Women's U19s: U20 World Cup qualification
  • Men's U18s: Toulon Tournament winners
  • Men's U17s: World Cup winners and Euro runners-up
  • England CP: World Championship semi-final

I remember sending an email out, saying: ‘well done to everybody but now let’s see if we can go and win one’.

And, of course, we’ve done more than win one. In all of them, we’ve either won it or got really close so it’s been such an incredible summer and it was capped off in October with the U17s' World Cup success in India to make it an incredible year on the pitch.

It’s also been a difficult year off the pitch with what happened around Mark Sampson, the England Women’s team and the subsequent fall-out. That has been well documented and the Chairman has rightly identified the way forward for the organisation to improve.

Lessons have to be learned and I personally am aware of the distress caused to the players involved, and of course the negative impact on the rest of the squad and the wider women’s game.

It’s something that we all take seriously. But it is right to acknowledge that 2017 has been a really successful year for all of our teams, the women’s, men’s and disability sides. Things are going in the right direction and the players deserve the positive attention they have been receiving.

As the year went along, it felt like the momentum was constantly growing and winning breeds belief.

World Cups and European Championships are not easy and it’s always a fine line between success and failure at elite level.

Sometimes it goes with you and sometimes it won’t and everything pretty much went for us this summer, whether it was Jordan Pickford’s penalty save against Sweden in the first game of the U21 Euros, Freddie Woodman’s penalty save in the U20 World Cup Final or the shoot-out win against Japan in the first knock-out game of the U17 World Cup.

If those moments didn’t go for us, we would be sitting here having had a very different year but you also have to have the ability within the team and the staff to reach those situations.

It’s also been the five year anniversary of St. George’s Park and I think the on-field success of 2017 is really fitting for such a landmark. It was also great to see the women’s seniors finish the year as the No1 ranked UEFA nation.

Now, we want to keep it going. We talk about sustained success and our pursuit of excellence and we are still behind some countries.

Germany are the men’s world champions, they won the Confederations Cup with a young team, they won the U21 Euros and they’ve been world and Euro champions at male and female level in the past. There are also nations like Spain and Brazil who have had that constant level of success in recent times.

Now, we’ve had a really good run and I believe the gap is closing but we’ve got to do it over a number of years and sustain it like they have. We firmly believe that history tells you success at junior level is more likely to bring success at senior level.

Certainly, nobody is sitting here at the national football centre thinking that’s it and we’ve got the solution. We will keep changing things and tinkering and we’ll keep things moving on to make sure we keep improving and winning things.

Ultimately, St. George’s Park will be deemed a success or not depending on whether we can transfer this to success at senior level. The Lionesses have been close the last two times in the World Cup and Euros, so continuing in Russia next summer, let’s see if we can get our senior men’s team to the latter stages and then, who knows?

I’ve always said we’ve got the talent in this country and I believe we are as good as anybody else, certainly up to the age of 19, and I think our players have proved that this summer.

There’s been a marked improvement in the work that the clubs are doing too. The EPPP is six-years-old and we’re starting to see a different type of player come through the system and we select a different type of player for the national team, so it’s worked well together.

The challenge for the players has always been getting into the Premier League. It is the most competitive league in the world, but it’s also the hardest one to get into as a young player because the clubs have the money to go and buy ready-made senior players from across the globe.

The players have to be that good every day in training, be that good when they get the opportunity to train with their senior team, be that good when they’re with their U18 or U23 team or when they’re out on loan.

The FA ;

We have a structure in England and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, with the introduction of B teams or anything like that. So the Premier League and EFL have made some initiatives to encourage clubs and make English players more competitive to try and bridge the gap between youth and senior football. Things such as the CheckaTrade Trophy and making the U23 league more competitive can only help.

Between the three parties, we’re really trying to give young players a better games programme to bridge that gap and give them better experiences so that they’re in a stronger position to make their debuts.

Once they’re in there, they’re really tested every week against top quality players and their development acceleration goes through the roof. The challenge is getting them in there and all three of the key stakeholders are acutely aware of that.

I don’t think there’s ever one pathway for players. For instance, some clubs like Tottenham have tended to send players out on loan and some of the others such as Southampton have, in the past, not done that as much.

The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea have an extensive loan programme and send players abroad as well, so it all depends on the player in question, their maturity and their own development cycle.

But if playing abroad in someone’s first team is part of that cycle, either on loan or permanently as we’ve seen with some of our players this year, then fantastic.

To play in a different league with a different culture or environment, it can be a really good thing.

But it all comes back to playing first-team football and if a player is going to be an England senior player, they’re going to need to be playing regular football and that’s what we want to see more of in 2018.

Happy new year!

By Dan Ashworth FA technical director