Greg Dyke, Chairman of the FA and outgoing Chancellor of the University of York, talks to Oliver Meakin and James Pascoe about England’s World Cup chances, his new FA proposals… and the secret of the JLD.
Greg Dyke is a man who seems to be enjoying himself at the moment, and who can blame him given that it is part of his job to fly off to the warm climes of Brazil to mingle with the stars and watch the biggest spectacle in football: the World Cup.
In keeping with the reportedly relaxed mood surrounding Roy Hodgson’s England team, the FA Chairman sounds confident and casual when discussing England’s World Cup preparations over the phone. “I think everyone thinks Hodgson has done a good job, he’s a very likeable, ethical man, and I think he will do quite well in Brazil.” Like so many English pundits before the World Cup, Dyke is tight-lipped over where exactly he predicts England will end up in the World Cup, but it seems reasonable to suggest that he is not expecting Hodgson’s men to match the glory of 1966.
Since being appointed FA Chairman last summer, Greg Dyke has led an eventful tenure. The Chancellor of the University of York since 2004 has seemingly broken the mould with some of his more recent predecessors and has laudably attempted to push through genuine reform to the English football pyramid, instead of burying his head in the sand and hoping that the chronic problems in English football will disappear by themselves.
England’s World Cup campaign kicks off on Saturday against Italy, four-time tournament winners, and the Three Lions’ conquerors at Euro 2012. England were beaten on penalties in Kiev after what had been a promising tournament , despite Hodgson’s last-gasp pre-tournament appointment. As well as being the first summer finals that Hodgson will lead having presided over the entire qualifying and preparation processes, this will be the first tournament that England will go into with Dyke as FA Chairman, and he remains bullish about England’s chances. “I think it’s a better squad than we thought we would have had at the beginning of the season. Where we had the choice we’ve gone for youth and I think that’s a good idea.” He is also fully behind the England manager, and dismisses speculation that Hodgson’s fate rests on the team’s World Cup performance; “He has a contract that goes beyond the World Cup, we expect him to continue the job.” Despite his apparent optimism before the World Cup, we ask him whether he thought he presided over a dark time for English football. “You’ve got to distinguish between English football and football played in England. Football played in England in the Premier League is in a pretty healthy state. English football isn’t as healthy.”
Dyke has made headlines in recent weeks, with his proposals for a ‘B team’ system, comparable to that seen in the Spanish league, where clubs field second teams, primarily made up of youth team members. The idea is that the ‘B teams’ will be able to produce the next generation of young British talent, something that Spain has been able to do in recent years, producing the golden generation of players, winning three major international competitions in three years (Euro 2008, 2010 Fifa World Cup and Euro 2012). He clearly sees the problem of the dearth of young English players’ football as a problem not down to Premier League managers. “You are going to do all you can to win, so you are going to look for younger players that have had more widespread experience than most English boys, but not always, because some great English players do come through.”
The emergence of the likes of Ross Barkley, Raheem Sterling and Luke Shaw as squad members for the World Cup side is possibly a sign that English football is beginning to change, and that youth is being given a chance in the Premier League. Greg Dyke is keen to point out the success that the Belgian FA has had in nurturing young talent under Michel Sablon, perhaps a model to base an English transformation on. “If you look at the Belgium players, and people like that, by the time they are 22, or 21, they will have had one hundred or two hundred games at a quite competitive level. No English footballers have that now.” Whilst there seems to be the first signs of talented young players coming through the English youth systems, managing to break into many first teams is the real challenge for young players at the moment. “Our problem is quite a big one, we’re quite good the U17 level, we’ve just won the Euros, we’re quite good at that age, but our kids just don’t get through the system.
The gap between them and playing in the Premier League, which is the richest league in the world, is a big jump, and we have to find a way to help them through.” Many in the footballing world have put the failure to nurture a new generation of young British players down to the prevalence of foreign managers and owners in the Premier League, more interested in short term success rather than long term development. Dyke controversially highlighted the situation with the Manchester City side, who won the league this year with only one English first team regular starter, Joe Hart. Dyke is keen to dispel the idea that he was disappointed that Manchester City won the league, saying “I didn’t really criticise them as some people said, alright it was disappointing they had so few English players”. However, he is keen to note that “We’ve gone from 70% to 30% English players playing in the Premier League. If you look forward, it gets worse.” For this Dyke wanted to ‘turn the tanker’ of English football, and secure a core of British players in every Premier League team. He was unfazed in ruffling the footballing establishment by introducing the new ‘B team’ proposal saying; “We knew there would be a lot of people who wouldn’t like it. My answer to them is if you don’t think that there is a problem, it’s fine. If you do think there’s a problem – and I think we’ve analysed it pretty well – if you think there’s a problem, then what are you going to do about it? Unless we turn the tanker, I think the number of English players playing in the Premier League will continue to decline.”
The focus of the development of English coaching is at the forefront of the plans to rejuvenate English football, with the results of a commission soon to be published by the FA, looking into where changes need to be made. The focus of this seems to be at grass roots level, a priority of other nations right throughout Europe. “The second part of my commission is looking at all-weather pitches and coaching, and we will come up with a whole set of recommendations, and then say, where do we get the money from?.” The FA now want to make it easier for young promising coaches to receive their coaching badges, by possibly subsidising the cost of the courses. Part of his aim is to increase the number of coaches in British football, a figure currently drastically lower than in Spain or Germany, and provide players the environment to nurture their skills with new state of the art training facilities. At the heart of the FA plans is the new St George training centre at Burton, the new home of the English national side from youth teams to the First XI.
We also asked Dyke for his opinion on hate crime in football. The spectre of racism in English football has persisted in recent years, not least the John Terry and Anton Ferdinand affair, where the FA’s decision to sack John Terry as team captain led to Fabio Capello’s resignation before Euro 2012. Nevertheless, Dyke is upbeat when asked for his opinion on the issue. “I think that enormous strides have been made over 30 years. I heard [ex-footballer] Trevor Phillips (whose daughter went to York) saying on the radio the other day that thirty years ago, he wouldn’t go to watch Chelsea, the team he supported because he is black. Now, that isn’t the case now, and enormous progress has been made. Compared to what it was like, I think we’ve done a great job.” Moving towards the state of homophobia within British football, Dyke is hopeful that the game has progressed along far enough for players to ‘come out’ during their careers. “I think the wold has changed, I think when one of them comes out, others will too. I’ll be surprised if in a few years’ time if we don’t have an openly gay footballer.”
Dyke is sure that there are players in the Premier League hiding their sexuality from the fans, and possibly their team mates, welcoming the Equality campaigns that the FA has championed in the last decade.
And what of sport at York itself? Does the York alumnus have an opinion on how it can be improved? Last year, he came to inspect the new 3G pitch at York Sport Village. “I took the first ever penalty on the 3G. And I scored. It’s a great all-weather pitch. One of the things that we’re pushing for in the years ahead is to build many more pitches like that. We want many more all-weather pitches, and we want more coaches.”
Dyke has also funded the new all-weather pitch at York Sport Centre on Hes West. “Well, the JLD was named after my father, Joseph Lennon Dyke.” He chuckles as we ask him whether there will ever be a GD pitch to match his father. Plenty for the FA Chairman to consider on the long flight over to Brazil, then.