“Do we hope St George’s Park will help England win the World Cup? The answer is Yes.”
The words of David Sheepshanks, chairman of England’s new national football centre in the heart of the Staffordshire countryside.
The answer to France’s Clairefontaine is officially opened tomorrow by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Roy Hodgson’s squad – minus John Terry – will train there this week ahead of the World Cup qualifier against San Marino at Wembley on Friday.
The 330-acre, £105 million centre, in Rangemore just outside Burton-Upon-Trent, has started hosting coaching courses for youngsters and aims to change the culture of English football, to address the woeful lack of possession and consistent passing.
The England Rugby Union under-21 team has also trained there as financial sustainability is key. St George’s Park is being driven by a business plan and is expected to make profits within two years of opening. Accessibility is also a key criteria.
Mr Sheepshanks said: “The facilities are open to the public, obviously they have to pay but it’s about accessibility and aspiration. We have to deliver a sustainable business plan.”
Two hotels, one four-star and the other three, offer comfort for the England squad.
A room with pictures of England players past and present, set against the backdrop of England’s training complex will help manager Roy Hodgson feel at home straight away.
Hotel suites named after Tony Adams, Kevin Keegan and Sir Bobby Charlton feature and players can train on state-of-the-art gym equipment and look out on a Wembley replica pitch. Inspirational quotes from sportsmen past and present colour the walls.
Near the area where England Press conferences will be held, a bar with pictures of former Three Lions stars John Barnes, David Beckham and Rio Ferdinand will welcome coaches and youngsters.
Next door to that sits the England team dining facilities, complete with plasma screen TVs. Changing rooms will shift between displaying England shirts but also being adaptable should European teams want to use the facilities – something the FA are open to.
“This place is intended to inspire England teams” said Mr Sheepshanks. “It’s a long-term play by the FA. Although we do not call this an academy to all intents and purposes it is. If you invest in teachers, you will ultimately get better players.
“The benefits of a permanent international training home will be felt over the next few years. Do we hope St George’s Park will help England win the World Cup? The answer is Yes.
“The aim is to use it to create the Oxford and Cambridge of coaching. The solution to every England ill is long-term. In a few years time one of measures of how successful St George’s Park has been will be if it is recognised as the best place to be a coach.”
A topic the FA still seem sore on though is the issue of foreign managers. Will improved coaching facilities change this?
“There will be more English trained managers working abroad. Maybe the days of appointing a foreign manager for England are over.
“The FA has stood behind this project at a difficult financial time.” Indeed it has. The centre also boasts the latest hydrotherapy units, 12 full-size pitches, a sports hall and lecture rooms. And of course the exact size replica of the Wembley pitch.
It will also see 23 national sides ranging from under-21s and under-18s right the way through to the women’s team, C team, deaf team and futsal side train there.
Thousands of coaching courses every year from Level 3 upwards will be held over the next decade.
Will it be worth it? The FA hopes so.
It wants to have 250,000 fully-qualified football coaches by 2018. At the moment, there are just 103,000. A long way to go.
By Richard Woodall