Howard’s Way is paying dividends

Howard Wilkinson
Howard Wilkinson

No excuses. Two words that scream out from every pristine pitch, every state-of-the-art gym and every air-conditioned corridor of the Football Association’s St. George’s Park.

Two other highly appropriate words are “Howard” and “Wilkinson”, considering it was the former Sheffield Wednesday boss who pioneered this magnificent development nestling in picturesque countryside near Burton-upon-Trent.

Even England’s pampered footballers have never had it this good as the country’s football chiefs try to raise our fallen profile on the international landscape.

But the fact is that a sudden realisation of the nation’s hopes and dreams is not the real point of this palatial new football centre. Who says so? Well, the FA do.

It’s to “improve the coaching and grow the game,” insists Scott Field, the media executive who kindly guided me around the 350 acre site.

To follow that logic, it’s only by implanting quality coaches right down to the grassroots of our game - where heathen touchline cultures are having to change - that we can hope to win World Cups and European Championships.

That thinking is right in my book. Hopefully the commitment and finance matches it.

As fine as George’s Park may be as a sort of football laboratory, it is only as good as the coaching on site and the coaches who are produced as a result. Producing football talent follows.

Never mind whether Roy Hodgson and his current England squad gain any benefit from the base. Most of the players are used to tip-top facilities at their clubs.

How apt that no-one has taken more of a long-term view than the spiritual founder of St. George’s Park.

I recall breaking a story sometime in the 1990s of Wilkinson, the former FA technical director, beating a path to Clairefontaine where the the French had built a centre of excellence.

It subsequently spawned their World Cup and Euro triumphs of 1998 and 2000 - and inspired the Wilkinson vision that we see today.

No matter that England can’t expect to achieve so quickly. The point is that the essential hub is in place - after many a diversion en route - and at a cost of £105m.

Premier League referees have moved in, as has the League Managers Association. Any club can train there by arrangement.

I have to say it is quite superb, uplifting as a structure and inspirational. But still depending on having the right people running it.

Get that right, with enough incentives to those coaches who are so important and yet out of the limelight, and the FA are on to a winner.

Maybe England too.

Blades possess know-Howe

Don’t know about you, but I never really bought that one about Eddie Howe returning to Bournemouth for “personal and family reasons.”

What I do buy, ahead of Sheffield United’s big clash this weekend, is that Howe has something special as a young manager.

No matter that his achievements are based on one club and did not extend to an unconvincing spell with Burnley.

It also occurs that there is something special in the pulling power of Bournemouth chairman Eddie Mitchell and his Russian co-owner Maxim Demin.

Persuading Howe to drop from the Championship and put his career into apparent reverse cannot have been easy or cheap.

Strikes me, also, that in his apparently easy-going nature Howe has something in common with Blades boss Danny Wilson.

Besides also sharing footballing principles, both are likeable guys who prefer to treat players in an adult manner.

But Danny has a fiery streak lurking beneath the surface and you can bet, too, that there is more to Howe than meets the eye after Bournemouth’s meteoric revival.

It all adds up to a terrific test for United in League One’s top Saturday game.

But one I am convinced they are well equipped to pass.

Barnwell backs Turner’s call

Very positive response to Chris Turner’s argument here last week for ex-managers to become chief executives, including this from former League Managers Association boss John Barnwell: “What Chris says holds a lot of value. The wastage of knowledge in this business is immense.”

Incidentally, well done to Rotherham in the clash with Turner’s Chesterfield last weekend. The Millers were the better side by a far greater distance than 1-0 suggests - and it’s a Spireite writing this!

Robins flew the nest too early

There’s usually a lot of fuss when managers move from one club to another.

Why? It’s no different to anyone moving between jobs.

Besides, most of us don’t get sacked on a whim. Who can blame any manager for staying ahead of the game?

But where I sympathise with jilted fans - the latest bunch being Coventry’s over Mark Robins’ departure for Huddersfield - is when they have been sold a dummy.

To quote Robins two months ago at a time when Doncaster Rovers were tracking him: “I’m here for the long haul. I’m going nowhere.”

This is where managers - and Robins is not alone here - get it so wrong.

No matter that chairmen can appear to be equally duplicitous, backing a boss one minute and sacking them the next. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

We all know how things can change from one minute to the next in football, the managers better than anyone. That’s why they should be careful of making such sweeping statements.

Nothing is forever in this game.

Ross could still be the boss for Owls

Bit of a surprise to receive more nays than yeahs when I revealed Sheffield Wednesday’s desire to take back Ross Barkley on Twitter last weekend.

This, after all, is a midfielder earmarked at Everton to become an outstanding Premier League performer.

Barkley showed more than a few flashes of his talent during his loan stay with the Owls before an ill-fated and truncated stint with Leeds.

Yet I suppose you can understand the dissenting voices.

The Owls happened to be on the slide with Barkley in the team; it is only since then that they have rallied with the more workmanlike midfield pairing of David Prutton and Giles Coke.

Taking the argument further, neither man would deserve to be dropped.

But there are two valid reasons why Dave Jones is right to be keen for Barkley to return if Everton allow.

One is that he has outstanding quality for the Championship and might have tilted a tight game like the goalless midweek draw at Birmingham.

The other lies in one of Jones’ oft-repeated sayings: “You can never stand still.”

Right now his team are doing just that - even though they are unbeaten in six games - because the teams below keep winning.

So, faced with a choice of grinding out a safety or trying to push on with the sort of creativity Wednesday currently lack, I know which Jones would take.

And I’m sure that would also go for strikers Connor Wickham and Leroy Lita, who can provide Barkley with more options that he had before.