Barnet coach Michael Stone: Q&A
Sir Trevor Brooking's call for the FA to nurture more home-grown coaches was music to the ears of Barnet's Michael Stone.
Reviewing England's World Cup campaign, the FA's Director of Football Development has been quick to call for more English faces to rise through the ranks. And at 31, Stone fits the bill.
Recently appointed coach at League 2 Barnet, Stone, one of the most highly rated trainers in the country, has been charged with extra responsibility for individual player development.
His footballing CV has seen him work with some of the best. His first mentor was Paul Hart at Nottingham Forest. Since then, Stone has worked with George Graham, Glenn Hoddle and David Pleat at Spurs, as well as Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat at international level.
Stone qualified as a coach aged 15. He is currently helping manager Mark Stimson put the finishing touches to Barnet's preparations for the season.
Michael Stone profile
Lives: Mill Hill
Occupation: First team coach at Barnet
Supports: West Ham
Education: Wrote a dissertation on football academies at Loughborough University
Former clubs: Spurs, Nottingham Forest, Rushden & Diamonds
He met JC Sports Editor Danny Caro at Barnet's Centre of Excellence, the Hive, this week.
Q: Paul Fairclough, who heads the Barnet academy and is manager of the England C team, said that English clubs are obsessed with buying first team success. What are your thoughts on player recruitment?
A: The majority of boys would've been picked up through their schools or an invitation from a club. Many clubs start looking to recruit players when they are eight or nine.
The age factor is a dose is realism. Clubs are dipping into leagues and schools so they can bring players into a footballing environment early to avoid losing out to local rivals. People are worried about missing out on a boy who could be a future superstar. There is a great anxiety of missing out rather than recruitment for your own purposes. For many reasons, this puts a lot of pressure on clubs and individuals.
I'm slightly concerned by this trend and think that eight and nine is too young as the boys should have the freedom to play for their school or club. Your old school player used to represent his district or county. We're too quick to remove them from their environment. It would mean that they miss out on playing different sports and can be dangerous for youngsters at that age.
Q: Can you explain how an academy works?
A: For players aged 8-11, clubs bring in players for two sessions a week and a match. The academy is very important to Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous. He wants to see home-grown players come through, partly for budgetary reasons and for the pull of pulling on the shirt of your home club. A key part of my role is to ensure continuity between the club's youth and first teams.
Obviously there is a big jump from the youth side to sign your first professional contract and I have to help ensure that the transition is as smooth as possible.
All I ask for players is to show that they can show that they've been coached and are well organised. I've never met a player who hasn't shown a willingness to listen.
The top players have shown the ability to be able to play under pressure and apply situations from the training ground to a match day. The higher they go, the more pressure for them to produce. Mental strength is now a big part of the game, as well as executing a plan.
The bigger clubs have started to pay their youth players. Something that has never been done before. I believe that some clubs have academies as they need to be seen to be developing youth for the sake of their fans. Deep down, some clubs feel that they are unable to produce young, English football talent. Some will put forward a smaller budget at a younger age group but also put money aside to pay for someone that has come through another academy, which is fine. It's their prerogative to go down that route but it harms an English player's route for a professional contract or first team football.
Q: Can you give an example of how an academy should work, a success story so to speak?
A: At Forest, Paul Hart had to make the club's board buy into the idea of an academy. Within three years he'd brought through Jermaine Jenas, Michael Dawson, Andy Reid and David Prutton and brought in roughly £15m in transfers which helped the club through a very difficult financial era. The money probably kept Forest alive.
If you have the right structure and belief from within, it's as important as being financially backed.
The academy concept has definitely improved the standard of youth football in this country. We're seeing better facilities and better coaches.
Q: What would you say is the best learning age for a young footballer?
A: 11 to 14 years. I visited the French national football centre at Clairefontaine. That is the age when they really press home their work with the players. It is here that players start boarding and hone their techniques every day.
Q: Name one of your favourite coaching tools?
A: Video analysis is a very important technique, both on an individual and unit basis. Different tools work with different players and some will learn more than others.
Q: What are your thoughts on the proposed FA quota on foreign players?
A: The FA needs to tighten up on quotas. It's been introduced to the Champions League and I believe that the Premier League will be next. It will be phased in. You can already see that more clubs are trying to sign English players.
This could lead to a culture of clubs who will go out and buy English players as a token to meet the rules but not make them focus on academies.
Q: If you could implement one new rule into the system, what would it be?
A: I would like to see a new rule whereby three English players aged under 18 are given contracts each year to continue their development to make sure that clubs start to look from within. It's currently too easy for clubs to buy Under 18s from Europe which means that the academy concept is not achieved.
Q: What are your biggest frustrations with the current system?
A: There are some talented English players who, even after being offered contracts, are being shipped out on loan to get regular football.
Continuity at a club is very important. It's tough today as clubs are so quick to change managers. Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are good examples of a manager having total power when it works but when it goes wrong, as it did with Rafa Benitez at Liverpool, there is a big danger as all appointments are made by the first team manager.
Also, there are not enough indoor pitches which inhibits the development of younger players who, at times, have to train in freezing conditions. It's hard to work on techniques as they need to be playing a game to avoid freezing.
Q: Do you favour the idea of a winter break?
A: Most definitely. It's good for professionals and youngsters. I've never understood why we have a break during the season of the best weather. Playing during the summer would see a better climate and better pitches and it would be better for the fans who wouldn't have to watch matches in a blizzard.
Q: Are you a fan of all-weather pitches?
A: 3G and 4G pitches are a fantastic tool for young players but I still don't believe in playing competitive matches on artificial surfaces. You cannot beat training and playing on grass. The realism of the pass and the game cannot be replicated on an artificial surface.
Q: After losing 4-0 in a pre-season friendly, what are your thoughts on Arsenal?
A: I'm a great admirer of Arsene Wenger and would like to see Arsenal win the league. I believe that they play football the right way, like Spain, although I would like to see a couple more Englishmen in the team. It was pure football.
At times, it was difficult not to applaud their football. It's as though they are producing a conveyor belt of athletes. Arsene used 25 players, all with unbelievable talent. He has developed them to break into the first team. I'd love to see Arsenal train and see how Wenger works and see their routines.
It was a real honour to share the touchline with Arsene and Pat Rice. It was a real marker in my career. To be out on the training pitch the day before the game knowing that we'd be up against the likes of Arshavin, Nasri and Walcott, I had to pinch myself as we worked on patterns of play and pitted my wits against Arsenal one of the best teams in the world. Arsene and his players held themselves very well and were not arrogant.
Q: It must have been hard to galvanise the troops at half-time. What did you say to them?
A: Mark Stimson and I told them that Arsenal's performance should inspire them. It's clear that the quality and dedication of their players will help them become some of the best in the world.
Q: You have worked with some high-profile managers and players over the years. What have you learnt from these experiences?
A: At Spurs, George Graham was fantastic with me. Glenn Hoddle is a brilliant tactician. We studied video footage of matches together. Dick Advocaat gave me the belief that players want to be coached and learn, regardless of what level they are at, as long as you don't belittle them or talk down to them. The best coaches don't look down at players. He said that you should talk and their level and if there is a negative, to use it in a positive way.
Player-wise, I've coached Michael Essien, Mateja Kezman and Park Ji-Sung. I've never met a player who has not shown a willingness to listen. You also need to be able to play under pressure and apply situations from the training ground to matchdays. The higher level they go, the more pressure there is for them to produce. Mental strength is now a big part, as is executing a plan. The best players are the ones always seeking perfection. Essien has pace, strength, power and technique but you will never hear me say that a player is the finished article.
Q: It's an age old question but why are there so few home-grown Jewish players in the Football League?
A: It's seen as a very risky profession. The success rate is very small. Parents want them to see a route through school and university.
The ones who make it have to be prepared to commit to a lifestyle of professional football, devoting their entire life to training, matchdays and have strength of character to compete in a dog-eat-dog environment.
Players have to be able to look after themselves, and sometimes a Jewish boy can find the competitive nature of the industry too intense. If you haven't made the breakthrough by the age of 21, it could be too late. It's not impossible if you are older, but very unusual.
Q: You've coached at a European Maccabi Games. Would you like to give something back to Jewish football?
A: I would like to be involved with Maccabi GB at European and Maccabiah level, perhaps in a consultancy role where I can offer expertise and structure. It's very difficult for me to go to the competitions as they fall during pre-season. In terms of structure, I believe that there should be continuity between the Under 18, European and Maccabiah teams as once you've played in one, you're better equipped for future tournaments.
Q: What are your thoughts on the England manager's job?
A: It still hurts that the English national team doesn't have an English manager. It's not a golden rule as I can understand why with the developing nations.
I believe that England has good managers and coaches. It should not put the FA off just because Steve McClaren didn't have the most successful tenure.
It inspires myself and other young English coaches when we see an Englishman at the helm in the same way as seeing English players coming through. The more we see it, the more it will inspire people to see it as a career and to keep going.
To have any job at international level would be a dream come true. If I was offered the England job, I wouldn't turn it down. That would be the dream job. But right now, the dream is to keep learning from people around me, and to keep developing my skills set. Barnet are clearly an ambitious club, creating the right environment for the development of players. I believe in this project and the future that Barnet have laid out for me.
Barnet is the right job for me. It's a project. The club is looking to go places and move forward. Like the chairman, I'm ambitious. I have a career plan. This was part of it, to go into the Football League. Another plan is to be a League manager one day.
My buzz comes from working with talented players. I've worked with youth players at pro clubs, semi-pros at Wingate and pros outside of the Football League, as well as a bit of work at the FA (tutoring) and at international level."
Q: What are you thoughts on the next England manager?
A: I believe that there are some good coaches out there who might not be a current manager. I hope that the FA doesn't get carried away with managerial records. I would like to see a combination of an experienced English manager, such as Roy Hodgson, who has seen a lot of football both here and abroad, teaming up with an up-and-coming coach – someone with passion and who studies the game. Eddie Howe, Karl Robinson and Nigel Adkins would all be sound choices.
Q: What do you think went wrong with England at the World Cup?
A: I remember having the same conversations after the competition in 2006. We had a group of players who didn't perform. A team can carry three or four players but six or seven becomes contagious. The players didn't deal with expectations which really got to them. They were never able to have good possession of the ball and spent much of the competition chasing it.
The defensive changes didn't allow them any kind of continuity and no forward in the squad came away with any credit.
The teams who progressed kept the ball, look bright, created opportunities and scored goals. The Spanish players played with the same freedom that they play with for their clubs, and with a smile on their faces.
Q: Can you give England fans hope for the future?
A: I think that England's performance will force the FA to look at players aged 16-18 and see how they can get English players to break into the highest level possible and not get forgotten about or lost. England has a very talented Under 19 team.
There are also some exciting home-grown talents at Arsenal, such as Henri Lansbury and Jack Wilshere who were majestic in the friendly against Barnet. Those two could be the heartbeat of the England team in years to come. I'm crossing my fingers that Arsene gives them a chance. The boys will learn with the calibre of players alongside them. To date, they've been dipped in and out of the team and time will tell how much faith he has in them. Arsene doesn't like to bulk up with average foreign players. You can't say that about all clubs as there are plenty of average foreigners stopping the progress of English players.