Paul Parker

St George’s Park a huge waste of money

There is a big fanfare today as the FA's National Football Centre at St George's Park is opened, but there is a horrible feeling that this is all missing the point.

To spend £120 million on the coaching hub and 'skill-enhancement' centre seems an astonishing waste of money given how the money could better be invested in the game.

We have been crying out for more investment in the grass roots of the game, and this does not solve the problems that still exist at the bottom.

It is only going to be a select few youth players who are going to get to train and develop at the facility, and that is not really good enough.

The players who train and use the centre will, I am sure, enjoy the nice grass and the lovely rooms, but that is as far as it goes for now.

I am a big believer in young players being allowed to develop naturally with their friends and family around them and the cream will always rise to the top when they are not over-coached too early.

Pouring such a vast amount of money into one facility is unnecessary and, ultimately, it is channelling funds in the wrong way. It is the young kids who have no field or pitch to play on in their local area right across the country that need this money, not the top-level players and executives for their plush suites.

A lot of the statements from the FA and England staff have been comparing the facility with those in Europe and abroad, but that is entirely pointless and a bit embarrassing.

It reminds me of a Marks and Spencer opening, and everyone from the company making comparisons with Giorgio Armani stores. There may well be buildings just like this overseas with the same number of bathrooms, but that is irrelevant when it comes to nurturing talent.

The fact that people are even likening the facilities to those used by Spain is missing the point again: they have utilised their centres over many years and have backed up the hype and investment with results.

We are just copying what they did 20 years ago at La Masia - by the time St George's Park delivers results, Spain will have moved on to something better.

People will look at the unnecessary expenditure on Wembley and they will probably see this as another hugely expensive investment that may or may not prove to be worth the money.

With a development centre such as this, it is not always a good thing to be whisking kids away from their friends and families at the age of six to be out of their natural environment.

We could well end up with yet another white elephant in the Midlands, and I don't think there are many people patting themselves on the backs about this at the moment.

Yes, the FA have secured a lovely building, but that is as far as it goes right now.
The development is like a young giraffe at the moment: it is still unsteady on its legs, and it needs time to develop and to find its identity. Only then, can it be fairly judged.

The FA's School of Excellence at Lilleshall produced a few top-level players, but it was nowhere near as successful as they hoped that it would be.

We will have to wait and see how different to Lilleshall this is going to be, but it's a huge expense for something that is just a facility - it does not guarantee results.

The FA made a big mistake in mooting the idea back in 2001 because it is all a bit embarrassing that it has taken this long to get the development finished and ready.

They have endured a lot of negative publicity of late, and the FA will be delighted to have something flash to show off to take attention away from other matters.

But I do not believe that the FA have their house in order just yet, and no amount of new facilities and pitches at St George's Park can mask fundamental failings throughout English football.