The Blog

'Tiki-taka' - A Spanish Education

Spending much of my time in Spain, I've seen first-hand the differences between the way both nations approach the game, particularly player development - and the English system is long overdue a radical overhaul.

The World Cup is now just a matter of months away - and I can't wait.

What a spectacle it is set to be. The best players in the world, sharing a stage, in a carnival atmosphere - you just have to wonder how long England will stick around this time.

Roy Hodgson has just a handful of warm-up games left before the tournament kicks off, and as his final squad of 23 begins to take shape, fans will finally be able to put some faces to the inevitable anti-climax of the summer.

I speak in jest of course, but the continual failings and habitual underachievement of the England team are serious - and have led to widespread, vocal criticism of the way the national game is being run, from top to bottom.

Back to back losses against Chile and a second-string Germany side in World Cup warm up fixtures saw Hodgson's side go out with a whimper at Wembley - and those losses have only served to further highlight the weaknesses of England ahead of next summer.

Of course, blind national pride dictates that a weight of expectation will be placed on England as the tournament rolls around in June - but the truth is that, despite an embarrassment of riches over the last two decades, England now finds itself no more than a second rate team, languishing in the backwaters of international football.

As the owner of Charlton Athletic, and having advised and owned a host of football clubs across the continent over the last 20 years, I listened with interest to the comments of new English FA Chairman Greg Dyke last month.

He has taken the reins at a crucial time for the national game, and has an unenviable task - but has been making all the right noises, urging top-level sides to put more faith in young English players.

That's certainly a start - but I think that the real issue runs deeper than that. It's about mentality. It's about mindset.

Spending much of my time in Spain, I've seen first-hand the differences between the way both nations approach the game, particularly player development - and the English system is long overdue a radical overhaul.

In 'tiki-taka', the Spanish have developed a methodical and mathematical approach of football, a calculated playing style which relies as much on graft and geometry as it does grace and genius.

But the mastering of such technique requires as much meticulous preparation off the pitch as on it - and it is no coincidence that the nurturing process begins early for the La Roja youngsters.

It is a unique system known as categorĂ­as inferiors, and it is key to Spain's domination of the game over the last decade.

Every summer, the best 55 talents in each age group - from Under-14, right up to Senior level - are selected by regional scouts, and invited to a training camp just outside of Madrid. For three days every month, the players return to the base, to be educated in the art of 'tiki-taka', to undertake training - and, importantly, to build relationships with their teammates.

The camp forges an integral part of an elite player's education, and the result is that, when they reach senior level, they have a perfect understanding of the 'Spanish way', what is required of them - and, importantly, a winning mentality.

An incredible 14 trophies and seven runners-up medals across all age groups within the last decade suggests that the Spanish are doing something right. Never has football seen such wide scale dominance by one nation.

Meanwhile, England continue to fail - and their shortcomings are not just prevalent at Senior level.

Despite a so-called 'golden generation' of players coming through the ranks, the only tangible success in two decades came as the Under-17s lifted the European Championship trophy back in 2010.

But even on the back of that silverware, just two members of that squad still regularly ply their trade amongst the pampered and preened of the Premier League, and they are Everton's Ross Barkley, and West Brom's Saido Berahino.

At Charlton Athletic, our Academy Director and Manager, Paul Hart and Steve Avory, have produced excellent results by leaning heavily on the Spanish blueprint - and that has seen the already excellent reputation of our youth setup enhanced even further.

It's not a question of a lack of facilities. In St George's Park, England has a world class National Football Centre to be proud of - but despite that, elite youngsters are still not being nurtured and educated in the right way, or early enough.

There's no quick fix. At a crucial time for the national game, Dyke has made clear that the reform of English football is a long-term project - a 2020 vision.

He expects the Three Lions to reach the semi-finals of the European Championships of that year - and then lift the World Cup in Qatar two years later.

That 10 year plan effectively writes off next summer as a work in progress - but doing so may be a necessary evil, if England is to shake off a malaise which has gone untreated for far too long.

If not, England will fall even further behind - not just on the pitch, but off it.