England boss Gareth Southgate fears the past year could result in a lost generation of talent.
Southgate expressed genuine concern that the “full impact” of lockdown on future England stars, grassroots football, Academies and young players may never truly be discovered.
But Southgate is backing the Football Association’s Mutual Respect campaign and tie-up with Nationwide to engage with grassroots football and recognise the importance of coaches, parents and referees to get the sport back on track after the pandemic.
Southgate said: “In terms of player development, we won’t know the full impact but at certain ages, to have a six month hiatus can have a really high impact. You are talking about boys and decisions on taking them as scholars and full time professionals.
“There’s often late developers who might have emerged. There’s always stories of one boy who was the last pick to become a trainee or to become a pro who goes on to achieve the most.
“Then there are kids who will be missing out on fundamental skill development at five to nine age groups where they’ve just not been able to play with other kids.
“They might have been able to practice skills on their own or in the garden. But they’ve not been able to practice with others. That is a concern. It is time they won’t get back in reality.
“We won’t really know the full impact of that and we might never know the full impact of that. But without a doubt, the last year would have affected the opportunities for some kids to play through nobody’s fault really.
“We often think about grassroots football as the vehicle for finding the next Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, whoever it might be, but the reality is it’s so much bigger than that. Most kids just want to play and have fun. They want to be with their friends.
“We’re not just talking about developing them as footballers – we’re talking about developing them as people. Very often a football coach will be possibly the most important influence in a young person’s life.”
Southgate gave the first Nationwide Mutual Respect award to two volunteers – Tina Jacobs and Dan Weston – who are coaches to 150 disabled children in Hampshire and youngsters in Sussex respectively.
It is an issue close to Southgate’s heart but he also stressed that, as part of the Respect campaign, players at the elite level should also be setting a better example in their behaviour towards referees because it filters down to grassroots.
Southgate added: “I still think personally, referees put up with too much. I think officials put up with too much. When we are playing in Europe or internationals competitions, fourth officials don’t accept anything.
“And I actually think, I hear about managing the game but if you know as a coach or a player that any dissent will be a yellow card then pretty quickly you stop. I am not certain that managing the game is a deterrent in the way it might perceived to be.
“When I played in European matches or internationals as soon as I said anything to the ref, the threat was there of a card. You had a pretty abrupt, brief dialogue and as a team, you pretty much cottoned on to that. Personally, I think we could actually manage that situation a bit differently.”
Nationwide & The FA has pledged to ensure that one million parents and coaches engage with The FA Respect campaign over the next three years. The Nationwide Mutual Respect Award, as part of The Football Association’s Respect Campaign, aims to help make grassroots football more respectful and positive.
The brand-new award recognises outstanding contributions, achievements and behaviour in grassroots football across the country by young players under the age of 18, coaches, teams, parents and referees.