RORY: Martin, you have responsibility for everything from kids’ small sided football, right through to the England team. Coming from a background, not just at Leicester City, but also having coached a kids’ team yourself, you are perhaps uniquely placed to understand the base of the pyramid as well as the pinnacle, would you say?
MARTIN: I was approached about this job I think more because of my track record in business around organising large groups of people and trying to rev up organisations than my background in football, albeit it has been useful. I was fortunate to be on the board of Leicester City for four years. I can claim none of the credit for the recent success but, yes, that gave me a really good insight too, seeing the challenges of running a football club. And the fact that clubs are not businesses. The fans see owners as transitory things. The fans own the club and owners are just there to put the money in until the next one comes along. So a football club does have business attributes to it, but it is never simply a business.
When I first started coaching at the grassroots, I think only 1% of coaches involved in clubs had any form of FA certification. The FA ran a very good programme to encourage people like myself to take a weekend residential in coaching, with a bit of online learning. I had a busy job at the time, running Walkers Crisps, but I really wanted to do it, and it was very good. So from being a poor coach I became a slightly less poor coach, and hopefully could pass those things on to people I was running the club with. So yes, I can see it from both sides.
RORY: What are your priorities for the top of the game?
MARTIN: We are responsible for the England teams, so the priority is to win something. After 50 years of not winning an international competition and frankly, only getting close a couple of other times, we feel as a country – given the vast wealth, the fact that the pyramid is so deep and so many people play football in England – that we should have done better. I don’t think that we have a God-given right to win tournaments, because football is the most popular sport on the planet, but we should be turning up at tournaments as one of the favourites.
We need to ensure that we make the best use of the time that we have with the England players – starting at the Under-16s – because the England manager does not get that many hours with their team between matches.
Feeding into that, the playing pool of English qualifying talent in the Premier League is less than half the size of that in, say, Germany. So, on a percentage basis, only one in three players who play in the Premier League are English qualified. It is two out of three in Germany. It is not a problem in itself, but it is a fact.
The clubs’ academies have probably never been better supported in terms of investment, and never better run. We know that there is a good flow of very well-trained, skilful, technically-good players coming through the academies. The issue is making it out of the academies and into the first team in the most competitive league in the world, where risk taking is unlikely to take place, because if you lose three games in a row in the Premier League that is a lot of money you are staring down the barrel of losing.
So how do we get more risk taking going on? How do we encourage that transition from having a star academy player earning good money, into getting in the club’s first team? That is not just an FA imperative; it is an imperative for clubs as well because they want to get a return on their investment into their academies.