WHEN it comes to football coaching, Ian Aitkins is as English as you can get.
The former Birmingham City captain’s playing career spanned over 20 years and eight clubs the length and breadth of the country, from Colchester United to Sunderland.
The lengthy spell in coaching and management that followed extended Atkins’ wealth of experience.
But Atkins has grown disenchanted with youth development in the English game and has set about doing something about it. Regular scouting trips to the continent for Sunderland opened the born-and-bred Brummie’s eyes to where clubs are going wrong on these shores.
“People keep saying there are too many foreigners here – it’s a myth,” explains Atkins. “I’ve worked abroad and they have the same problems we have. You go to any of the bigs clubs, Bayern Munich, PSV Eindhoven, they all have five, six or seven foreigners.
“My view is the academies are fine but facing up to facts why are we not producing players? Because the coaching kids are getting isn’t what it should be. The coaches aren’t qualified enough to make players better. The majority are great at putting a folder together and writing on a computer but they don’t know how to teach kids the fundamentals of how to play football.”
Now Birmingham’s 1992 promotion-winning assistant, – with ex-Blues and Coventry coach Robert Cleverly and former West Bromwich Albion defender Steve Lilwall – is on a mission to right the wrongs. The trio are behind the Elite Football Coaching Academy, a two-hour session every Friday at the West Warwickshire Sports Club in Olton, near Atkins’ Solihull home.
‘A back to basics’ academy with a difference, Atkins aims to provide a safety net for ambitious youngsters who have been rejected by professional clubs.
With confidence drained, dreams in tatters and seemingly on the scrap-heap, Atkins’ scheme attempts to give children, from 10 to 16, a renewed optimism in the industry that chewed them up and spat them out.
Budding footballers are guided through all processes of the game but uniquely Atkins encourages involvement from parents, often left bewildered by watching their offspring have their childhood dream ruined in an instant.
Just under three weeks old, the idea is already proving hugely successful and has started to attract funding from the League Managers’ Association.
“We aimed for 30 or 40 kids and were up to 25 in the first week, we’ve had parents coming from Shrewsbury and Worcester. We’ve said to everyone it’s not just going to be a soccer school where we throw the ball out and have a five-a-side, they’re coming to learn something.
“The kids we are trying to target are not only those that want to improve but those that get released from the academies. Often they don’t get signed on and then it’s where do they go? What do they do? We’ve had a big response.
“The parents often don’t know where to turn, there is a facility for that gap. It’s not just coaching, it’s also what you call the consultancy side of it by speaking to someone who knows their situation because they’ve worked there.
“Everybody who is involved has a football background. I think that is important.
“What sparked this off is that I’ve had so many parents asking me for advice when their child has been released. I know what it’s like because clubs do release kids and then that’s it, they’re out.”