Rebuilding England

An Englishman abroad

October 10, 2013
By Michael Wade

Charlie I'Anson thinks more English players should take the risk of playing abroad.OtherCharlie I'Anson, seen here in action in the white and green of Elche, thinks more English players should take the risk of playing abroad.

The Spanish model is often talked about as the template that English football should follow in order to cure its ills.

The current world and European champions remain peerless at the top of the FIFA rankings. Their ability to seamlessly interchange players without breaking the winning habit or changing their style makes them the envy of not just the English but most of the world. Whether England can overhaul an unsuccessful system in order to replicate La Roja's success at all levels is another question.

When it comes to examining what England are doing wrong and what Spain are doing right, Elche defender Charlie I'Anson is better placed than most.

The English-born defender has been based in Spain since moving to Malaga with his family at the age of seven and, a short spell with Grimsby in the Conference aside, is a student of the Spanish style.

I'Anson is now captain of Elche's second team, currently top of La Segunda B, as well as an emerging member of the first-team squad and, as the only English professional player in Spain, is able to offer a unique insight into some of the key differences between the two playing styles.

"Everything is focused on short, sharp passing," he tells ESPN. "It's all quick stuff concentrated on movement and keeping the ball.

"For example [in one training drill] there are four areas marked out, and after three passes you have to change area to perfect movement. Another example is games which involve five passes before you have to hit the keeper's hands [with the ball].

"I can't talk about the highest level in England because I didn't play there but there are a lot more people around the training sessions in Spain. We have four or five people involved in training, development and fitness out on the pitch with us who are experienced and focused on working to improve us.

"I'm not talking about the kit man, I'm talking about actual coaches. Playing in Spain is making me improve as a player and making me develop a lot quicker for a longer career."

I'Anson also explains that a lack of pressure put on young players to win games is beneficial later in their footballing life as they have had the opportunity to become comfortable in possession of the ball.

And alongside a designated second team, almost exclusively made up of youngsters earmarked to become ready-made first team players, which adopt the same style as their senior side, there is a process in place to develop talent.

"The first team and the second team have to try and play the same way to allow the players to progress into the first team," he says.

"Most afilio teams play the same way as their parent club. It helps to show the players what level they are at when they make the leap into the first team.

"It doesn't matter if you lose or win when you're young they just insist on playing."

I'Anson is not damning in his assessment of English football, though. He is appreciative of the differences between the playing styles and believes his roots contribute to his technique which he hopes will see him become more and more involved with Elche's quest to establish themselves in La Liga this season.

"I don't have a preference for Spanish football over English football because having the experience of both has helped improve me," he says. "I love to tackle and I try to incorporate some English style into my game, the aggression, the strength. I like English football a lot.

"Playing for Grimsby helped convert me from a boy into a man. I had to develop quickly and train every day in the gym to get bigger because I played a lot of games. I noticed it was a lot more physical but then it was the Conference."

Charlie I'Anson is the only English professional footballer in Spain.
OtherCharlie I'Anson is the only English professional footballer in Spain.

The talents of Juan Mata, David Silva and Santi Cazorla are lauded in the Premier League, but I'Anson believes there are just as many English players capable of going and making a positive impact in La Liga.

"I don't think Spanish football is more developed technically than English football," he explains. "There are some very technically gifted English players, players who are brilliant with both feet but it is just a different style of play.

"There are some English players who, if they moved to Spain, would stand out from the crowd and it works the other way around where Spanish players stand out in England more because of their skill-set. It works both ways."

But I'Anson believes one thing more than any other is stopping more English players from making the move and expanding their footballing education, something he would like to see change.

"The language barrier seems to put people off," he adds. "I've been asked a lot of times 'Is it hard to learn Spanish' but people can pick it up in a year or so, easily. I'm fluent in Spanish.

"English players probably see it as a risk to move to a foreign country where they don't speak the language. But I don't think it is.

"You've got to take risks. Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don't."

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