ENGLAND u21 boss Gareth Southgate insists tournament triumph must first come at junior level before the national team have any chance of ending years of hurt to lift the World Cup.
Speaking before a licensed coaching event at Penrith AFC, Southgate, who pulled on the Three Lions shirt 57 times and made more than 500 appearances for Crystal Palace, Aston Villa and Middlesbrough, believes recent changes have set the wheels in motion on the road to success - but admits there is still much work to be done.
Following retirement in 2006, the now 43-year-old spent three years managing Middlesbrough before becoming involved in the future of the English game as the FA's head of elite development in 2011 and two years later as u21 manager.
"I am quite encouraged by some of the changes we have managed to implement over the past couple of years," he said. "I was heavily involved in the push to go for 9 v 9 to get the kids on appropriate sized pitches so that was a significant step.
"Now we want to try and influence coaching as much as possible so the more events we can host is great. Coaches watch a lot more European football and I think they understand there is a lot of work for us to do us a nation if we want to be successful at the top end."
He added: "There are lots of exciting things going on at the moment. We are trying to slightly change the way we work with junior teams, change people's perceptions of the style of play and the way in which we ask the players to play.
"There are things we can improve that will have short term impacts and others that will be medium to long term but we are pretty certain if we are going to be successful at senior level in the future we will have to be successful at junior international level before that."
Organised by the Westmorland and Cumberland FAs, the event allowed coaches to complete hours to go towards their Continuous Professional Development.
Coaches descended on Frenchfield Park last Wednesday night to watch Southgate in action with some of Penrith AFC's academy players and the former centre-back hopes they managed to pick up tips to take back to their own training pitches.
"The junior game is the starting point for every young kid in the country," he said.
"It is crucial in terms of the pyramid. If the coaching in those formative years isn't right then the players miss that and never regain it so we have to try and affect and influence that as best we can and make that standard as good as it can be.
"This is an opportunity for coaches to see different ways of working or to reaffirm some of the things they already know. They will see the way that we work, the type of session we deliver and the questions we ask the kids. They might just pick up one or two things but hopefully they will see things that reassure them.
"At grassroots football level it’s got to be about the enjoyment of the kids. I strongly believe they will learn more and take more away if they enjoy it."
Among those present was Tim Pryor, chairman of Kendal United and of the Kent Valley Junior Football League.
"Having Gareth here shows the FA are taking grassroots football seriously," he said. He also said the recent FA Youth Review was a positive step forward.
“It made youth aged football not league based so it’s not about results," he said.
"That means you don’t have parents screaming at them and encourages youngsters to have fun and play the game instead."
Phil Graham, a level two coach working with Westmorland u18s and Wattsfield u16s, said: “Gareth has been in the game a long time so it’s great to be able to pick up on his techniques. Even if you can emulate a degree of that you can give the players a little bit more experience.”
Dan Ferguson, football development officer at the Westmorland FA, hailed the evening as a massive success. "It is a reward for all the volunteers for their community work,” he said.
And Peter Ducksbury, chief executive of the Westmorland FA, added that securing the services of Southgate was a ‘terrific coup for the county’. He also praised his team who have been working on the event for the past seven months.