Former King’s Lynn boss Keith Webb is relishing his national service
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Keith Webb is gearing up for the challenge of plotting England’s cerebral palsy squad’s assault on the European Championships.
"We’ll try to win every game but this is an opportunity for me and the players to experience what that level is like."
The former Norwich City youth and reserve chief has been head coach of the English national side since the start of this year and is using the tournament in Portugal later this month as a key signpost towards preparing for next year’s World Cup, to be held at the FA’s national base at St George’s Park.
Webb is under no illusions England face a tough road ahead after being drawn in a qualifying pool with the hosts and Ukraine, the country currently regarded as one of the best cerebral palsy (CP) sides in the world.
“Rather than looking at the Euros as an end product that is more part of the journey for us to the World Cup,” said the ex-King’s Lynn manager. “When you look at where England is in the world rankings we are about 10th. There are perhaps five or six countries who put a lot of effort into CP football – Ukraine and Russia being the two best nations in the world – closely followed by Brazil and Iran and then you have Holland and the home nations and America below that bracket.
“Since I’ve been on board the progress has been good. If we get through it will probably be Russia in the next round and to give you an idea those two countries are like the Barcelona of club football in their prime in CP football. They are strong so expectations will have to be realistic. We’ll try to win every game but this is an opportunity for me and the players to experience what that level is like.”
Webb has been impressed with the quality of talent at England’s disposal since combining his FA role as a regional development manager for the east.
“The players are amateurs but I have a former Welsh Under-21
international, a former professional at Birmingham and also an ex-schoolboy at Tranmere who is the Lionel Messi of CP football, Ollie Nugent,” said Webb. “The lads are placed in categories between five and eight. Category eight is the less affected players and five the more severe. You must have at least one five on the pitch at all times and you can’t have more than one eight.
“Ollie is an outstanding prospect but because he is so good he is classified as an eight. If he was six or seven then I would be looking at us going into this tournament and targeting a top five finish.
“I took up the post in January and it was a new thing for me and it was a huge learning curve, but it was one I approached the same as any other team I would take. It was a case of finding a formula, looking at how some of the top teams play and devising a system and the players have bought into it really quickly.”
Webb is enjoying working at the FA at the grassroots of the game.
“We are there to support the counties in their delivery of grassroots football,” he said. “I spent time in Canada working in a grassroots club, and obviously King’s Lynn was also a big grassroots semi-professional club, but it is only since coming into the FA how much you realise the importance of the grassroots to the national game.”
Webb spent more than 25 years at Carrow Road helping develop the likes of Chris Sutton, Craig Bellamy and Robert Green and the former City youth coach believes they must go all out to get back to the Premier League as soon as possible.
“It is a Premier League set-up. Neil Adams is now the man who has to drive it forward and try and get them back in the next season or two,” he said. “It’s important to try and keep hold of their better players in this window and they also needed players who could put the ball in the back of the net. They have tried to bring those in and that is the most important thing because without goalscorers you are not going to win too many games.