Former Premier League midfielder Francis backs Dyke commission

Former Premier League midfielder turned agent Damien Francis has told A Different League that the commission set up by Football Association chairman Greg Dyke will be good for English football.

Francis played in the top flight for Wimbledon, Norwich City, Wigan Athletic and Watford – as well as appearing internationally for Jamaica – and believes English football had to take steps towards safeguarding its future.

It’s positive. Something needed to be done and there are things that needed to be addressed. This will make a difference,” Francis said.

The commission will be formed by Dyke, FA vice-chairman Roger Burden, Howard Wilkinson, Dario Gradi, Danny Mills, Football League chairman Greg Clarke, PFA chairman-elect Ritchie Humphreys and former England manager Glenn Hoddle, with two more members likely to be appointed.

English football’s development of young players is the topic for the commission but Francis’ experiences as a young player at Wimbledon were beneficial, he recalls. “Youth coaching at Wimbledon was pretty good,” Francis says. “We had good coaches and a lot of talent. The club had a real identity and ethos to it. They were very good at promoting young talent through to the first team – if you we good enough.

There was less focus on technique then than now. But the game has evolved from when I was coming through at Wimbledon. You have to focus more on technique now otherwise we’ll fall behind other countries. We have to be keeping up.

Francis celebrating scoring for Norwich

The debate over the development of young players has encompassed Manchester United winger Adnan Januzaj after it was suggested he could be co-opted into the England set-up once he qualifies under FIFA’s residency rules.

Januzaj has yet to declare himself for one country – and is eligible for several, including Belgium, the country of his birth, and a number of Balkan states through his Kosovo-born father – and Jack Wilshere caused controversy when he spoke out against the possibility earlier this week.

Francis however said he would not judge Januzaj for choosing to play for one country over another, including, should he qualify, England. “It’s a personal decision,” Francis insisted. “Everyone’s going to have an opinion but it’s up to him. It’s very personal.

I can understand where Jack Wilshere’s coming from but the rules are there. It’s no fault of Januzaj. I wasn’t born in Jamaica but I was able to play for them because that’s what the rules are.

Januzaj’s future has been unclear at club level too, despite his impressive performances for United so far this season. It has been speculated that Barcelona could attempt to prise Januzaj away from Old Trafford, but Francis can see no reason why Januzaj would want to leave the champions.

He’s said he’s happy at United and they are one of the biggest clubs in the world,” Francis said. “Barcelona are huge, arguably bigger than United, but United are always vying for titles. They’re a great club to be at.

In his role as an agent, however, Francis admits there are times when a young player needs to switch clubs – even if they are already playing at a team the stature of United. “It can be in the player’s interest to move on. You also never know what influences he’s getting, from his agent or his family. But every player just wants to be happy.

Francis began his career at Wimbledon, moving to Norwich in 2003 and helping the Canaries into the Premier League in his first season at the club. They have undergone a tumultuous time in the decade since but he is impressed by their start to the new campaign.

Norwich have made a decent start,” Francis said. “They got a very good result against Stoke and had a hard game against Chelsea, but they did reasonably well. Chelsea just had a bit more quality though and it told at the end,” he noted of the 3-1 defeat.

But Norwich have a good squad,” Francis continued, “And I like Chris Hughton. I’ve got high hopes for them this season. I’ve been very impressed by Leroy Fer in my old position in midfield, he’s a real player. He’s impressed me a lot and made a real difference to their team.

To hear more from Damien Francis, follow him on Twitter: @MrDamienFrancis

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