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William and Kate give football center royal seal of approval

updated 4:34 AM EDT, Wed October 10, 2012
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on hand to officially open a new centre of excellence for the England national football team, including the hyrotherapy suite. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were on hand to officially open a new centre of excellence for the England national football team, including the hyrotherapy suite.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge officially open St. George's Park
  • St. George's Park is England's newly-constructed national football center
  • William: "It will be far more than just a world class facility for training"
  • The center is located in Burton-upon-Trent in the English county of Staffordshire

(CNN) -- Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge were both on hand to give an elite football facility aimed at ending England's 46-year wait for a second World Cup triumph the royal seal of approval.

The $168-million St. George's Park complex in the town of Burton-upon-Trent, which has taken 18 months to build, will house all 24 England teams from junior hopefuls through to senior stars.

"Coming here this morning, seeing these wonderful facilities and beautiful surroundings -- just experiencing this extraordinary place - gave me the same feelings I had when I first went to the Olympic Park," William, who is president of the English Football Association (FA) declared.

England's new national headquarters in the county of Staffordshire is hoping to inspire its footballers and prolong the feelgood factor left by a landmark sporting summer in the UK after London hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

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"St. George's Park, and the concept that underpins it, is something totally new," continued William. "It will be far more than just a world class facility for training our future world-beating national team.

Coming here this morning ... gave me the same feelings I had when I first went to the Olympic Park
Duke of Cambridge

"It is more than just the university from which thousands of highly qualified coaches will graduate. It is also a magnificent example of the sort of social initiative that brings opportunity and purpose to wider British life.

"It will provide employment and a social hub for local people and, through the thousands of volunteers on which coaching relies, it will foster community spirit, purpose and hope throughout England."‬‪

FA chairman David Bernstein hailed the facility as well as expressing his delight that the royal couple had been able to attend the grand opening.

The opening of St. George's Park is a beacon of good news for English football after a year that has tainted by the racism allegations leveled against Chelsea captain John Terry, that prompted his international retirement.

Just last week Chelsea and England defender Ashley Cole called the FA a "bunch of twats" after an independent report that found Terry guilty stated Cole's evidence to the inquiry had "evolved" over time.

Bernstein revealed Cole had apologized in person for his tweet but was keen to focus on the potential benefits St. George's Park would bring to the national team.

"The range of functions here are so great," Bernstein said on the organization's website. "It's a coaching center, it's a sports science center, a rehabilitation center.

"It's a fantastic thing for football and for The Football Association. This has been 20 years in development.

"A huge amount of work has gone in to it. And to have our president, the Duke of Cambridge, and the Duchess to open this facility is really fantastic.

It will be far more than just a world class facility for training our future world-beating national team
Duke of Cambridge

"There is so much built into this project. It's an inspirational place as well, the pinnacle of things that are happening elsewhere around the country. We are trying to do so much with youth development generally, and this represents the pinnacle of that."

The complex mirrors similar facilities in other European countries, such as France's center of excellence at Clairefontaine which produced the nucleus of the team which won the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000.

In addition to Clairefontaine -- which aided the development of players such as Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka -- the English Football Association also drew inspiration from Zeist in Holland, Cologne in Germany, Spain's La Ciudad del Futbol and Coverciano in Italy.

English football's powerbrokers will hope St. George's Park can help England win the FIFA World Cup for the first time in 46 years.

"Initially we'll get our 24 teams using St. George's Park," explained the FA's director of football development Trevor Brooking.

"You'd like to see a youngster coming in here at 15 and get the 'wow factor' and want to stay with the England teams throughout the age groups, U17s through to under-21s and seniors."

St George's Park boasts 11 outdoor pitches including an exact replica of the playing surface at Wembley Stadium, an altitude chamber to replicate playing in different climates and a 60-meter sprint track aimed at monitoring running speed and style.

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Apart from state-of-the-art facilities, what will a centralized hub offer English football which is does not have already?

"The FA's locations have always been disconnected from the realities of grassroots football," explains Pavl Williams, editor of thecoachingmanual.com.

"They now have a location which is central to the rest of the country and accessible to a broader range of society.

"It's also a central location where lots of organizations are working together, which is necessary if you are going to pull out a consistent philosophy at every level of the game, which is what we are trying to do."

Tuesday's opening marks the end of a lengthy process for English football. A national soccer hub was first mooted back in the late 90s.

Many observers have highlighted the lack of a core philosophy and antiquated coaching methods as a reason for England stagnating while more technically-gifted teams like Spain have flourished.

"The way football is going to progress in the country is through working together," continued Williams. "We need to create something which is bigger than the sum of its parts.

"St. George's Park can bring in more agencies which work really well together and get that out to coaches working at a grassroots level."

One of the key areas St. George's Park will look to address is the coaching which is given to promising English talent.

Williams outlined a lack a UEFA A Licensed coaches at grassroots level as a key difference between England and continental Europe, as well as suggesting over coaching can cause some youngsters to burn out.

"A lot of kid's coaching is hands off coaching," said Williams. "The more you educate a coach, the more they learn when to not step in and coach.

"Facilities, like the pitches you play on, are a big issue for technical players. But in coaching specifically, kids in other countries are allowed to express themselves more."

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