What was the ‘England DNA’ plan and how has it come to pass?

What used to be your perception of a typical England player? How considerably has that outlook shifted while watching the likes of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Mason Mount?

Gareth Southgate’s team are cosmopolitan in their playing identity: possessing technically skilled passers à la Spain, pressing adopted from Germany, off-the-ball shape gleaned from France, tactical versatility championed by Italy, and the tenacity, movement and improvisation found in South America.

This development stems from the Elite Player Performance Plan introduced in 2011 that overhauled the Premier League academy system and zoned in on creating more quality homegrown options.

Three years later, Dan Ashworth presented the ‘England DNA’ blueprint, which aimed to concretely advance the technical and tactical characteristics of the national team by infusing lessons from studying nine major countries.

“As a football nation we have long been characterised by our passion, fighting spirit and effort,” the former director of elite development said. “Although there are aspects of these characteristics we wish to retain, we do not wish to be solely defined by them.”


Southgate, then England Under-21 manager, was part of the group that presented the new plans for the future. When he took charge of the senior side, he would immediately underline the desire to bulldoze stereotypes: “There’s a lot of talk about what English players can and can’t do.”

Success of the plan at youth level has finally materialised on the main stage with England reaching a first major final in 55 years after securing a semi at the 2018 World Cup. But what specifically was the ‘England DNA’ template in relation to approach and player development?

The two minutes and 41 seconds at the end of the semi-final against Denmark, when England kept the ball to calmly kill off the game, was possibly the most complete illustration of the ‘England DNA’ principles in action.

Here is a summary of those principles, which have evidently been enacted when assessing the style of the side as well as the talent within it:

How England play

England teams aim to intelligently dominate possession selecting the right moments to progress the play and penetrate the opposition.

England teams aim to regain possession intelligently and as early and as efficiently as possible. All aspects of the out-of-possession philosophy will take into consideration the state of the game, the environment and pre-determined gameplan.

England teams sense changing moments in the game both in and out of possession reacting instinctively and intelligently.

England development teams will play with tactical flexibility, influenced by the profile of the players and the requirements of the match or competition.

The future England player

The core attributes and characteristics of the future England player, in all four corners of The FA player development model, are detailed and supported by eight position specific profiles: goalkeeper, full-back, central defence, defensive central midfield, central midfield, wide midfield, shadow striker, centre forward.

We hope to identify and develop future England players with the following core attributes and skills:

  • Technical: Future England players will have the ability to create, score and prevent goals through excellence in: passing over varying distances, receiving skills, turning skills, travelling with the ball, attacking and defending skills, finishing skills, aerial ability.
  • Tactical: Future England players will be equipped with the skills, abilities and decision-making capability to tactically manage international games. We aim to produce England players who can: recognise and adapt to the state of the game, achieve winning performances by maximising strengths and exploiting weaknesses, understand and apply individual, unit and team roles and responsibilities, adopt varied playing styles and formations, perform effectively against varied playing styles and formations, deal with varied environmental conditions.
  • Physical: We aim to develop future England players who possess outstanding physical and athletic skills in the following areas: agility, balance, coordination, speed and speed endurance, endurance, flexibility, power, strength, physical resilience, recovery, nutrition and lifestyle.
  • Psychological: We aim to develop reflective, resourceful and resilient England players who display outstanding confidence, creativity, concentration, communication, control, commitment.
  • Social: Through the England experience we will help players develop the following outstanding social skills that are in line with our code of conduct – which has been in place for several years: behaviour, reflection, teamwork, relationships, accountability, responsibility, independence, life-skills and player education.

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