Watching the Cup Final coverage on the BBC last Saturday, and basking pleasurably in the warm glow of nostalgia brought on by their excellent coverage, I was struck by the tendency of football fans to hark back to imagined golden eras, when every stadium was full, the goals flowed, and each team had a hard man, a couple of tricky wingers, and a ball playing, hard drinking maverick gracing their midfield.

The reality, of course, was rather different, but the human gift for remembering the good rather than the bad can mean that we neglect to appreciate the present, which would be a shame, as I honestly believe that despite the huge challenges concerning the International administration of the game, we are living through one of the most progressive, exciting and intriguing periods in football’s history.

The past season alone has seen a number of interesting developments that I think will continue to have a positive impact on football in years to come.

THE RE EMERGENCE OF BARCELONA: When Bayern Munich carried all before them with an athletic, fast, powerful, high intensity game plan, many pundits called time on the tikka tikka style of possession based , short passing football practiced by Barca. What people might have failed to appreciate is that the Barcelona project, initiated and inspired by the visionary ideas of Johann Cruyff over 30 years ago, has always been adaptable and pragmatic in its efforts to create teams that play winning football in a beautiful style. So a subtle shift in the role for Messi, the purchase of Suarez, and a greater emphasis on using the width of the pitch, has seen them resume their position as the pre-eminent team in World football.

THE INTRODUCTION OF THE RETREAT LINE IN JUNIOR FOOTBALL: It might seem strange to link the tactical development of Barcelona with a junior soccer rule change, but many of the most progressive ideas in football coaching started in the Cruyff inspired philosophies at the Ajax and Barcelona Academies. This is a great example of how to start with a desired end in mind – having junior players play the ball out creatively from the back –and come up with a simple strategy that enables the aim to be met. Good work by the Football Association.

THE USE OF THE MONEYBALL MODEL AT BRENTFORD: I think that Matthew Benham, the owner of Brentford, whilst undoubtedly a clever man, is not quite the revolutionary prophet the press are making him out to be. His club’s avowed transfer strategy –finding undervalued players in undervalued markets –has arguably been practiced with far more success by Arsene Wenger in his first few years at Arsenal, and by Brian Clough in putting together his dual European Cup winning team at Nottingham Forest. Not to mention the incredible feats of Diego Simeone and his support  staff  at Atletico Madrid. Even the statistical analysis of areas of maximum danger on the pitch, and the perceived importance of set pieces are part and parcel of the domestic football landscape. However, the basic Moneyball principle, which prioritises statistical, fact based evidence over traditional management and recruitment strategies that might rely on past personal experiences, emotion, intuition, feel, and ‘the look’ of a particular player , still has the potential to radically challenge and alter many of our long cherished assumptions about the game.

FANS AT CRYSTAL PALACE: There are many things to be enjoyed in the modern all seater stadium; great sight lines, leg room, food, drink, T.V. replays, and toilets that don’t constitute a health risk. However, one thing that has changed to the game’s detriment has been the reduction in crowd  noise; the singing, chanting, and spectator interaction that constitutes atmosphere. There are many well documented reasons for this change, ranging from the changing demographics and socio-economic groups that attend, to the reduction in the communal feel that was engendered by standing together on the terraces. One thing, though, is not in doubt: when you hear the fantastic row generated by the Holmesdale End at Selhurst Park on a Monday night game, you know we are missing out on something special in football as a whole. Cut ticket prices for the Under 21’s, reintroduce terracing where people can stand and sing together at every ground, and educate Stewards to take a step back and allow fans to enjoy supporting their team.

CIRCULAR SOCCER: As a junior football coach I am always on the lookout for new drills, and original approaches to teaching the game. I am often inspired by the work being done at Ajax and Barcelona Youth Academies, and never less than impressed by the ideas coming out of the Coerver philosophy. What all these sources offer are novel and imaginative solutions to quite complex coaching problems. One of the things that junior footballers often struggle with in the early part of their development is the chaotic nature of game play, and how in match situations pressure on the ball comes from many different directions, especially in midfield. That’s why I love the Circular Soccer training aid, which was designed by two Coaches who used to work at the Manchester United Youth Academy. This piece of equipment trains players to think differently, and to find solutions to game play situations in a creative manner. I think it will become an integral part of every Coaches collection of equipment in years to come.

THE STANDARD OF OFFICIATING: The Weekend rarely passes by without a referee or linesman being castigated by a television analyst, or an aggrieved Manager. You’d think that the standard of officiating had never been lower, given the levels of seemingly perpetual criticism. Well, here’s a view from someone with no axe to grind, with a lifetime of football experience behind him: we’ve never had it so good! Given the speed of the modern game, the tendency of players to exaggerate contact, and the myriad camera angles dissecting every controversial moment in super slow motion, the overall accuracy of the referee and those running the line has reached quite extraordinary levels of accuracy and consistency. In addition the increased emphasis on players staying on their feet has gradually permeated down through the Football Pyramid so that the game is safer and more skilful at all levels. A big pat on the back to all involved, at least until one of you costs my beloved Arsenal a penalty!

THE EMERGENCE OF NEW ENGLISH TALENT: Perhaps progressive coaching methods, rules concerning home grown players, and the positive influence of continental players on training and lifestyle approaches, is finally starting to narrow the technical gap between England and the World Superpowers of Football? A National squad at the next European Finals containing Sterling, Wilshere, Barclay, Chamberlain  and Grealish would suggest that our youth system is, at last, giving an England Manager some creative, attacking opinions to choose from. The challenge for all these young men is to improve from 21 to 28 by working tirelessly like Ronaldo, rather than stagnating in the manner of previous English prodigies like Joe Cole and Wayne Rooney.