England football manager Gareth Southgate says the motivation of young players is being eroded by excessively high pay.
He warned that millionaire youngsters were getting the wrong message from huge rewards before they had achieved any success.
“They are intrinsically unmotivated, they lose a bit of an edge,” said Mr Southgate.
He also warned of players believing the “hype” around the Premier League.
The England manager told the Boarding Schools Association conference that overpaid players were losing their hunger by getting too much money too early in their careers.
‘Belief, but realistic belief’
“We’re at fault as a sport and we could have changed that.
“We could pay players into trust funds or we could reduce the level,” he said at the meeting in York.
“The biggest problem is that we reward boys without them having had success. We’re taking some of that motivation away.”
He suggested that an incremental rise in rewards could provide a better incentive.
“But the very best will still come through, whatever they earn. But we’re making it more difficult.”
Mr Southgate said that the national team also faced pressures from unrealistic public expectations.
He said that in the most recent England camp the players were given a reality check – and told that in the past 25 years England had only won a handful of games in the knock-out stages of international competitions.
“We need belief, but realistic belief. What is possible? We’re 14th in the world at the moment.”
And he says the players were told: “Whatever the hype around the Premier League, and whatever you read about yourself, there’s a big world out there and some very good national teams.
“How are we going to be better than them?”
Fear of losing
Mr Southgate said that players needed to be able to shake off their inhibitions and fears about playing for England.
“I think the danger is that we forget how we might win – and under pressure, we’ve reverted to worrying about what will happen if we lose. What kind of reaction will we get?”
There have been growing concerns about mental health problems within sport – and Mr Southgate says that top-level footballers have to find ways to cope with “enormous anxiety”, “self doubt” and the nagging question “can I do it today?”
In the England set-up, he says the women’s team are much better at talking about their feelings under pressure, but the men’s team was “hard work”.
“They don’t want to show weakness in front of each other.”
Mr Southgate says one of the biggest challenges is to get players, who are successful and comfortable in their club teams, to feel relaxed and integrated in a national squad.
When he was a player himself, he said arriving at the England camp for the first time was an intimidating experience.
“Even having dinner was an ordeal,” he said. And for modern players, he says “the tendency is to go back to their rooms as quickly as possible”.
While as a manager and player, his working life had been dominated by league tables, he told this audience of head teachers that he did not approve of school league tables.
Such tables pushed schools into taking short-term measures to boost their rankings – rather than valuing long-term development and wider experiences.
In terms of what happens next for the England team, he said: “We’re going to have to be better under pressure.”