Gary Neville calls for more emphasis on homegrown talent and grassroots investment

England coach Gary Neville says grassroots football underpins the development of international talent. Photo: PA

Gary Neville is concerned England will never buck the trend of a decreasing pool of home-grown players in the Premier League without greater emphasis on the grassroots game.

In his dual role as respected television pundit and assistant to England manager Roy Hodgson, Neville is more acutely aware than most of the media focus which surrounds high-profile issues.

Yet Neville knows from his own experience that without thousands of unpaid volunteers, the game would cease to function and there would be no chance of new Jack Wilsheres and Raheem Sterlings emerging from youth ranks.

And with a staggering 64.8 per cent of Premier League players now hailing from overseas, it is little wonder Neville is so passionate for the FA Community Awards 2013 presented by McDonald's, nominations for which can now be made at www.mcdonalds.co.uk/kickstart, which he has pledged so much time to.

"In the media, we are all aware of the next controversy, the next big match, the next transfer," he said.

"But without these volunteers we don't go anywhere.

"There are a decreasing number of British players in the Premier League and we need to try to buck that trend. We need to give these players more opportunity."

Neville was back on home turf this weekend, at Bury Juniors FC, where he met with coaches and young players aiming to follow the illustrious path so well trodden by the former England defender, and brother Phil, who grew up on exactly the same pitches three decades ago.

"It does take me back," said Neville.

"You need to do that every so often to remind you where you come from.

"Me and my brother came down here every Saturday morning. Football players don't grow on trees. They are made on football pitches like these. It is where you learn your trade.

"It taught me about competitiveness, about sport, about winning, dealing with defeat, dealing with disappointment.

"People think of football as being the Premier League and Champions League and that kids' stuff is meaningless. But for those involved it means absolutely everything.

"If you play badly or miss a chance, you carry it with you all week.

"It is just the same as professional level but for kids it is a lot tougher because they don't have the experience of life to deal with it."

Gary Neville visits boyhood club with former Manchester United youth coach Eric Harrison.

As is so typical of Neville with causes close to his heart, there is an evangelistic air to his comments, emphasising why he is keen to work so closely with his old Manchester United mentor Eric Harrison despite the other drains on his time.

For Neville though, nothing goes to waste, having been something of a surprise addition to Hodgson's England coaching team when it was announced just before Euro 2012.

"I enjoy challenges," said Neville.

"I recognise as much as anybody, having played for England for 12 years, that it is not always a bed of roses.

"It is tough. It is hard work to get to where you want to be, which is getting to the finals of major tournaments and then competing in them.

"No team has done that for 47 years. That is a long time."

It is the kind of pragmatism for which Neville is so renowned, a trait he apparently shares with Hodgson.

"Roy is very pragmatic and realistic," said Neville.

"He is always sensible, after defeats and victories. That is so important after a game like Brazil, when you know full well you are going to be reading over-the-top headlines.

"When we lost in Sweden it was the other way.

"Yet against Sweden we were excellent for 72 minutes and if Joe doesn't save the penalty against Brazil it could be 2-2.

"You are one moment away from the headlines being changed completely but Roy is very experienced at dealing with the balance of the situation."

:: The 2013 FA Community Awards, presented by McDonald's has opened for nominations and Community Awards Ambassador Gary Neville is urging communities to nominate their grassroots heroes for one of the eight award categories. To vote for a football coach, club or volunteer go to mcdonalds.co.uk/kickstart