The English Premier League seems to have lost a bit of its ‘Englishness’ in the past couple of years, with tons of foreign players coming over as well as foreign managers, and a continental playing style sweeping through the English game.
BUT WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED? WHAT IMPACT DOES THIS HAVE ON THE ENGLISH NATIONAL TEAM? WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR ENGLISH PLAYERS IN THE WORLD OF FOOTBALL?
I will attempt to answer these questions and a few others in this article.
The Premier League was set up in 1992, in order to aid the development of the England National Team. In its inaugural season, 12 English players and a Welshman finished the campaign with 15 or more goals, and the League’s top scorer, Teddy Sherringham netted 22 times. This was brilliant news for the FA, and it boded well for the national team under the management of Graham Taylor. After their dismal performance at Euro 1992, when they were eliminated in the Group Stages after failing to win a game, the future looked bright with English players showing their quality in the highest division in England. 177 players who featured in the first game of the 1992/93 season, held English nationality, which was 73.1% of all players. However, that figure dropped to just 75 this season, 34.1%.
How has this happened?
This is down to a number of factors, namely the influx of foreign managers to the league – who know and trust their own market more than the English market. As well as this, English players are generally more expensive than foreign players to bring in. This, in turn, leads to the Golden Triangle argument (Media, Sponsorship and Sport.)
If a manager buys a foreign striker for £35 million, he is going to play that player ahead of a home grown kid from his academy. There might not be much difference in the quality of the player, just look at Manchester City – they spent £30 million on Fernandinho, and loaned Gareth Barry out.
While I am not denying Fernandinho is a good player, I would much rather have Gareth Barry in my team than him. Although he might be older, he has arguably made one mistake in 4 years. He does his job to perfection, breaks up attacks and plays the ball out wide so that his team can break.
One of the most underrated midfielders in England currently, in my opinion. He proved just how good he was when he made his debut for Everton on Saturday, when his expertly timed sliding tackle denied Samuel Eto’o a debut goal. But this is just an example, the point I am making is that foreign managers bring in foreign players, and play them before home grown players who have came up through the ranks.
What could be done to change this?
What is ridiculous about the English Premier League is this – a team can legitimately field a team full of foreign players, but they are NOT allowed to field a team solely of English players. Newcastle, if they wanted to, could send out a team entirely of French players if they wanted to. However, Norwich would get brought up in front of a disciplinary panel if they sent a team full of English players to the pitch. THIS IS WRONG. Employment Law is there to give foreigners an equal opportunity of finding a job, but that should not apply to football – which is a game of talent. I think that the FA should step in, and say that teams have to field a minimum of 6 home grown players, but you can have as many foreign players in your squad as you want (within competition rules.)
The argument of Exceptional Talent
What defines ‘Exceptional Talent?’ For me, Lionel Messi, Christiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Gareth Bale are all examples of Exceptional Talent. They would have no trouble coming to the UK on an Exceptional Talent VISA. However, other ‘lesser’ players have come to the Premier League under this visa. Examples include Anderson, Rafael and his brother Fabio coming to Manchester United and Andriy Arshavin to Arsenal. Now, here’s the problem.
Exceptional Talent is when you consistently represent your national side, e.g. Messi and Neymar. Rafael does not, and he didn't when he signed for Manchester United! He entered the country through a loophole in the Law, in that he signed when he was younger than 18. Anderson isn't an example of Exceptional Talent, he isn't any better than Carrick of Cleverly. They should start before him.
DO ENGLISH PLAYERS HAVE A FUTURE IN THE ENGLISH GAME?
England do have a number of quality players coming through the ranks. Ross Barkely, Jack Wiltshire, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Wellbeck, Raheem Sterling and Wilfred Zaha are all signs of fantastic young players, and the future of English football. However, the number of English managers in the Premier League is dwindling, with only 4 teams currently being coach by an Englishman. They are: Crystal Palace by Ian Holloway, Hull City by Steve Bruce, Newcastle United by Alan Pardew and West Ham United by Sam Allardyce.
This doesn't mean that English managers are any worse than their foreign counterparts. Bobby Robson mentored Jose Mourinho and Andres Villas-Boas, and they are currently managing top, top teams in the Premiership. This mentoring took place after he was forced to leave England after he stepped down in 1990.
The limited amount of English managers is a driving force in the number of foreign players joining clubs, as foreign managers like to stick with what they trust by buying players from the market they know best. Foreign players are often cheaper than home grown players, just take Michu for example, he cost Swansea City just £2 million last season, and scored 22 goals in all competitions. Andy Carroll cost Liverpool £35 million in 2011, and scored just 6 times.
What is the impact on the National team?
This is obvious – if players don’t play, they won’t get better. If English players don’t compete in the first team domestically, they will not be able to compete at international level. Players improve by gaining experience, but it needs to be the right experience. You can’t loan out a centre mid to a lower league team, who then plays him out of position at left back because they are lacking cover in that area, and expect him to have improved as a midfielder.
It doesn't work like that. The same goes for playing in the same position though. A non league player won’t be selected for the national squad, because 1) he isn't good enough, and 2) his experience isn't good enough. The higher up the divisions a player plays, they better they will become. In the olden days, England selected players from the best teams in England – Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea etc. But nowadays, they come from numerous teams and from different divisions. And the impact is clear – England has slumped the 17th in the world rankings, their lowest position for 12 years. Chile lie above them, as do USA, Greece and Columbia.
England’s decline can be attributed to a number of factors; from the increase in foreign managers and players, the cost of quality English players available, and the preference of managers to purchase players rather than coach their own kids. How are we meant to compete at international level if our kids are stuck in the reserves, or lower leagues? If they are not playing at the highest level domestically at home, and they are capable of doing so, they will have move abroad. But unless they are of the highest quality, teams abroad won’t make a move for them! Foreign teams do their transfer business in the local markets, unlike England, who prioritize foreign players over home grown talent.
Unless the FA do something about this, i.e. implement some sort of meaningful legislation that will allow the development of English players, then whether we like it or not, the national team will suffer. We are not as good as we think we are, and this will only change if we nurture our youngsters and coach them into being world class footballers. We need to act now, while we still can because in the next 10 years, English talent will dry up and we will struggle to compete at international competitions. The English Premier League will just become an international ‘dream’ league, where all the best foreign players play together for teams in English cities, with no English players in them. This cannot happen!