Too many foreigners in the Premier League stopping our young Englishmen making the most of their potential? Why not go elsewhere?
Every time England perform under par – a recurrent theme throughout this 2014 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign – calls ring throughout the nation for a countrywide overhaul of our youth system. There are ever-louder shouts for cuts to the number of foreign players in the Premier League and comparisons between the academy systems of our country and our main international rivals are ripe in numbers across global media outlets.
The FA’s new Chairman Greg Dyke offered a counsel of doubt to the current state of our national team upon taking up the role, also warning that foreign players are tarnishing England’s chances of ever winning a World Cup. “20 years later (After the Premier League was created) we would end up with a league largely owned by foreign owners, managed by foreign managers and played by foreign players and that, as a result, it could be argued that the England set-up has been weakened, rather than strengthened, by the creation of the Premier League,” he said.
In the latest transfer window almost £500 million was paid to foreign clubs for foreign players – a 60% increase on the previous season. Ones such as Roberto Soldado, who is already starting to justify his pricetag with his return of goals so far this season, Mesut Ozil, who has brought a smile to many Arsenal fan’s faces after repeated years of Arsene Wenger’s wallet tightly sealed and Jesus Navas, who looks like he could play a prominent role if the title is to return to the blue side of Manchester.
The current trend of foreign spending is making the Premier League increasingly commercially attractive – from a business view it is flourishing. The English national side isn’t mirroring the benefits.
Stoke City Chairman Peter Coates said earlier in the year on BBC Radio 4: “I don’t think the game has gone wrong. The Premier League is a massive success, it is the International League and it contributes massively to the British economy and it’s one of our success stories.”
Lord Bates (conservative) told the House of Lords in July: “There is no doubt that English Premier League football brings in a huge amount of money to the UK. VisitBritain announced in October 2012 that 900,000 foreign football tourists visiting the UK spent a substantial £706million – or £785 per fan – around £200 more than the average spend for a visitor to the UK.” On top of this is over £1billion that the Premier League and its clubs pay in tax every season.
Let’s face it – the Premier League is here to stay. The amount of foreign players will be ever-growing and those wanting a limit on the number of overseas players in the top flight can’t and won’t change the way English football operates.
But the problem of English football might not necessarily lay in the lack of English players in our domestic league, but the lack of English players plying their trade abroad.
Fraser Forster was the only player based outside of England in Roy Hodgson’s most recent squad for the World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine earlier this week. Before him, the last player called up to the national side from a foreign club was Scott Carson, formerly of Bursaspor in Turkey, who was selected for a friendly against the Netherlands in February 2012, but didn’t come on to take part.
England are currently ranked 14th in the FIFA World Rankings and of the 13 teams above of them, the least number of players in their national squad (for their most recent World Cup qualifiers) who are playing club football abroad was 5 (Italy).
The current world and European champions, Spain, had 9 players in their squad playing regularly outside of their domestic league. With the likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar gracing La Liga on a weekly basis, there is little doubt that they are the main challengers to the Premier League in terms of entertainment. However, the Premier League has an annual revenue almost double that of La Liga at €2.5bn, attendances that average 92.5% capacity compared to Spain’s 80%, and a much fairer distribution of television rights. Money plays a huge part in bringing players to the Premier League, but regular football should be on the forefront of our upcoming professional’s intentions.
Belgium is the team that everyone’s talking about this week. Following a very successful qualifying campaign they have emerged as shock contenders to lift the trophy in Brazil next summer. 20 of their 24-man squad play their football outside of Belgium. Ryan Keaney notes on The Football Project that many of Belgium’s ‘golden generation’ fled the country at a very young level to seek their full potential. Eden Hazard relocated to France to benefit from their national academy program. Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld, Moussa Démbéle, Jan Vertonghen and Dreis Mertens all came through the youth ranks in the Netherlands. Why are young English players not moving to foreign countries where opportunities could be much more fruitful?
Elsewhere around Europe, Germany, who have one of the most enviable national academy systems in the world still find six of their players playing elsewhere on the continent (Per Mertesacker, Andre Schurrle, Mezut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez and Miroslav Klose).
UEFA stated in April 2011 that if England is to ever replicate the same sort of success as their European rivals, the Dutch model should be the one they seek to emulate. But once they’ve reaped the rewards of the youth system and turned professional, players don’t often hang around in their domestic league. Under half of the current national squad are playing in the Netherlands and of the ten that still do the top three teams, PSV (5), Feyenoord (4) and Ajax (1), share their signatures.
As Brazil prepare to host the World Cup next year on ‘home soil’, they are tipped by many bookies to be one of the favourites. ‘Home soil’ is a term used loosely among the Brazil squad, because when 16 of their most recent squad of 21 players are living, playing, acclimatizing, and culturally immersing themselves in foreign countries, can it really be called playing on home turf?
England’s other main rivals all have significantly more players playing in foreign countries than we do – an undoubted fact.
Do we even have any players playing abroad? Throughout under 16 to senior level excluding Forster – just one.
Eric Dier left England in 2004 when his mother was offered a job during the European Championship in Portugal. When his parents returned to England in 2010, Dier was left behind so he could nurture his talent at Sporting Lisbon’s academy, where he has now appears as a regular in their starting line-up. The central defender made 14 league appearances last season for the Portuguese giants and he’s still only 19-years-old. Dier had a short spell on loan at Everton in 2011 and upon his return to Sporting made his first-team intentions clear, not waiting long for his debut. If Everton had shipped a few more young Englishmen out to Portugal when Dier returned, how many of them would be gracing the under 21 side now?
Moving abroad at an older age might not be the answer, as a stressful family life which comes with moving to another country could have a detrimental effect on and off the pitch, but at an age where a career is made or broken, why aren’t more of our youngsters giving it a go?
Why not experience first-hand Spain’s technical prowess in midfield, or Italy’s solid defensive manoeuvres? Players coming through with this sort of understanding can only be of benefit to the English national side.
Chelsea recently loaned out Sam Hutchinson to Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem and despite already being 24, it will be interesting to see how much better he fares upon his return, if he chooses to come back to England at all.
Maybe it’s not just the players who need to move abroad? Coaches too could benefit massively from immersing themselves in another country’s coaching techniques, making them view the game in an alternative way and implementing different strategies into the English game.
Obviously the English game is driven by high wages that are not seen anywhere else across the world, but as a teenager it’s all about playing football, and if anything is going to give you the edge on someone else bidding to make the national squad in five years time, why not take the chance?
If players aren’t going to make the step up to Premier League football because of high-profile foreign names stealing their places, don’t moan and blame the players that give us endless hours of entertainment on a weekly basis. Get out of the country and find an opportunity elsewhere and it won’t be long before we’re reaping the rewards of some foreign instalments in our youngsters.