The inevitable death of England’s national team

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Tuesday’s game against Germany was yet another stark reminder of the troubling times our nation’s football faces – a direct consequence of the Premier League.

Back in August 1992, 177 players (73.1%) featuring in first-day Xl’s held English nationality, however this year that figure fell to 75 (32%). This decrease of over half has left the Premier League trailing significantly behind the rest of Europe when it comes to showcasing home-grown talent, which is particularly relative as England approach Brazil 2014, unseeded.

Focusing on finance

Premier League teams are over-relying on the services of overseas players and to some extent, understandably so. Imports are often considered more affordable; Stewart Downing (£20m – Liverpool), David Bentley (£19.5m – Spurs) and Andy Carroll (£36m – Liverpool) all fitting examples of what English talent costs. So buying abroad and deterring the development of youth talent – which can be costly and a gamble if no players succeeds – seems financially logical to many EPL clubs. So, the fact only 32% of players in the EPL are English, now begins to make sense.

Learning from England’s failure

The EPL‘s become the World’s greatest footballing product with; vast foreign talent, heavy financial backing, big rivalries and hugely competitive fixtures. Brazil, one of the World’s greatest-ever footballing nations, is desperate to reform its domestic league after decades of mismanagement. The CBF (Brazilian Football Confederation) has expressed their desire of not emulating the EPL structure for fear of weakening the national team. Toninho Nascimento, Brazil’s national secretary summing up the EPL simply with, “it’s a great league, but it’s very bad for the national team”. Fortunately for Brazil, their ability to churn out world-class footballers means they’re not only one of the best footballing nations, but also amongst the most entertaining. And with 93% of Brazilian’s making up the domestic leagues, it seems the CBF is happy to shun financial gain for the success of their national team. It’s worth noting that 10 of the 11 starting players that faced Chile Wednesday night are now playing in Europe. This alone highlights, that whilst Brazil’s elite are no longer playing in their home nation, the sizable numbers produced allows for greater choice and enhanced quality. This year, Brazil provided Europe’s 478 top-division sides with 515 players, almost double than the second biggest exporter, France.

You could argue that Brazil’s 200m population gives them a wider scope for talent in comparison to England (54m), but it’s incomparable to other successful footballing nations; Spain (46m) and Germany (80m). These numbers are further irrelevant when compared to Uruguay (3.2m) and Bosnia (3.6m) who qualified for Brazil next year. You could even look at Iceland – losing 2-0 to Croatia in Wednesday’s knockout match – whose population of 325,000 is microscopic compared to our own. So what does this mean in terms of creating rich home-grown talent? Well, nothing. The development of players, regardless of a country’s size, is fundamental to a nation’s success. Deny home-grown talent the chance to prosper – as currently experienced in England – then you run the risk of restricting growth.

The figures – league

Curious about the number of players still playing in their country of birth across Europe, I delved a little deeper.

England – (EPL) – 32%

Italian (Serie A)- 47%

Germany  (Bundesliga, 1 and 2) 55% 

Spanish (La Liga) 77%

It’s little surprise that La Liga has over twice as many national players compared to England’s 32% – a figure the FA’s aware of and continues to decrease season after season. Unfortunately, their inability to offer a worthwhile alternative to Greg Dyke’s recent commissioning programme is a huge worry for our national team and as mentioned in my blog last month, focus must be placed on defining the issues surrounding the development of youth in England. Particularly, if there’s any hope of increasing that 32%.

The figures – Champions’ League

In fairness to most Premier League teams, they’re desperate for overseas players because the standard of those coming through the English ranks isn’t good enough. This got me thinking about that 32% even further; particularly the number of players that represent clubs from their country of birth in European competitions.

Based on last Champions’ League round – number of starting Xl representing clubs from their country of birth

(English players)

Man U – 3, Arsenal – 1, Chelsea – 2, Man City – 2

Total= 8

(Spanish players)

Barcelona – 5, Real Madrid – 4, Real Sociedad - 8, Atletico Madrid – 5

Total=22

(Italian players)

Juventus – 5, AC Milan – 4, Napoli – 1

Total=10

(French players)

PSG – 1, Marseille – 6

Total= 7

The Premier League finds itself in a situation whereby the top teams has very few English players actually competing with the rest of Europe’s elite. In fact, only 19% of players representing England’s teams in the last round of the Champions’ League were English, which if you compare to Spain’s 50%, is remarkable. English talent makes up over a third of players in the EPL, but these figures continue to dilute the further you head up the table, particularly with Arsenal, Man City and Chelsea.

Worrying future

The huge sums of money that rule the Premier League is all too visible, clubs are continually shunning undeveloped English talent in favour exports and it’s seriously harming any chance of England becoming a dominant footballing nation. The figures above suggest change is needed and fast, particularly as the current wealth of English talent is reaching its conclusion and the intended replacements just don’t cut it.

England’s national team is experiencing one of its most difficult to date; the current team will inevitably fail at next year’s World Cup and the lack of meaningful decisions coming from the FA is restricting youth development. But hey-ho, all in the name of the Premier League, right?

 

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16 comments
Bmigs92
Bmigs92

Very good article. However I think it's essential that the facts to back up the article are correct.

In the last champions league round Chelsea had 2 English starters, not the stated zero.

In fact in every other round this year Chelsea have had 3 English starters.

Granted it doesn't make things better, but it needed to be said.

Other than that I agree with everything that was said.

nick1991gardener
nick1991gardener

One of the main issues I think is the fact that we changed a formula that didn't need changing! You look around the world and you can see a philosophy of how national teams play, the Spanish obviously pass the ball around, the Italians are solid at the back, the Germans who are a technical and well organised team then you have the English!! Who we used to say are a nation that wear there heart on their sleeves! They get stuck in! And a fearless of no one!! .... This got us to quarter/semi finals of world cups in competitions where you need a bit of luck to get you through and yeah, 9 times out of 10 it was usually the luck that went against us.. Then we see the Spanish and think, you know something, they ain't so bad.. The philosophy they have for playing the game, we'll copy that and try and do it! And look where we are? Are we a nation that plays with pride? That puts everything in to every game for our country? Or are we a nation that doesn't have a clue how we should go about our business in the international stage?

The problem is, we've tried to change our identity, and now because of that, we don't have an identity any more!! Teams used to be scared of playing England cause man they knew they were gonna get a game! We used to have players that technically were so poor, but man they would put it in! And not be afraid... Now we have players that are still not technically gifted and look like they're not fussed about playing.. I really do hope the fa get a bit of pride restored for our national team, because quite honestly, no one cares about international football in this country any more..

Cecil_silage
Cecil_silage

Some interesting stats about percentages of English/foreigners in England. Why has no one raised the question of the amount of English players playing in top teams abroad? One of the main reasons for this is transfer fees - English selling clubs almost always demand settlement of the fee within the first year of the sale (with the exception of add-ons) whilst foreign clubs almost always settle for the fee to be paid over the duration of the players contract which can be 4-5 years, this is why there are so many foreigners in England and so little English abroad. Joe Cole said of his season at OSC Lille that he learned more about tactics in one season than he learned in his career in England. This is also why the likes of Chile an Ecuador are ahead of England IMO, their players ply their trade in different cultures and bring a wide range of tactical knowledge to their national team to allow them to adapt an overcome. I think most of the main England players would walk into most teams in the world - it's the lack of knowledge of different styles of play that hinder England, this was exposed against Chile. Joey I would like to hear from your own experiences of Marseille, I think your time there has made you a better player, would you agree?

LeftsidedRanger
LeftsidedRanger

Firstly, the statistics that you discuss in regard to the number of English players in the Champions League is telling. The media are quick to assume that the reason England are falling behind is because not enough English players are playing for our top sides. However, the reverse is actually true. There are not many Englishmen in the top teams because the standard of our players are sub-par. Furthermore, as you rightly highlight, English players are over-priced. 

I am a half decent player, played a decent semi professional level as early as 17 and moved to the US as I was offered a scholarship for University. Played one year pro here, but ultimately, was not quite good enough to launch a serious career. As a result, I have played with many talented players - some who have made it, others who did not. Through my experiences, my conclusion is this - WE HAVE TOO MANY PROFESSIONAL CLUBS IN ENGLAND.

No other country has 92 pro sides (plus a few full time sides outside the "professional" game). We do not have sufficient number of coaches to ensure that the youngsters that are taken on by pro teams get the required level of coaching, mentoring and teaching. Knowledge of the game is severely lacking - both in our players and coaches. In my experience, there are 3 or 4 talented kids, with unlimited potential (all-be-it at a very young age) at each pro club. However, out of the 92 (plus non-league "pro) clubs only a handful are able to give their young players the right coaching. If we had 40 pro clubs, those players would be more concentrated and we could (should) be able to ensure the genuinely elite younger players were given the required quality of coaching and attention. 

A positive sign that has begun is a shift towards technique ability and away from physical ability (speed/strength etc). This is particularly important in youth football - as bigger, faster and stronger kids win more matches - something that is (or should be) completely irrelevant to academy coaches. This is an area that I am perhaps bias toward. However, I more than most, do appreciate the need for a certain level of physical skill. I'm actually an example - technique and tactically far advanced of many of my mates who are pro - but just too slow, unable to get around the park. However, I am the exceptional - rarely are players so slow that an advanced understanding, reading and awareness of the game - as well as superior technical ability - that are unable to more the adequately make up for their lack of physical ability.


I do not expect you to comment or judge your current teammates. Nonetheless, look at BAE versus Clint Hill - an example of how much intelligence counts. BAE regularly gets beat on his inside shoulder, gets caught out of position and creates problems defensively. Luckily, for this level at least, his speed gets him out of trouble. Furthermore, technically, BAE is very solid -it is only his knowledge of teh game that is lacking.


Final point - scouting.  Rickie Lambert optimizes the English game right now. Firstly, let me make clear my admiration for a smart, tidy and hard working pro - with much more ability than he has been given credit for. He sums up the state of our game in two ways; (1) he should not be among the top 4 or 5 strikers we have to offer, but is and (2) how come he has only played in teh Premier league for a year and a half at the age of 31? The answer, noone within the game was able to recognize his ability. If your attributes are speed and strength you will get noticed. Hell, my nan could see if someone was quick and strong. If you lack those valuable abilities, but posses other key attributes - it is much tougher. Lambert sis heavy set, not rapid. Nor is he likely to pull of an eye catching step over or back heel. However, he is an intelligent, effective centre forward. He holds the ball up, picks out a pass, brings wide players into the game, provides a platform to build an attack, relieves pressure and scores goals. Yet noone took a chance on him. And no, not even Alan Pardew. Lambert was side as a league 2 player but was fortunate enough to win back to back promotions and therefore, by default, had the chance to prove himself at the top level. Had Southampton not been promoted he would likely be scoring 30 goals a season for Peterborough or MK Dons. We lack people with an eye for a player. Why? Ultimate, we lack people in teh game with footballing knowledge.


Thanks, I hope you read.

Mike @LeftsidedRanger 

P.S Well doen these past two years. I miss judged you. You are a credit to Rangers and to professional footballers everywhere.  

LondonR
LondonR

Its a "Society" thing. 


I've lived in various countries, and the way they work, the hours they put in, is a direct result of their societies outlook on life. 

The Spanish work to live, not live to work. A beer with a boss extending your lunch hour by 20 minutes isn't an  unusual thing, and most 9-5 jobs are precisely that; 9-5. In Germany, although very efficient and precise, they are enthusiastic enough (by Germanic standards) to get everything done neatly and efficiently in the allocated time provided by their own status quo.

Here on the other hand, things are different. We have developed a slighlty "American" outlook on things and it isnt rare to find people working 2 jobs and putting in 14 hour working days. I think the football we've been seeing is a direct result of the political change this country has gone through in the last 30-40 years. ie: Nobody has or had in this case time to play football anymore. Our level is lower than the rest. We're quite simply not good enough. Not by genetics or will mind you, but because we as a society made it that way.

It's a bit out there I know, but (to a degree) I think quality of football reflects quality of life...real life.


Selk
Selk

Also players should get in the England squad on merit not because they play for a big team. Welbeck and Cleverley can't get on the Man Utd team but start for England, why? The Southampton players broke this mold but how many will go to the World Cup? One at best, Hodgson will not take a risk incase he fails, the wrong mentality. Linker would not get in a top EPL team but did his job, score goals. Playing different teams all the time is an issue, keep the team and change one or two not twenty crap players like Hendrson, Welbeck etc.

Shlink52
Shlink52

I agree with nearly all of what you are saying but I don't think it's the primary reason the National team are "let-downs". Under-performing players that are in the team based on reputation alone are to blame. (And I'd like to say it's the managers problem but none of them have sorted it so there must be more to it behind closed doors). A team made up of players outside the top 6ish team in the EPL would have won the 2010 wc group and avoided the Germans. Same could be said of the 2008 qualifying group. Yes, Croatia had a decent team but nothing compared to what England had to offer. The likes of Lampard & Gerrard havn't done it for England yet they're still the first names considered. And the way Gerrard has been put on a pedistal beside Bobby Moore this week is a joke. Can't compare what they've achieved for their National team. 


Also, It won't help the next generation, that the U21's havn't got out of their groups the last 2 Euros. Too many players were held form travelling by their clubs or due to dodgey injuries. FA needs to start there and breed a winning mentality!

Selk
Selk

The game has changed with the financial stakes so high. The EPL is about not losing and never giving the ball away at the expense of creativity. Would Gazza get into a top EPL team, no chance and that's the problem. The culture is don't give the ball away and don't lose. Gazza won games and gave the ball away, as did Baggio, Zidane, Ronaldinho etc. The England team that came so close in 1990 was not as talented as today's team but they tried to win, that's the difference. Jordan Henderson is a great example, he's a runner not a footballer, he was a headless chicken against Germany and should not be in the squad, never mind the team. How must the talented championship players feel about him knowing they play quality football week in week out but will never get a look in as they are not at a top club.

Play to win and you will, put Gazza in charge of the under 21's and you'll see. Barcelona keep the ball but dare to create and win, if they lose it they hunt as a pack to get it back, try try and try again.

Davidbrown94
Davidbrown94

Do more Premier league teams need to be more willing to let their English players go out on loan to other premier league teams? Sturridge and Wilshire both had very successful loan deals at Bolton which perhaps gave them the foundation to start a successful career at one of the top teams in England. Iv Always thought Walcott could have done with a loan deal a few years ago instead of being a rotation player in the arsenal team.

tam18mac
tam18mac

The FA ,UEFA,FIFA are all run by knobs who have never kick a ball b4.

Dave Pressure
Dave Pressure

I agree this is a big part of the problem. But I think another problem is this current England team haven't played enough with each other. Too much chopping, changing and experimenting at the last minute. Take a look at the Spanish team for example. Most of them have been playing together for up to eight years. England play like they've never met. With the exception of a few, as a result!

markhendrick
markhendrick

When England had virtually 75% (minus the Welsh, Scottish and Irish) English players in the old First Division, they didn't qualify for the 1974, 1978 and 1994 World Cups. So, just two years after the stat of 73.1% playing in the PL, they didn't even qualify. 

In the stronger Europan Championships, they were terrible in 1988 and 1992 and didn't even qualify for the '72, '76 and '84. The last 15-20 years has been quite successful compared to the previous 25. Always qualifying and regularly getting to the last eight. I don't agree that lack of English players is the main problem rather one of many problems. In fact, if you look at it, the corealation would suggest that foreign players have actually benefited English team by leading to 15 years of sustained qualification. 

tam18mac
tam18mac

The big clubs in this country are to busy investing there money in acadamys abroad,

Darlo4
Darlo4

There needs to be a total overhaul/revolution whatever you want to call it within the FA.

Isn't the fact that everyone knows the organisation should be ran by ex pros and ex coaches etc who know the game?

We seem to know this basic information, but never act. This can relate to a number of issues not just sport. Until then, the soft hierarchy in the fa aren't going to get the public support they need to over power the premier league

Who let's face it, are only interested in the money... And who can blame them.

jamiedoc88
jamiedoc88

For me the challenge is with what's being produced. If you look at all the top teams, there's not enough top quality British players coming through but in the rare scenarios that they do the top teams will give them the opportunity. Admittedly part of the issue with the big teams is that any home grown players that are elevated from the academy need to hit the ground running due to the pressure. And not many can do that. Southampton are being seen as an example to follow but they've got much less pressure and it's taken some of the boys (Lallana, Rodriguez) time to get to the Eng squad which wouldn't be afforded at the very top level.

sgctaylor
sgctaylor

Although I agree there's a problem I think you're being too simplistic. 2 questions...

Why are France useless at the moment?

And why were we no better before the influx of foreign players

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