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
Man U – 3, Arsenal – 1, Chelsea – 2, Man City – 2
Barcelona – 5, Real Madrid – 4, Real Sociedad - 8, Atletico Madrid – 5
Juventus – 5, AC Milan – 4, Napoli – 1
PSG – 1, Marseille – 6
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.
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?