Whether it’s because of the array of outspoken managers, the passion and loyalty of the fans or simply the quality of football on display, the Premier League is quite simply the best in the world. However, while the elite clubs attract the very best players from every corner of the globe, the national team continues to suffer. With this mind, does the Premier League have to sacrifice its quest for global superiority in order for things to improve on the international stage?
England’s journey at the recent European Championships ended in the alarmingly familiar cliché of ‘so close, yet so far’. In the aftermath of yet another failure in a penalty shootout, triumphant Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon delivered a painfully truthful assessment of English football.
“Having a competitive league doesn’t necessarily mean having competitive players,’ he said. For a number of years now, the English league has had the best football and is the best league in terms of quality.
“The money that’s in the game means they can go and buy anyone from all over Europe or the world. This can happen in Spain and Italy as well as England but the league in England is no longer very faithful to what the national side needs.
“With this footballing globalisation, it’s very difficult. You struggle to have players from your own country playing in the top league.” (Daily Mail)
In a survey that was conducted during the first weekend of football after the transfer window had closed, it was revealed that the Premier League had just 31% of home-grown talent in starting line-ups. This startling figure was a far cry from the 64% that graced La Liga, which highlights one of the many reasons why there is a widening chasm in class between the two countries. How can we expect our national team to shine when we don’t cater our domestic league for their own benefit?
Two years ago FIFA president Sepp Blatter flirted with the concept of the ‘6+5 rule’, which proposed that clubs should have a minimum of six home-grown players in their starting line-ups. The idea was eventually dismissed as it contravened EU labour laws and instead gave way to the ruling that each 25-man squad within the Premier League, had to include a minimum of eight home-grown individuals.
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The same problem solved by a different solution right? Wrong, the new changes have arguably further hampered development. Take Manchester City for example, a team that boasts a wealth of international stars, they have merely tweaked their transfer policy to ensure they meet the requirements. Does anyone truly believe Jack Rodwell or Scott Sinclair’s career will be enhanced thanks to their arrival at Eastlands, especially considering the recent frustrations highlighted by the outgoing Adam Johnson? Mancini decision to sign Richard Wright surprised everyone, but he was merely filling his quota without further jeopardising his indispensible foreign stars.
Speaking of the reigning Premier League champions, Manchester City recently announced plans for the imposing ‘Etihad Campus’, which will be the most advanced and expensive academy in England when it opens in 2014. However, while this should have been another milestone in ensuring the improvement of domestic talent, Sporting Director Brian Marwood indicated otherwise:
“Our priority is to produce players who will get into City’s first team. From a selfish point of view, that may mean to the detriment of the England team,’ said Marwood.
“And while it would be great (to help England) because I came through the system and it helped me, we also have to be realistic.
“If we are trying to produce real top quality to play for City, if they happen to come from another country and we’ve developed them, we shouldn’t be ashamed to embrace it.” (Daily Mail)
Is this a selfish and somewhat arrogant mentality of a club that is in an optimum position to develop future generations or merely the honest opinion that players from Europe possess a greater natural ability?
The FA have just unveiled their own multi-million pound campus for the development of English football so perhaps City are fully justified in focusing on their own success. And yet we seem blinded by the misconception that if we possess the best facilities, we will naturally produce the best players. Wayne Rooney, perhaps the countries most gifted player to have emerged within the last decade, harnessed his skills on the streets of Merseyside and not on “330 acres of beautifully landscaped parkland”.
Perhaps it’s time for English football to be slightly more narcissistic as it looks towards the future. It would be crude for me to suggest that we cap the number of transfers from outside the British Isles but maybe there could be a significant financial reward for teams who develop and play home-grown players. This would cause a drastic change in the direction and philosophy of many teams while it could even help create a more healthy and competitive league.
English football is well aware of its previous mistakes, there’s an entire population and critical media that won’t let it forget. However, rather than simply trying to emulate the finished article of the likes of Spain, we should learn from their methods at grassroots level and work our way up.
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