A reason for failing youth development, or simply a cop out?

With an ever increasing amount of foreign players plying their trade in the Premier League, debate in recent years has often revolved around their impact on English football and in particular the youth development in this country. It is often suggested that clubs increasing willingness to go out and spend on a foreigner, is the reason why there is a lack of good English talent coming through, but can we really blame the foreign invasion for the state of youth development in this country?

If we look at the national teams results alone, it would be difficult to suggest that the presence of foreign footballers in the Premier League has had a detrimental effect. In 1992 the Premier League boasted a mere 12 foreigners, and England faced a barren few years at international level. Over the past decade the number of foreign players in the English game has swelled to huge levels, and England-ignoring fans and media expectation-haven’t had a bad record at major championships during this time.

It could be argued that the level of quality foreigners in the English game has actually raised the standards of our home-grown talent, as the English players who now make the break through to senior sides have to be of a very high quality and merit their place, due to the competition they face. Foreign players have undoubtedly improved the standard of English players, who can only improve by playing against the best players in the world on a regular basis. They have also brought improvements to the game in terms of nutrition and training, which have ultimately upped the level of English players.

English clubs have spent millions developing their academy systems and bringing up the youth in this country, yet it often seems as if this talent is stunted from progressing any further, as clubs are likely to go for a quick fix option and buy cheaper foreign players. Young English players need time to develop, and they are increasingly not afforded this luxury, as their places are taken by cheaper foreign imports. There is no doubt that practising every day with the best talent in the world is one way to improve standards, but young players must also be afforded the chance to break through at senior level.

Despite the congested nature of a lot of the big clubs, exceptional talents are still able to break through if they are good enough. England internationals like Steven Gerrard and John Terry broke through and managed to cement first team places at big English clubs. However, it appears that this is not always the case, and more often than not young talent has been held back. Look at how long it took Daniel Sturridge to breakthrough the ranks at Chelsea. If players are deemed worthy then they should be given a fair shot, rather than relying on cameo appearances and being shipped out on loan. The problem seems to lie in the footballing philosophy and mindset in England. Clubs are simply more concerned about short term solutions, as long term investment in academies and nurturing players for the future often takes a back seat to the constant demand for results and success.

Clubs have also taken to scouring other countries for teenage talent, at the expense of developing home-grown players, although there have been moves to stem the flow of foreigners in the Premier League. Under the recent home-grown quota rule, clubs must now fill a third of their sides with home-grown talent, who have spent their formative years being coached in England/Wales. However, players who come from foreign countries at a young age, still qualify as home-grown, despite the fact that they are not eligible to play for England, which is a severe blow to this country’s youth development. The rule, instead of creating a philosophy where we base youth development around young English talent, simply continues to allow clubs to bring in teenage talent from other countries. If clubs can bypass the intention of the rule so easily, then it is unlikely to have much of an impact on real proper development in this country.

If we take Arsenal as an example, a number of their players who qualify as home-grown are not eligible to play for England, so what point does the rule serve? If anything the new rules will make clubs start scouring even harder for foreign teenage talent and ultimately jack up the fees of young English players even further. This then leads to a vicious cycle, where clubs are forced to look abroad, where they can get more for their money. The new demands encourage clubs to invest in their academies and promote from within which is positive, but academies must be filled with English not foreign talent, otherwise we are only aiding other countries progression, and making the English talent pool even smaller. Academy sides are now as cosmopolitan as senior sides, and this is not in the best interests of the national side. The home-grown rule doesn’t solve any problems, and though it is a way of getting clubs to stop neglecting their academies, it doesn’t stop them neglecting English youth.

It seems as if we are at a crossroads, of whether we want to see the best league in the world, with the best players, or we want a thriving national side with the best English players. Having such a fantastic league is all well and good, but forcing English players to wait in the wings as foreign players jump ahead of them serves no purpose. Obviously we don’t want to lower the quality of the leagues level, for the sake of fulfilling some quota, as this won’t be of benefit to anyone, or force anyone to improve, but there has to be some sort of changes to aid English youth development. The Premier League recently announced their Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) which seems to be a move in the right direction, as it aims to produce more top quality English players, but we will have to see if the changes have any real impact.

It is unfair to place the blame for the state of youth development in this country solely on the influx of foreign talent, as there are other issues like investment in grass-roots, coaching quality and talent pool which all have some effect. However, the foreign influx is a contributing factor behind why English talent is failing to make the breakthrough to the next level. As well as welcoming the wonderful talent from the world stage, it is important that home-grown talent is also afforded the chance to breakthrough, and the opportunity to develop at senior level. As exciting as foreign imports are, their presence does little to promote the development of English players through the ranks, and a balance must be struck between the two, in order for youth development in this country to progress.

Do you think the influx of foreign players has had a negative effect on youth development in this country? Let me know your thoughts by commenting below or following me on Twitter @LaurenRutter for more comment and debate.