This article is part of Football FanCast’s Pundit View series, which provides opinion and analysis on recent quotes from journalists, pundits, players and managers…
Per Mertesacker has told The Athletic it was “unacceptable” and a “failure” that there were no Arsenal players in the last England squad.
The Three Lions faced Bulgaria and Kosovo in their most recent qualifiers for Euro 2020, and the players included in the squad came from a variety of clubs. Thirteen, to be exact.
However, there was no place for any of Arsenal’s eligible English players, such as Reiss Nelson, Joe Willock and Ainsley Maitland-Niles.
Mertesacker was clearly unhappy with the lack of Gunners presence in Gareth Southgate’s side.
When asked about it, he said, “I was shocked. No senior England players. That’s unacceptable. That’s a failure. When you look at the England squad, you see players from Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea… They all have players there – and not one. Two or three. That’s what we need.”
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From a German perspective, it is understandable that Mertesacker would find it bizarre that one of England’s top clubs would have no names in the national side.
However, such quality in England has not been the case for a while. A study from 2017 showed that just 31.8% of players playing in the Premier League were English and, whilst that number rose to just over 37% on the opening weekend of this season, it is still some way off La Liga and the Bundesliga. The former had a 59.6% eligibility rate last season, while the latter had 44.6%.
The question is, do teams in the English top tier really need to produce quality players for Southgate’s team?
Only eight players in each 25-man Premier League squad needs to be “homegrown”, but not only do they not need to be English – read Cesc Fabregas – they also don’t need to play.
These, therefore, can often be token selections, such as Rob Green at Chelsea and Scott Carson at Manchester City. The former did not make an appearance for the Blues, whilst it is hard to imagine the latter will make many, if any at all, with the Citizens.
Yet the elite continue to grow stronger and stronger each campaign. The latest TV deal, completed in May of this year, will see the Premier League sides earn £9.2 billion between 2019 and 2022, which is an eight percent increase on the previous agreement. Huddersfield, who finished bottom of the top flight last season, raked in £96.6m in TV money. Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga champions, earned £87.6m. With financial prosperity so important, the lack of Englishmen has done nothing to stop people all around the globe from being as captivated as ever by a league often called “the best in the world“.
That, in essence, is the whole point. The Premier League markets itself as a global brand, targeting customers from Asia to the USA and everywhere in between. Why would people from those regions care where the players on the field come from? Or more specifically, why would they care if they’re English?
There is also the issue that footballers from these shores are not cost-effective. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who spent much of last year in mid-table with Crystal Palace and is yet to make an appearance for England, cost £45m. Joao Cancelo, a Serie A champion and Nations League winner, cost just £200,000 more (including the market value of Danilo, who went the other way to Juventus). It does not take a rocket scientist to work out which deal is better value.
For English fans, seeing their team produce players for the national side can often be a source of joy. But for the clubs themselves, it is just not a priority. Which is why, from the point of view of the men who run Arsenal, it will not be deemed a failure at all.