The influence of foreign players on the Premier League has been huge over the years, and most clubs have most certainly had an overwhelmingly positive experience, but the knock-on negative impact that this has had on youth development and the England national team shows that it has come at a price.
The top flight is in a certain state of decline at the moment due to its increasingly insular outlook on players from abroad plying their trade over here and the decrease in quality has been best highlighted, Chelsea aside, by the poor performances in Europe by each of the established sides.
Cast your eye around the league and the level of talent has fallen, while the number of players who can lay a genuine claim to having world-class ability or potential has significantly dropped over the past few years. In the past, the likes of Eric Cantona, Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Gianfranco Zola, Didier Drogba and Cristiano Ronaldo have made indelible marks on the clubs that they have represented on their way to becoming legends, a term far too loosely bandied about by some but for which players such as these it was created for.
The Bosman Ruling had a huge impact on the influx of players from other countries, with freedom of movement now the order of the hour and with the Premier League getting richer and richer by the season, clubs cast their net far and wide in search of the best emerging talent, while the players themselves moved to secure lucrative contracts.
The knock-on effect that this has had led to the implementation of the home-grown players rule which looks as if it will have two lasting effects on the landscape of the English game. Firstly, the scrap for any domestic player at a smaller club that shows potential has led to the artificial inflation of player prices, which has been seen in the likes of Andy Carroll (£35m), Steven Fletcher (£15m) and Stewart Downing (£20m) over the last few seasons.
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Secondly, this has put an end to the foreign invasion which has seen standards across the board drop and meant that in order to comply with FIFA’s proposed “6+5 Rule”, which would force clubs to start six players who are eligible for the national team of the nation where the club is located, capping the number of foreigners on the pitch to five, foreign players are only being targeted earlier and earlier. This means that top clubs essentially rob smaller ones of the chance to see a return on their investment for training and developing a player while simultaneously increasing the movement of young players before they are truly ready and it’s exploitative to a degree and a system which benefits the biggest clubs with the most money.
It could be argued that the knock-on effect of this is that the level of quality foreigners in the English game has actually raised the standards of our own home-grown talent and English players who now make the break through have to be of sufficient quality now to warrant their own place in the side. Under the aforementioned 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 or Wales.
As a result, academies are now as cosmopolitan as the senior sides and for every Steven Gerrard, Jack Wilshere or Theo Walcott coming through, there are ten players whose progress is being stunted. In essence, it’s survival of the fittest applied to football and only the best players force their way into senior sides, regardless of where they’re from just so long as they qualify for the home-grown rule.
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has widely been credited with a professionalising of the club’s ranks after becoming manager in 1996, with his appreciation that a pint and a bag of chips a day before a big game is not conducive to a good performance and in terms of nutrition and training methods, the English game has improved exponentially due to the influx of foreign talent.
It seems that it’s difficult to have both a successful national team and domestic set-up in this country, for while the quality of those young players breaking through has certainly increased and is comparable with anything that Europe has to offer, there are simply fewer of them so the talent pool for the England coach to select from is now as small as ever.
Another somewhat xenophobic point to talk about is the rise of diving in the game and the imaginary waving of yellow and red cards to officials. While the original influence may have surfaced from the continent, it would be churlish to ignore that some of the worst exponents of diving in the English game now are England internationals, with Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney both enjoying a long history of incidents, just as controversial as anything Luis Suarez or Nani have done, but simply due to the nature of their passport, the media scorn is not only dialled down but largely ignored.
Foreign talent has improved the quality of the Premier League while also professionalising the ranks and making our top stars treat it much more like a job as opposed to a past-time. The effect on youth development and the national side is clear to see, but at the end of the day, it all depends on what you value highest in your domestic game – an international side built to last or a league that’s not only competitive but enthralling and with some of the best players in the world turning out each and every week – I know which one I favour and the influence and impact that foreign players have had on the landscape of English football, to my knowledge at least, is hugely positive.
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