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Why Making Premier League More English Is Not England's Answer

 Why Making Premier League More English Is Not England's Answer

England’s exit in the Round of 16 in the World Cup has triggered a fresh call to rein in the cosmopolitan roster sheets of the Premier League by placing quotas on the number of foreigners on each team. I have yet to come across a coherent argument as to why such a move will assist the English national team. The Bundesliga, Eredivisie, Serie A, and La Liga have oscillated in their percentages of foreign players and there is no discernable pattern as to whether it has helped or hindered their national teams to have more or less foreigners in their own league.

So, what would happen if England limited the number of foreigners in domestic football? My guess is that it would be uniquely disastrous for England. The Premiership is the most popular league in the world and as such generates huge treasuries for even middling clubs to spend on players, coaches, and infrastructure. Reducing the potential talent pool of players is likely to decrease the quality of play and ultimately push viewers away from the English league which means less to spend on developing domestic clubs. That might be balanced by having more spots for English players to hone their craft if there was sufficient infrastructure for the players to hone their craft but there doesn’t appear to be such an infrastructure in place. Tony Attwood of Untold Arsenal wrote an interesting column exploring why England seems to be comparatively behind other traditional football powers and why Arsene Wenger employs so few Englishmen in his first choice squad. Attwood spotlights a few jarring numbers,

“UEFA says there are only 2,769 English coaches holding the three top coaching qualifications. Spain has produced 23,995, Italy 29,420, Germany 34,970 and France 17,588.”

and

A report from Leeds Met University earlier this year said that, “There is a great shortage of adult coaches as 1,113,000 adults in the UK wanted but did not receive any professional coaching in 2006.”

So what’s going to happen if you isolate England’s top players from better schooled foreign players… if (as the money and the interest levels dry up) you remove an incentive for foreign managers to coach in the premiership? It would seem that you would have an abundance of English players who have even less instruction than they do now. That hardly seems a blueprint to success.

There is however a reason to believe that if your team is not Italy, then getting some of your players into foreign leagues might help the national team progress farther in the World Cup (and there is no reason to think that Italy wouldn’t benefit from some diversity as well).

Since 1990, there has been one world cup winning country, Italy’s 2006 bid, that has not had significant number and quality of personnel actively playing in foreign leagues when they won. And even a couple of Italy’s 2006 stars’ had some previous experience in foreign leagues (Gattuso – Rangers 1997-98, Materazzi – Everton 1998-99, and the Italian-Argentine Camoranesi – Aldosivi 1995-96, Santos Laguna 1996-97, Banfield 1997-98, Cruz Azul 1998-2000 before Verona and Juventus).

Similarly, of teams finishing runner-up in the world cup, only Italy’s 1994 bid played a squad without significant experience in foreign leagues (Italy had none at the senior level).

Of 3rd & 4th place finishers, Germany 2006, had 4 players with foreign league experience, Korea 2002 had 2 players playing outside of Asia but did have 5 players in the J-League, Italy 1990 had no foreign club experience, England 1990 had Lineker’s 103 Barcelona caps and Waddle’s glittering Marseille experience not to mention that nearly half the side had played in Scotland as well as the domestic Football League. Every other squad to finish in the top four since 1990 has been staffed with a minimum of 5 players with some experience playing for a foreign club and many had double or triple that. Presumably, some of these players are learning to win games in ways not focused upon in their domestic leagues and they are getting altogether different technical and tactical approaches to add to their game. I’m not sure that there is any one reason why Italy seems somewhat immune to the need to place its players in foreign leagues but I’m guessing that the emphasis on tactics implies a greater learn and response to an opponent than other schools emphasize. Indeed, Germany spent an entire generation sending players to Italy in particular. The 1986 and 1988 squads had 2 players apiece playing in Serie A. By 1990, that number had jumped to 5 and every team that Germany presented to the Euros or World Cup in the 1990s had at least 4 players (and sometimes as much as 40% of the squad) who had played in Serie A. This has been coupled by a growing German presence in France and England.

So maybe what’s happening is that the traditional powers are incorporating everybody’s else’s leagues (including the English), but the English are ignoring the opportunity to learn the same of their chief European rivals which would seem to put the English at a huge disadvantage. I suppose one could argue that by limiting the amount of foreigners in England, other national teams would forget how to play against the English, but that seems like it would take a long time and not really solve the systemic problems. Perhaps better to push English players to explore other leagues and bring back that experience to fuse with the benefits that are already inherent in English football while pushing a national directive to domestically increase the coaching corps as well as creating widespread easily available scholarships to encourage players and coaches to study football abroad.

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13 Responses to Why Making Premier League More English Is Not England's Answer

  1. Allan says:

    Sorry but this article is wrong.
    Having such an amazing EPL only to have your own English players sit on the bench while foreigners shine on the field and gain crucial experience serves no purpose for English Football players.

    If this is your attitude then why not scrap domestic leagues altogether and just have one international league where the best of the best play each other every week ? Sorry champions league is only a few short weeks if it were condensed. Let Brazilian fans pay their own hard earned money to watch Manchester United play Corinthians in Brazil.

    Instead you have a situation that we have today where currently week in and week out English fans are paying top English dollar to watch two english teams compete on the field with foreign players. This ultimately funnels the money to the pockets of foreign players, training and preparing the foreign talent for international competition.

  2. Andrei says:

    “Sorry but this article is wrong.”
    Sorry but it seems like you are not getting the article’s point. It is not about if current situation with EPL is good. It simply states that limiting number of foreigners will not improve things – just the opposite. The better solution would be to start exporting English players to other leagues.

    “Having such an amazing EPL only to have your own English players sit on the bench while foreigners shine on the field and gain crucial experience serves no purpose for English Football players…”

    And how having a crappy EPL with English players in full control will better server purpose for English players or English national team? Foreigners will do just fine – they will gain that crucial experience elsewhere. But how about English players? Will they get better? Will they earn more? Will English national team become a real Word Cup contender?

    “…why not scrap domestic leagues altogether and just have one international league where the best of the best play each other every week?”

    Why are your talking about scrapping domestic leagues in plural? Last time I checked Germans and Italians (at least in long term) were doing just fine. Even Netherlands, Spain, France and Portugal are doing better than England.

    “Let Brazilian fans pay their own hard earned money to watch Manchester United play Corinthians in Brazil.”
    They are already doing this. Not in Rio but in Shanghai and Seoul. Do you think Manchester United would sell as many t-shirts in Asia if they had only English players and English manager? How did that Scot get his hands on Manchester United in the first place… And don’t forget to kick out all those American/Russian/Arabian owners as well.

  3. jose says:

    i think when foreigners come to england they make the english players better, for instance when you are at practice day in and day out against them it only makes you better. why do you think spain has such a good team. do you think practicing against argentines and brazilians doesn’t make you better of course it does.

  4. DoublePivot says:

    Seriously good article

    Let’s see who is doing well in Europe

    England (limitations) are poor
    Germany (no limitations) are not

    Now that is simplistic, but it shows that this half cocked jingoistic idea of EPL for the English is retarded to a new depth. Why has every nation passed them? Is it actualy players? No, its development, tactics….jesus can one of their players actually hold the ball for more than 3 seconds, coaching, more coaching just to be safe, lack of talent and some funky -ism (maybe classism).

    First, English players don’t travel. One is Spain, one in Greece and Kevin Peavy. Fucking lot of them are like maggots on meat when you go to any spot in Europe, but their players don’t seem to follow this. Or they can’t. I think they can’t. This is the first hint that English players suck….nobody wants them.

    Second, the talent pool has proven to be limited by Soccernomics, where the middle class and above are discouraged by the system to take up other sports, because their crazy ideas of “using your brain” are not wanted. Which leads to the previous argument of why they can’t travel. English players are stupid. They have no education and they aren’t encouraged to do so. Look at Kaka, Socrates, Dunga……they would have played Cricket, Rugby or Tennis in England. They are middle-class and educated. And you think it’s ridiculous, then look at Le Saux and Beckham….both were considered homosexuals for not being working class or worse.

    Development is a major issue as the young talent is not allowed to develop at their first club. I look at my own club, Tottenham, as a major culprit in this. We have ruined more English careers with a checkbook. And we keep doing it and don’t even field a reserve team.

    But mostly its the coaching. Proof of that….who replaces Capello? Hodgson or ‘Arry…both at the end of their careers. After that who? They’re all Scots or Welsh. Want to limit foreigners….limit them in coaching positions. That will fix your issue.

    As it stands now, Liverpool are the only team with issues over the new quota rules. What the new rule will do, is ensure that the top 6-8 clubs will start buying kids at 17-18 from abroad rather than 19. And it will jack up the prices of English players, which nobody else wants to pay even more.

  5. Don says:

    English dollar? haha that funny.

  6. Alex says:

    Good article.

    It’s simple economics, really. When the best players/ideas are rewarded, regardless of nationality/bias/etc, the EPL will only improve. If there’s a ceiling imposed, the gap between the supply of quality players and the demand for quality players will create an inefficiency in the EPL, decreasing the quality of the product.

  7. bradjmoore48 says:

    Agree with all except Allan. I’m surprised this hasn’t been made more of a big deal than it has. I do think the league will suffer, as continental Europeans, Asians, Africans and Western Hemisphere-ers(?) will end up simply moving to Spain, Italy, Germany and France and improve those leagues. Every federation will soon come across these problems, but because the EPL is the biggest league in the world, it is dealing with it first: is the EPL’s existence to further the English game or to deliver the best soccer product on the planet? In other words, does EPL wish to develop the best English players, or do they just want to make the league the best in the world, regardless of how many English players there are in the league? If EPL wants the former, then quotas are suitable. If EPL just wants more money, this is a terrible idea.

    “…why not scrap domestic leagues altogether and just have one international league where the best of the best play each other every week?”

    Why not? I’d start with a pan-European league first, but I think this could reasonably solve England’s issue of whether development of English players or making money is more important. The top 20 European teams would compete in a European Premier League, with 72 other European teams competing in 3 tiers below to make a European Football League. At the top, obviously, it can be all about money, having the best players play against each other every week, and since Champions League is now permanent, players have fewer matches to play (leaving time and energy for national teams if players so chose). Every team would then be allowed the decision whether they want to develop youth or simply throw money to make their teams. Outside of the EFL, the domestic teams left behind would basically be forced to develop their own players, and might make some handy money if they get a good development system going and transfer players (i.e. Ajax). And since the league would be European, England would fall even further behind if they decided to continue playing the game “the English way.” It’s basically an adapt or die mentality.

    It is very unlikely this idea would ever come to light.

  8. Eious says:

    It makes absolutely no sense to force teams to have English players if none are worth having. It is an absolute joke that will really kill certain teams if they can’t find an English player that is worth having

  9. Scott Alexander says:

    Thanks for the comments… thought that this was an interesting addendum piece with Chris Waddle that Aimee Lewis from BBC ran today: http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/football/world_cup_2010/8727084.stm

  10. Allan says:

    Why would you try to brainwash others that a league with foreign restrictions would be crappy ?

    Not sure how old you are or if you can remember, but all European leagues were once this way…and it bred amazing football.

    Before the import restrictions were lifted, was English soccer that bad ?
    I grew up watching it and it was pretty damn good, except for the voilence in the stands, but all that is changed now. What makes you think it would be crappy with LESS foreign players ?

    I would be totally on-board with bradjmoore48 and his ideas about an international league. This levels the playing field for everyone and makes it truly interesting.

    Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U and Liverpool finish 1,2,3,4 every year.
    What’s so exiting about that ? let’s be honest it’s boring.

    I liked EPL better growing up..WITH ENGLISH PLAYERS and much less predictability.

    But if you truly believe foreign experience is good, move to scrap domestic leagues altogether and build a super international league.
    I would rather spend a typical sunday watching Chelsea vs Inter or Asenal vs Real Madrid, or Bayern vs Villareal, etc…

  11. David says:

    Chaps let us not forget this country has a woeful grass roots system and has done for decades.
    The business aspect of the EPl means clubs are more focused on getting into the EPL and surviving, than worry about taking the risk of investing in academy facilities and nurturing players for the future.

    A country that has produced the finest passer of the ball in years and some of the most ruthless finishers is not lacking in talent, but more so lacks the opportunities for young talent.
    You guys remember, Ramon Vega, thimothee Atouba, Kazayuki Toda, Lars Bohinen ….. I can go on, but these guys were a temporary fix and didn’t improve anyone. These are not the elite who develop English talent. Likewise It is absurd to suggest that there was no one ready to take their spots who were English, when these guys all had the opportunity to play at home in their leagues.
    English football is about strength power and pace. This is why Africans play well here but like the English lads rarely do too well across the park in Italy etc. The FA has no sway over the EPL like the Spanish FA have over La Liga and an ethos can be put upon the Spanish clubs.

    I can go on and probably need to, this is a complex matter and to simply find one simplistic answer to a matter that has festered for so many years just won’t cut it. Watch a Sunday league game and see how it is played to really understand. Hoooooofff it lads, they cry. Funny how we don’t see our European counterparts do this.
    Finally we often have streams of injured players missing out in big tournaments too and that must be in part to the toil our EPL does on their bodies. Bolton away on a wet Wednesdays in November has got to do something to you in a way a slow passing possession based game on a sunny Sunday evening in Albacete, just won’t.

  12. MBM says:

    The percentage of foreign players in the Italian and Spanish top flights when they won the World Cup in 2006 & 2010 respectively was around the 30% level. In England it’s 60% so I don’t see how you can make the argument that the number of foreigners in a league doesn’t have an impact on the national team.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      What I am arguing is that studying and playing abroad appears to be of tremendous benefit and the unusual trend of English players exclusively staying in England in this particular era where anyone in the EU can come play in the premier league is one that holds back the national team.

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