After the World Cup, being an English footballer is hardly something to brag about. For many critics the term ‘English footballer’ is a by-word for over-paid and over-rated.
However, those critics will be dismayed by the new UEFA home-grown rule which has come into effect this season. Dismayed because it has increased the worth and value of English born players who, whisper it quietly, perhaps don’t deserve it.
The rule states at every club must have least eight “home-grown” players in a squad of 25. To you and me, home-grown may well evoke images of student flats window sills crowded with lush, green, smoke-able plants. But in football terminology ‘home grown’ is a player who has to be registered for at least three seasons at an English or Welsh club between the ages of 16 and 21.
So squads light on home grown players have to buy in Englishmen to make up their quota. Hence we see Liverpool’s interest in Villa journeyman full back Luke Young. In their signing of Joe Cole, it went un-noticed that he would also improve their previously depleted home-grown quota.
Scott Parker has been targeted by Villa, Spurs and by Liverpool ahead of any serious European talent presumably in part because of his nationality. Arsenal need a centre half or three and so the new rule has put Phil Jagielka on their shopping list instead of Wenger’s more usual choices of some obscure French kid who no-one has heard of but turns out to be rather good.
Chelsea’s 21 players who have been given squad numbers so far contain just five home-growners which means a step up for three English reserves or a dip into the market to top up their quota.
Of course, many clubs will buy in players aged 15 and bring through for three years by which time they will qualify as home-grown players. But as this rule was only pushed through last September, we’re a couple of years away from that being possible for every club. So though the intention is to make English-born players have more chance to progress, in the long run, this may still not happen, as English teenagers are rejected in favour of more skilful young foreign imports.
In the short term it potentially gives domestic players a chance to flourish – the doubts that many are merely padding to be used only in emergency remains – but it also drives up the price of English players. They have become more valuable merely by being born here, not always because they are especially great footballers, which can’t be a good thing and may go some way to explain the 30 million quid being asked for James Milner; an extraordinary figure when you consider a prospect such as Ozil is reputedly available for half that figure.
All of which ensures that football continues to walk on the outer reaches of financial sanity.