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What Does the Home-Grown Rule Mean to Premier League Football?

welcome to manchester What Does the Home Grown Rule Mean to Premier League Football?

It probably doesn’t matter that Clint Dempsey’s now-famous daisy-cutter turned poor, hapless Robert Green into the best football punchline since Titus Bramble.

See, even in the wake of the U.S.’s 1-1 draw vs. England at the 2010 World Cup, one of the few solaces English fans probably still have is looking down their noses at the “Colonies” and sneering at the Yankee approach to the game. English fans in need of a pick-me-up can just dial up three letters — MLS — and console themselves.

For all their insecurities and self-doubt produced by the continued failures of the Three Lions at big tournaments, English fans will always have Americans to kick around. At least for the time being.

One easy way for Americans to get even with the English — cut them down to the core, in fact — is to call out their decades long quest toward producing the first major trophy for England since 1966.

The latest cure-all for England’s international woes is “youth development” as if this blanket term will lead England to soccer’s Holy Grail.

Since the turn-of-the-century a chorus in England has grown louder-and-louder that Premier League clubs need to start developing their own young players, as opposed to spending major money on foreign imports. The England FA has looked at models in Holland, Spain, France and around almost all of Europe — it’s got to be the system, not the players themselves. (Remember England fans either a) think the team should win every game it plays or b) think they’ll never win another game they play.)

It’s a noble intention that’s almost taken on a life of it’s own. Yet to think a foreigner-heavy Premier League and lack of youth development is the sole reason England has flopped on the International stage is beyond myopic. Remember Middlesbrough publicly committed to building through its academy and was eventually relegated in 2008-09.

Finally in May, under pressure from Michel Platini’s UEFA “home grown” campaign, Richard Scudamore and the rest of executives at the Premier League acquiesced and accepted some change was necessary.

Beginning with the 2010-11 Premier League season, clubs must have at least eight “home grown” players. In short, players under the age of 21 who’ve been registered with the club at least three years.

All-and-all, not a terrible idea.

Will it eventually increase the number of Englishmen in the Premier League? Probably.

Is this necessarily a good thing? Hard to say.

Will it ever lead England to Euro or World Cup glory? We’ll see.

What’s most interesting about this development isn’t the home grown portion of the rule. It’s that Premier League clubs are only allowed a squad of 25 players from the start of September, which cannot be changed until the January transfer window. Players under the age of 21 don’t count toward the cap.

Can’t you imagine that someone during the Premier League’s executive meeting — looking something like the fictitious Sterling-Cooper boardroom from “Mad Men” — just before the meeting adjourned and as everyone began to step away from the conference table someone sounding like Bert Cooper let slip, ” … and oh by the way, gentlemen, we’re setting the squad limit at 25.”

It’s hard to look at this any differently than a rider tacked on and attached under pages of other ideas. At the time the Premier League announced the “homegrown” amendment, the roster cap was certainly buried under the bigger news and forgotten.

Perhaps it’s true the only way clubs will actually be forced to play these home grown players was under a roster cap. It wouldn’t have been hard for the big teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, the Manchester duo, etc. to fill their quota of eight players, keep them with the reserves and continue doing business as usual.

That said, tying home grown players to roster caps seems doesn’t seem like the most well-thought out idea in the history of English soccer, which is saying something. Tying it to the noble intention of local level, youth development is one of those proverbial, “robbing Peter to pay Paul” scenarios.

The new found roster cap rule came to a head over the weekend when numerous stories were filed during Manchester City’s summer tour that the club would have to release, transfer or loan out at least 20 senior side members.

As it stands today, Roberto Mancini’s club is at 37 senior players. That’s peanuts compared to Liverpool, where Roy Hodgson walked into Rafa Benitez’s free-spending, mass transfer policy, left the club with nearly 45 player under contract. Rules or not, is there any good reason for the Reds to have six goalies on the books at Anfield?

Think this is only a problem for the “big” teams with deep cash reserves? Wolves, a modest club by most accounts, has nearly 40 players in the squad.

And what of all the players deemed surplus parts? Will they be loaned or farmed out to the Championship? Kept around for training sessions?

It’s not only player numbers and movement that’s puzzling on the roster restrictions.

As we know, players end up injured in the Premier League at a rather alarming rate. Will there be an injured reserve list, like we see in American sports? Simply plugging in a raw 21-year-old reserve player, which is allowed without counting toward the 25-man cap, doesn’t seem like the best solution. Eventually, yes, maybe when club’s devote more time to their academies, but right now?

Will we end up with a situation where clubs are forced to keep players around almost exclusively for European or Cup duty, where the restrictions aren’t in place. Sure you could argue Arsene Wenger already does this at Arsenal, but that’s usually to give his younger players first team minutes, not by necessity.

Granted, these are arguments that might cause managers to whine about, but since all 20 clubs are playing under the same rules are fair.

Last season, looking at the top seven clubs from the 2009-10 table, the restrictions might not be a huge issue. Arsenal had 21 players make over double-digit appearances (including subs), while Aston Villa only had 14.

What the roster limits are more likely to do is force managers to axe any players with lingering injuries or take less gambles on foreign players who may or may not adjust to life in English football. Clubs won’t be able to afford carrying dead weight like they have in the past, so there’s nothing necessarily wrong with curbing that.

In the long term this might help level the playing field, or at least clubs with smaller, cohesive squads who have to battle with teams with seemingly unlimited funds for backups and part-timers. The trouble will likely arise in the big clubs playing concurrently in Europe as they juggle their rosters over the crowded fixture lists.

No matter how it breaks, can’t you already picture an angry Sir Alex Ferguson sometime in November, sarcastically talking about the rule while his club battles with would-be injuries to key performers? He’s gone his whole adult coaching life at Old Trafford with a squad however big he deems fit, not some arbitrary rule.

Overall the Premier League’s new rules to develop and play more homegrown talent is, at it’s core, a noble if not jingoistic idea. In the long term it’ll likely help curb club spending and end the death spiral of debt that is eventually going to catch up with the league.

Yet tying it together with an arbitrary roster limit doesn’t seem all that well thought out and will certainly have clubs and managing screaming bloody murder by the crowded Boxing Day fixtures if not sooner.

In fact, to the horror of English purist, the move to limit rosters is if anything — an American professional sports idea.

Editor’s note: You can read more of Mike Cardillo’s articles on his blog, That’s On Point. Plus, you can follow Mike on Twitter @thatsonpoint


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