Over the past few Premier League seasons there has been much debate about the growing number of foreign players in starting line-ups. Much of this has surrounded FIFA’s proposed “6 + 5 rule” in which a team would have to field a starting line-up of at least 6 domestic players and no more than 5 foreign players. Also in this debate is the Premier League’s rule requiring a team to name at least 8 “home grown” players to its 25 man roster. The home grown player rule is less contentious, however, as it does not affect starting line-ups, it only takes up 32% of the roster, and a home grown player can technically be a foreign player as long as he has played 3 seasons in England before he turns 21 years old. For the purpose of this article I do not wish to dive into further debate over these rules, but for the sake of speculation, let’s consider which current rosters would come out on top of the Premier League if they had to field an entirely “local” starting 11.
If you take a look at team sheets from a few decades back you will find every English club consisting almost entirely of players native to the British Isles. [For the sake of this article I am considering a “local” player to be from either the UK (England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland) or The Republic of Ireland. Throughout the history of British Football there have been a consistent number of Irishmen plying their trade in England, therefore I do not wish to exclude them from consideration.]
For example, the legendary ’68, Champions of Europe, Manchester United team was entirely UK/Irish (7 Englishmen, 2 Irishmen, 1 Scot, and 1 Northern Irishman). The Benfica side they faced was an entirely Portuguese roster. Almost every other notable team sheet in this era was comprised of entirely homegrown players. Jump ahead to the 1980 Nottingham Forest side that became back to back European Champions, and we see an all UK roster. Brian Clough’s much lauded team had a starting lineup in the European Cup Final which included 6 Englishmen, 3 Scots, and one Northern Irishman. Interestingly enough, the Hamburg side Forest defeated was entirely German except for a Yugoslav and an Englishman, Kevin Keegan. Even as recent as 1992– the inaugural season of the Premier League– the first round of matches only included 11 foreign starters out of all 22 teams. Naturally, as our world has become increasingly globalized the Premier League has done the same. In my opinion, this globalization benefits the league as a greater number of foreign players creates a more competitive and entertaining product. That being said, however, I would like to take an in-depth look at current Premier League rosters and see who would reign supreme if teams had to field an entirely UK/Irish starting 11.
In order to build a fair argument I had to establish a few ground rules. I analyzed every roster in detail, rather than simply tallying the number of Brits and Irishmen per team. No one is allowed to play out of position and each team is required to use a standard formation (i.e. no outlandish 2-7-1). Therefore each team’s starting line-up must have at least 1 goalie, 3 defenders, 3 midfielders, and 1 forward. Only the first team roster of 25 is eligible; reserve team and youth team players are not considered. Teams are allowed to call in domestic players currently out on loan as long as they have played with the first team before.
Here is how it all shakes out:
Can Field a UK/Irish 11
One Player Off
Not Even Close
|Aston Villa||Liverpool (no goalie)||Chelsea|
|Blackburn||Manchester City (no forward)||Arsenal|
|Bolton||Tottenham (no goalie)|
* Denotes teams that would need to call in players currently on loan.
Of the current 20 Premier League sides, only 15 could name an all UK/Ireland team sheet. Of the 5 ineligible teams, 3 are technically only 1 player off. Liverpool and Tottenham both could name rather strong domestic team sheets. However neither have a UK/Irish goalie on the books. Similarly, Manchester City boasts some of the most talented English players, yet cannot name a domestic striker in its roster. Coming as no surprise to most, Chelsea and Arsenal are the two teams that are a ways off. Chelsea weighs in with only 7 local players, all English, while Arsenal can only contribute 5 British players (4 Englishmen and one lone Welshman Aaron Ramsey). Of Chelsea’s 7, Ross Turnbull, Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachern, and Ryan Bertrand have only been with the team since 2009.
Looking at the 15 teams capable of fielding an all UK/Irish starting 11, there are several interesting things to consider. First, the teams that have been promoted over the past few seasons tend to have mostly domestic rosters. Most notable of these is Norwich City, which only has 4 foreign players on the books. This does not come as a shock, as local players tend to be more thrifty buys and the lower leagues frequently reflect this. Second, a few teams would be forced to field significantly weaker sides. The likes of Wigan, Blackburn, Everton, and Fulham would be missing some very key contributors. And third, two teams stand out as being able to field very competitive sides: Manchester United and Aston Villa. Both of the teams would have to omit some key players, Manchester United more than Villa, but each could turn out a solid all UK/Irish team sheet. Let’s take a look at a sample starting line-up for each:
GK: Ben Amos
DF: Chris Smalling, Rio Ferdinand, Jonny Evans, Phil Jones
MF: Ashley Young, Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Ryan Giggs
FW: Wayne Rooney, Danny Welbeck
Subs: Tom Cleverly, Michael Owen, Darron Gibson, Ravel Morrison, Ezekiel Fryers, Ryan Tunnicliffe
GK: Shay Given
DF: Alan Hutton, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Stephen Warnock
MF: Marc Albrighton, Stephen Ireland, Fabian Delph,
FW: Darren Bent, Emile Heskey, Gabriel Agbonlahor
Subs: Nathan Delfouneso, Ciaran Clark, Barry Bannan, Nathan Baker, Andy Marshall, Daniel Johnson, Graham Burke, Gary Gardner, Elliot Parish
After taking a look at these possible starting line-ups, I think it is Manchester United that has the edge. While Villa’s 11 is a fairly recognizable team sheet, there is still more class in an all UK/Irish United side. Although United would be without the likes of De Gea, Evra, Anderson, Berbatov, Park, Hernandez, Vidic, Nani, the Da Silva twins, and Valencia, the names remaining are a talented bunch. With the exception of Ben Amos, the above starting 11 would not be a far-fetched team sheet for Sir Alex to call upon. With Manchester United declared the winner, I would not go as far as to say that this makes them a better team, nor is it a key reason as to why they are reigning champions. However, this fact should be a proud feather in the cap of a team with a long and prestigious history in Britain.