England: A Footballing Nation in Decline

It is an unequivocal fact that the English Premier League sits atop the throne as the most popular sports league in the world. Whether it be in terms of viewing figures, TV revenue or sponsorship deals, the likes of La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga immediately forfeit pole position to the Premier League.  A powerhouse in world football, many elite players make the move to England (and now Wales) citing it as “the best league in the world”.

There are even cases for this argument to be true. For instance, eight English teams have contested the last 10 Champions League finals (Manchester United three times, Chelsea twice, Liverpool two times, and Arsenal once). As such, the increasingly infuriating question is why does the England national team have so little to show for it?

Much has been made recently of the decline of English players plying their trade in the Premier League. New FA chairman Greg Dyke highlighted a “frightening trend” regarding the lack of home-grown talent representing England’s top league. In its inaugural season, 69% of players in the Premier League were qualified to play for England. Now, this figure has plummeted to just 32%. This equates to almost 70% of players in the Premier League being from overseas. If we compare this to other nations, the figures speak for themselves. Arguably the best two footballing nations in the world right now – Spain and Germany – have 40% and 46% of foreign players appearing in their top national leagues, respectively. Similarly, France’s Ligue 1 has 45% and Italy’s Serie A has 54%.

So why is this the case? One can speculate that because of the sheer volume of money in the English league, there is more pressure and expectation to succeed. Former England defender Rio Ferdinand has voiced the very credible notion that chairmen want “immediate success.” He explains that if vast sums of money have been spent on foreign players commanding hefty wages, the chairmen will simply not allow these players to sit in the stands and be a reserve to young English prospects. As a result, the talented youngsters are often made to play reserve football in front of a crowd of mere dozens. Some incredibly talented English prospects are left with no alternative but to seek a move from a Premier League club in order to pursue regular first team football; as was the case for Tom Ince. However, more often than not, their progress is halted and many stagnate in the reserves until their contract expires and they are snapped up by a team in a lower division.

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