Almost 65% of the football players in the English Premiership are not English, so clearly only 35% of homegrown players are keeping the Premiership English. There are only two English players that play in other countries, which are in contention for the English National team. This means that there are only 200 topflight players that the English selection committee can choose from. How can we win a major cup or championship with this small figure to select from?
In 1966, the year England won the World Cup, the number of Non-English players playing in the Premiership, was around half of what it is in 2004. Is there a connection between these figures and the poor performances we have seen over the last 48 years? Arsenal, a team that has the biggest squad in the Premiership, is at the top of the Premier league with 26 Non-English players in a squad of 39. Clearly, in this instance the Non-English players make Arsenal one of the best teams in the Premier league.
However, closely following them is Manchester United, which has a much higher percent of English players. Manchester United are and have been one of the best teams in the Premiership and Europe for many years now, so obviously Non-English players are not automatically needed for a successful team. Similarly to Manchester United, Charlton Athletic, which are currently 4th in the league, have a very high percent of English players. This is further evidence that Non-English players are not essential to a successful team.
The majority of the Non-English players that play in the Premiership are European. I understand that these players have the right to play football in this country under the European Community rules. However, if England wants to contend with the best teams in the World, at the sport we invented then more English players must play at the highest standard possible. The English Academy system, which brings young and talented players through into high level football, is an excellent one and the quality of the young players is improving rapidly.
Alarmingly, however, Premiership Academies are now bringing in children as young as 7 years of age from their Foreign Satellite Academies. These are mainly based in countries like Germany, Australia and France. Furthermore, the age that an English player can leave school can count against the young player’s development. 15-year-old players from Ireland and France are brought in to train full time as professionals, whilst English players, by law, are still at school. These two points illustrate how potential English players are going to be denied the opportunity of top quality coaching and playing at an elite standard.
With fewer places available for our young English players to develop, the more the chance of a future Michael Owen or David Beckham being missed. I understand that these Non-English players are sometimes better than the English players but for the development of the National team they undoubtedly should be given the chance if we want, again, to win the World Cup. Even though soccer is not as popular in America, they are generally the best in the World at most sports partly because they have such a huge population to select their National team from.
However, I think this also is because their system for all sports is extremely positive and has the country’s best interests in mind. I predict that maybe within two World Cups, America’s soccer team will come close to or even win the World Cup because of the exceptional system they have of producing good young players and than finding a place for them to play in the MLS (the American’s equivalent to the Premier League). There is a logical step from High School to College/University and then to professional sport.
College/University soccer is played at a very high standard and the players are almost like professionals for 3 to 4 months of the year. The rest of the time is spent studying for a degree. In the 4th year of the College/University, the top players attend a combine; this is a 3-day trial. The MLS teams send representatives to watch the players. At the end of the combine 60 or so players are drafted. This means they are picked by the MLS teams and become development players for the professional side. Each MLS team must have 6 developmental players for each season.
Also, each team is only allowed three Non-Americans in their entire squad. These specific rules will improve the standard of the Americans, producing more and better players to play in the National team. This is simply because the league must have 60 young, American players playing at the highest league available to them. If there were a rule such as this in England, this would unquestionably improve the general standard of the National team because more young players would be experiencing Premier League standard of football.
Even though the small numbers of English players that are currently playing in the Premiership are improving tremendously due to the high quality of the Non-English players that play around them, clearly it would be more beneficial to the National side if more English players played in the Premiership with fewer Non-English players. If nothing is done, I predict that the English team will swiftly slip down the World rankings, merely because there are not enough good quality English players playing at a high level.
England are currently 8th in the World ranking and USA have already moved up to 10th place. This could be changed simply by enforcing a rule, similar to the one in the Major League in America, which would restrict the amount of Non-English players that could play for each team. Supposing that this was considered, the standard of the English National team would surely improve dramatically and would once again allow the team to be able to contend with the very best in the world.
The problem will be persuading the Premiership Clubs that a successful National team is far more important than their own success. It might also be a difficult to restrict players on a Nationality basis due to European Legislation but an attempt must be made to protect the standard of the English football team. If nothing is done soon, regarding this matter, then the English fan base will soon see their beloved side drop down the world rankings and watch football take a backseat to lacklustre sports such as cricket and golf.