Are there too many foreign players within the Premier League?

Are there too many foreign players within The Premiership, and is it detrimental to the future England players?

I would suggest there are too many, as the majority (if not all) of Premiership squads are overflowing with players drafted in from overseas. As the common preference amongst Premiership managers is to venture abroad before delving within the English leagues for the next bargain buy. Part of this could be to do with the fact that more and more Premiership clubs are employing foreign coaching staff in order to spearhead the club to glory, and the overseas coaches naturally prefer to stick with what they know. In other words hire a Chinese chef, but don’t be surprised when he serves you noodles. Two prime examples being Wenger’s French revolution and Benitez’s Spanish influx.

Two recent advocates for buying British are Aston Villa and Everton both have British managers that have made a conscious effort to source The Premiership and English lower leagues for players. This strategy has coincided with a resurgence in the team’s performances. Not only have the players performed well but they often been bought for relatively cheap transfer fees. This emphasizes that buying abroad is not the only option, and that there are English players that can step up and perform if given the chance. I would argue that if these two clubs had hired foreign managers as opposed to British, the English players that are now the stars of the team would not have been bought, and would not have been able to showcase that they were good enough for The Premiership.

Unfortunately it is widely regarded that the English transfer market is an inflated one in comparison to the rest of Europe and the major South American leagues. Meaning English managers price their players out of the market, forcing clubs to buy abroad for in most cases their cheaper equivalent. Many believe foreign players often have a better work ethic, less of a binge drinking culture and are on the whole technically superior to their English counterparts. Which brings me on to my next point, why are British youngsters technically inferior to the rest of Europe and South America? One definitive reason for this is the fact English coaches favour physical attributes as opposed to technical ability when assessing youth players. For example Shaun Wright Phillips was rejected after going on trial with Nottingham Forest as they thought he was too small and would never make it.

Whereas Ajax, Porto, Sporting Lisbon, River Plate, Sao Paulo, Barcelona, Claire Fontaine and the other world class youth academies offer an opposing view encouraging technical grace and agility rather than pace and brutality. A club like River Plate or Barcelona do not discriminate against the smaller player, in-fact they often base their teams around the diminutive players e.g. Xavi, Iniesta, Bojan at Barca and Aimar, Saviola who started at River Plate. They prefer to assess purely on natural ability and do-not see the smaller stature as a weakness or hurdle that can’t be overcome by the development of their raw talent. In-fact Barcelona were willing to invest in an unproven 13 year old Messi paying for his necessary growth hormone treatment, his previous club Newell’s Old Boys were not willing to make the £500 per month investment.

Within Britain youngsters are taught to play long ball football and win at all costs. Abroad youth football isn’t about winning or how fast or strong you are it’s about personal development and improving technical and tactical ability. These coaching methods encourage creative “no.10” players to flourish that comparatively the English game has lacked. The England football team has suffered from a dearth of left footed and technically adept players over recent years, and has failed to win a major International trophy since 1966. British training methods and coaches don’t encourage skillful or inventive players, the few who have slipped through the net have been more by accident than design. Hoddle and Le Tissier were outstanding creative flair players who were largely outcast from the England team as they were seen as luxury players, that don’t fit into the team structure. Whereas abroad they embrace these inventive mavericks and build the team around their abilities, not ostracise them for being unique. Further highlighting the flawed English viewpoint that favours physical attributes, those players that tow the line and fit within the narrow minded and rigid English 4-4-2 formations and playing styles.

FA’s director of youth development Trevor Brooking recently commented on Britain’s poor coaching standards compared to European champions Spain:

“What we’ve got to try to do is make some of our youth development coaches understand that you have got to spend years on our grass-roots programme to be up there where Spain are now. Spain have been doing it for the last 10 years. But we’ve got to start now. And in 10 years’ time we might have a chance of being close to that as far as the depth of our development is concerned.

There’s still some way to go.”

The British based foreign coaches have started to reverse this trend somewhat by incorporating training regimes based around technical ability and ball skills, but at the same time they are poaching foreign youth players and out-casting British youngsters because the foreigners are technically better and can be bought on the cheap. Even Premiership youth teams require translators these days as they scour the globe for the young prodigies of tomorrow irrespective of nationality. You are just as likely to spot the next Zidane lurking within the youth teams of Premiership clubs, than Beckham, Owen or Rooney, as the clubs are free to recruit foreign youngsters for relatively miniscule compensation fees.

In-fact Trevor Brooking revealed: ‘The general level of compensation set by the Premier League to buy a [young] player from a club who has been an international in his age group is around £400,000. In Europe it usually less than a quarter of that, about €120,000 [£85,000].”

This poaching of players could be eradicated by the football authorities if they were to sanction that clubs were unable to purchase players from other teams until they are on a professional contract, or unless a transfer fee is agreed for the player by the two parties involved.

While we all enjoy the exotic entertainers who improve the standard of The Premiership, the sub-standard foreign players who arrive on these shores are essentially putting a spanner in the works of English footballs production line. As each position occupied by an overseas import is one less place for a promising YTS (youth training scheme) player on the club’s books. This is the all too frequent scenario encountered by youngsters within Premiership clubs, if only a cap was enforced and the managers took time to nurture the youth, rather than throw money at the supposed problem.

You may argue if the youth are good enough they will play first team football irrespective of how many foreign players there are. I believe it is a catch 22 as maybe they are good enough, but aren’t getting a chance to show it? If the manager/chairman has money to spend he will obviously prefer to buy the proven article abroad as opposed to testing if a youngster in the reserves or lower leagues is ready. Also the fact teams are recruiting talented foreign youth players, means that many British youths are being discarded before they’ve even begun. In-fact the number of non-British youth players at Premier League clubs recorded in July 2007 was 66 and it is growing all the time.

Trevor Brooking stated: ‘While there might be an issue now with English players managing to make the starting XI in Premiership matches, in five years time we are going to have a far more serious problem: can our English youngsters even get into the academies at Premiership clubs? ‘It’s a challenge that everyone has to face up to.’

With youth players the club philosophies, ideologies and playing style are ingrained into them. They know what values the club stands for and how the club wants to play tactically. There is no more satisfying sight in football (from a fan’s perspective) than the “local lad” who has served his youth apprenticeship and fulfilled his boyhood dream of crossing the white line to grace the hallowed turf. Fans can relate to the academy player, they often both grew up within the same area, under the same circumstances and they both share a deep passion for the club. This same bond seldom exists amongst fans and the foreign players. Furthermore overseas imports will often demand high wages in order to entice them towards a certain club, which you the fan have to bank roll with rising season tickets, merchandise and TV subscription prices.

The current ever-increasing trend of foreign millionaire tycoons becoming chairman of English clubs further dents the English game. Representing an apocalyptic state when it comes to the health of the National team and the progression of youth players. They have no want, desire or benefit in producing quality academy players, they are only interested in the short-term and the here and now, not the long term and the uncertainty of youth development. With their endless streams of money the foreign owners can afford to buy the finished article from abroad as opposed to nurturing a promising YTS player or taking a chance on unproven British players in the lower leagues. This is currently most evident at Manchester City where the new billionaire owners have done away with a crop of highly promising youth players, and in their place a plethora of Foreign lavish signings. This same scenario happened when Abramovic took over the reigns at Chelsea halting and benching the careers of numerous young English stars, Scott Parker, Shaun Wright Phillips and to a lesser extent Wayne Bridge.

A solution for the problem would be a cap on overseas players. As in theory the cap would act as the catalyst encouraging youth development and a revision in the win at all costs philosophy and the current lack of full-time, technique based coaching for youth players at the crucial 7-11 age range. This would result in a greater ratio of British youngsters making the step-up to professional terms, better technical players and the national team not just having a broader pool of players to choose from but a thriving more diverse one.

This brings me to Sepp Blatter’s proposed 6+5 rule. The FIFA president wants to see this implemented by the 2012-13 season. He is proposing all teams should have a maximum of 5 non-British players within their starting line-ups. Sounds a perfectly acceptable idea and would help encourage youth development but it depends on who is classed as foreign, because as it stands Fabregas for example would not fit into this category having been trained at Arsenal from 15. The rule will only work if it is based solely on nationality, otherwise you will get an exaggerated version of the current trend where teams are buying up all the best foreign youth players in an effort to fill their home grown quota.

Is it a coincidence that the two most successful teams in recent history (winning their domestic league, cup and The Champions League) consisted predominately of home-grown youth players? The Man United team of 99 and more recently the (first time ever in Spain) treble winning Barcelona squad of 2009 both relied heavily on their youth graduates. Man United’s famed youth academy played an integral part in their success. The Neville brothers, Brown, Giggs, Beckham, Scholes and Butt all progressed through the United youth ranks to become treble winners. Barcelona fielded no less than 6 youth players within their preferred starting 11 throughout the 2009 season: Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi and Messi. Barca also regularly called upon fellow youth players Bojan and Busquets throughout the course of the season.

I think you will agree Man United and Barcelona’s youth development blueprint is one the rest of The Premiership would do well to emulate. A proposed cap on Foreign players within the English game would encourage clubs to concentrate more on their youth development, more on their technical training and more on producing their own players, which in-turn benefits the English national team.

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