Premier League damaging England’s chance of glory

Last Saturday, England qualified for next summer’s European Football Championships. Yet there appears to be little expectation of success when the team compete in France.The question that must be asked is: why? Is the Premier League harming our chances?

High standards: Roy Hodgson’s choices are limited
Luke J. Harris
On 8 September 2015 09:19

From the moment England’s qualifying group was drawn there was little doubt among pundits and fans that England would finish in the top two in their group and qualify to play in France 2016.

This was because, excluding Switzerland, England’s opponents are some of Europe’s lesser footballing nations and pose little serious challenge to England.

When England comes up against some of Europe’s top teams next summer things will be very different. In potential matches against Germany, Spain, Italy and hosts France will probably see England as underdogs. There are many reasons for this; one thought is that England’s own top football division, the ‘Premier League’, is to blame because of the lack of home grown players turning out on a regular basis.

The statistics for England’s number one Football League developing English talent are not promising. The opening round of Premier League fixtures for the 2015/2016 season on the weekend of 8th August 2015 saw only 73 English players start matches, out of a total of 220.

A percentage of just 33.2. This number is down from 35 percent percent the previous season and is the continuation of a worrying downward spiral of English representation in recent seasons.

From top to bottom, the Premier League is now littered with foreign players and most clubs today could field a team without a single English player if they wanted. The major reasoning behind this is financial.

The cost of dropping out of the ‘top four’ for some (which guarantees a lucrative position in the UEFA Champions League) or out of the league for others, is such that clubs need to improve and bring in players who will straight away improve their squads.

The more ‘readymade’ premier league stars that are brought in by all clubs further limits the opportunity for the young players which clubs develop through their academies. All major clubs invest heavily in academies, but such is the pressure of the Premier League that many don’t get the opportunity to play.

Many are sent out on loan to clubs in lesser leagues and never return, surplus to requirements after the signing of the latest foreign superstar.

For example, despite pouring millions into its academy in recent years, the last first team regular to come through Chelsea’s academy was John Terry. He is now 34 years old and in the autumn of his career.

Chelsea are one of England’s leading club and a regular member of the ‘Top four’, who through league position qualify to play in the Champions League.

Along with Chelsea, the teams which will represent England this season (Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United) are made up predominantly of overseas players. Almost all of their major summer signings brought yet more foreign players into the league.

 It is the chance to play in the ‘Champions League’, Europe’s Premier competition, that would improve them and benefit the national side. Only exposure to the best helps you improve. These are opportunities which are being increasingly denied to England’s finest.

Despite the wealth which exists in the league, the limitations which some clubs work within prevents them from buying English players. There can be little doubt that leading English talent costs more than buying in foreign players.

A prime example of this is Raheem Sterling who moved from Liverpool to Manchester City this summer from an initial fee of £44m. Sterling although an undoubted talent is someone who isn’t the finished article and potentially might never become one of the world’s leading players which his new club hope he will become.

Manchester City, with billionaire owners are one of the few clubs which can afford to pay such fees. Others state they would like to sign young English talent but claim they are priced out of the market.

Consider Aston Villa.

Their manager, Tim Sherwood this summer signed a number of players from France’s Ligue One. When asked why he did this, he did state that these players were better than the English alternatives. He had no choice but to do so because the English players ‘cost a mountain’, this despite playing ‘five games’ at the top level.

This compared to players who have played more than 200 games in France, but who come at a fraction of the price.

Why do English players cost more? Teams don’t want to sell to their rivals. Clubs lower down the English leagues know the Premier League clubs have the money and need it for their own financial stability.

Perhaps the Premier League's wealth could be distributed more evenly to those down the leagues. In our capitalist society this is not going to happen.  

The more money which comes into the league will only make staying part of it even more valuable and so there will be even less opportunity for English players.

Questions should be asked about why the League it is not doing more to promote English talent.

Richard Scudamore the chief executive of the League recently said, ‘Why shouldn’t the England team come from the top 12 teams in the Championship and the bottom 10 of the Premier League if they are English and good enough?’: comment that should hardly fill those hoping to see more English players in the Premier League with hope.

But why should the Premier League worry about developing English talent? Scudamore and those in charge of running the league are not doing so for the benefit of the English national Football team, they are doing so to run a successful business.

Based upon the new television deal that was recently signed there can be no doubt of this. The League recently garnered domestic television rights for £1.7bn a season beginning next August. The league's worldwide successs and brand is based upon attracting many of the top footballers in the world to it.

Some experts mention limiting foreign players within Premier League teams, but doing so would damage the commercial revenue which the league brings in and the clubs rely upon. Again, it isn’t going to happen.

There can be no doubt that the small number of English players who play for the very top clubs benefit from playing alongside some of the best the world has to offer. The problem of the number of  English players playing in the Premier League is one that appears to be irreversible.

Many of England’s best players do still play for the best clubs, (such as Wayne Rooney, Joe Hart, Theo Walcott and Sterling), but many others are now coming from lesser Premier League clubs.

How long will it be before Scudamore is right and many of England’s players will come from outside the nation’s top League? If this is the case the chances for England to repeat the success of 1966, or even the near misses of 1990 and 1996 will become even smaller.

Luke J. Harris is a Sports Historian from Canterbury Christ Church University. He is the author of ‘Britain and the Olympics 1908-1920: Perspectives on participation and identity’

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