Sweet FA

jamie-vardy-leicesterAs we head into the final international break of 2015 I found myself disturbed and appalled to read some statistics about the Premier League’s attitude to youth player development.

If you’ve listened to me on the RetroUnited.com podcast, Talksport, or even visited this website as I wrote about this very subject last year, you’ll know my concerns about the future of English football.

I’m going to share a couple of pieces of that article.

‘If you’ve read my columns or listened to me talk in recent years then you know one of my biggest concerns is the lack of English players in the top flight. The last relevant study showed that only approximately 33% of players picked on a regular basis in the Premier League were eligible for selection for England. I’ve noticed a worrying trend over the season that is only going to make matters worse in the long term.’

‘…15 British and one Irish player took to the pitch – that was 16 out of 26, with plenty of British players left as unused subs. Against Hull, Arsene Wenger used 2 British players (Aaron Ramsey, who made the difference, and Oxlade-Chamberlain), while Steve Bruce had nine of his starting line up British or Irish. Are you beginning to notice a trend?
People talk about addressing the game at grass roots level and that’s all well and good. I agree with the idea even if I squirm when I see the way they’re going about it. But it’s the same old story with English football – address one problem and ignore the others. At the top level, foreign managers will continue to bring in foreign players to instantly solve problems because let’s face it – football chairman live in the here and now, not the long term, and that means there’s no real opportunity for kids breaking through.
Pundits seem to be dismissive of it, and make sweeping statements like the foreign input has been great for the game. Yes, it has, to an extent, but it’s like all good things isn’t it – if it’s not done in moderation it will spoil everything. Clubs are suffering through mismanagement at the highest level and the cycle will probably continue with Fulham or Cardiff going down, sacking their foreign managers, reverting to a British manager who will do some great work and get them promoted, only to find themselves sacked within a couple of months.
While people observe the damage done to proud clubs (the way Fulham and Cardiff in particular have been run this season has been nothing short of farcical) the more acute damage comes to the game itself, with fewer opportunities for young players to prove themselves. And while I understand the benefits of some of the foreign players to have played in England, I don’t think foreign managers have made such a profound impact on our game to justify there being eight out of the twenty top flight clubs being coached by someone from overseas.
And so the problem grows and continues. Next time I see a stat pertaining to English players playing in the Premier League, it wouldn’t surprise me if it dropped to 25%. It’s not the English Premier League any more, is it? It’s the World Premier League that just happens to be based in England, and if some of the top dogs had their way, with that ridiculous ‘39th game’ idea, they would probably prefer to use it as a travelling circus, going around the world. How far away are we from that happening? Once the integrity goes, there ain’t much left.’

That 33% figure dropped to around 30% this year. It was recently revealed that less than 8% of Premier League minutes have been played by what the Premier League determine to be ‘home grown’ players (a quota that even includes players like Adnan Januzaj, for example, foreign-born players who aren’t eligible to play for England). It was said to me that around half of the players in the Premier League who are eligible to play for England have been capped. Half!

There has been a recent clamour for Jamie Vardy to be an England starter in time for the European Championships. Jamie had a good season for Leicester last year and is having an excellent year this time around – he should be commended for his form. And, looking at the players available, then it doesn’t seem an unreasonable shout. But that only highlights the problem that is now plaguing the English game.

Let’s go back to the 1998 World Cup squad – Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Les Ferdinand and Michael Owen were the strikers. In 2006 it was Wayne Rooney, Michael Owen, and Peter Crouch. Now Jamie Vardy is a serious contender to wear the number 9 or number 10 shirt in France next year. I’m sorry, but that to me is a prime indicator of how rapidly and worryingly our standards have dropped over the last 15 years.

The worst, or most concerning part of it all, is that this could have been so easily avoided. It can be fixed, if the FA take the strong action it should. But it won’t, because it prefers to hire yes men and concentrate on getting money in.

But, with all due respect again to Jamie, if that is the standard we are expecting of our England team, it won’t be long until the England national team is the Leicester City of international football. Only occasionally qualifying for the major competition, and expected to get a pummeling once there. We aren’t far off that now.

To be fair to Jamie it must be said he is one of the best performing English players in the league. In August 2013 the Daily Mail reported that just 68 English players were expected to play in the Premier League’s opening weekend. That was in a World Cup year! The number is even less now, and from that, a squad of 23 has to be picked. As recently as a couple of years ago you had a one in 3 chance of being picked for England, now it’s about one in two. It won’t be long at all – and this is not an over-reaction – before every English player in the Premier League is an international.

What will it take for the FA to start addressing these very real problems that are infesting the game? Because the way it’s going, I worry that they would be happy to have a Championship level team representing us at international level. And I’m sorry, but the Three Lions mean a hell of a lot more to some of us than that.

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