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.
It was refreshing and surprising to see Tottenham Hotspur, a proud English club, give Tim Sherwood a chance part of the way through the season. There was a temporary lift in spirits and a definite attempt to play entertaining football. By and large, Tim has done very well on that front and although he has had a difficult patch he managed to keep them in a decent hunt for Champions League football. If you were to ask me, I’d tell you that he’s earned a chance to show what he can do with a proper transfer window and a full season but as early as February, the speculation began to replace him with a foreign manager.
David Moyes has been sacked and has been replaced by Ryan Giggs in the short term. It had to be like that to keep things bubbling but Louis Van Gaal, who has been linked with the Spurs job, is the favourite to take over at Old Trafford.
I’ll have my say about the events at Old Trafford a little later – can someone please explain to me what it is about a foreign manager that people seem to think will guarantee points and instant improvement? Before anyone responds with ‘but Steve Clarke and Malky Mackay are Scottish’, I’m talking about British managers, British coaches – can anyone tell me that either of the managers were worthy of the sack? What have their successors done that marks an improvement? I like Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, don’t get me wrong, but Malky deserved the chance to see the season through come what may and, in my opinion, there has been nothing at Cardiff – or West Brom – that shows a justification for the sacking in the first place.
Fulham sacked Martin Jol and did they appoint a British manager? No – but going with Rene Meulensteen, they at least appointed someone with a track record of developing kids and he went and signed Ryan Tunnicliffe and Larnell Cole as soon as he arrived at Craven Cottage. Staggeringly, he was sacked within weeks, and poor Ryan and Larnell were shipped out on loan immediately. In the weekend loss at Spurs, Fulham manager Felix Magath started three British players. Tottenham started five and brought on another.
I can hand pick a couple of others to illustrate the point – West Ham and Sam Allardyce took on Crystal Palace and Tony Pulis (I must say, Tony has done an exceptional job, becoming the first manager to keep Crystal Palace in the Premier League). 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.