Home not necessarily where the heart is
The current Premier League season has incorporated a new rule change. No, Sepp Blatter has not agreed to confirm if goals are actually scored, and players are still able to dive, swear, spit and roast their way through the season unaffected. Instead, we have the introduction of the home-grown rule.
To summarise the rules:
- Clubs will register a squad of 25 players, of which eight must be ‘home-grown’
- Home-grown players must have been affiliated to the FA or Welsh FA for three years prior to their 21st birthday, irrespective of nationality
- Clubs can supplement squad with unlimited players under the age of 21
In 1999, Chelsea became the first club to field a team completely made up of non-English players. It was seen as an unwanted record, but it has taken 11 years for an adequate response to the situation. Last season, when Arsenal played Portsmouth, it was the first time in English football that there was not an English player on the pitch. A response has been long overdue.
Now firstly, this is not merely a rant about the new rules, and the intention is at least good. The Football Association understand that there is the potential for a dearth in English talent, which will undoubtedly lead to difficulties in terms of the performances of the English national team. Apparently it can get worse than June 27.
It would also be unfair to criticise the new rules before applauding the positive values that they promote. Firstly, restricting clubs to 25 players means that there is not the ability to stockpile players. Gone will be squads of 35 seasoned players, taking their £20,000 while sitting on the bench. This then has the effect of reducing wage budgets on a general scale; it is a lot easier to pay 25 lots of £30,000 than 40.
In addition to this, it does surely encourage the use of English youngsters, as these can be added indefinitely. Even if these players only gain a pace on the bench, injuries and suspensions will mean that they can gain invaluable experience, vitally assisting in the emotional development of their game.
Finally, the rules may tempt clubs into added investment in academy systems. Barcelona invest £12million per year into their youth programmes, sculpting talent portrayed by Xavi, Iniesta and Fabregas. Is it not preferable to do this rather than spending the same money on 75% of an Aleksander Kolarov? It must be said, however, that clubs have always had this option, but have chosen the latter path.
This is where my praises end.
Firstly, the regulations will drive up the price of English players to an astronomical level, as home-grown players become a more valuable commodity. As the price is driven up, this simply means that the richer clubs will buy the young English talent, where they have more chance of sitting on the bench than actually playing first team football. Youngsters of a lower standard therefore end up at the smaller clubs, effectively driving the gap further between the haves and have-nots in the Premier League.
Secondly, the use of the term ‘home-grown’ is at best optimistic. Players do not have grown up in England, merely spent the final progression in their football development on these shores. Given that the price of good English players will increase and that clubs have always chosen to recruit abroad, why would this change now? Clubs will simply employ more scouts in Europe and abroad, attempting to poach youngsters on the cheap, confident in the fact that they will be schooled both technically and mentally. Economics tells us that demand here will increase prices, but supply is far greater abroad than at home.
As an example, last season Arsenal players made 526 appearances in total. Only 8% of these were made by English players. England’s World Cup squad contained no Arsenal players. Instead, they had five players who played at the World Cup for other nations who count as ‘home-grown’ (Fabregas, Vela, Song, Bendtner, and Clichy). Isn’t this missing the point of the rule?
However, the most evident denigration of the incoming regulations is the actual effect on the actions of squads. Surely if the larger clubs are actually forced to alter their current squads then a positive reaction has been made?
Let us look at Arsenal. They have named a squad of 20 players. None were born in England. Not one. Chelsea have only names 19 in their squad. Only Ross Turnbull is English and under 29. Obviously these clubs have homegrown players that are under 21, but are these players really going to get a chance to shine to such an extent that it will help the national team?
I will not bore you with the examples of all the clubs, but I have done the research. This summer, 73 players have been bought by Premier League clubs for fees. Only 17 are English, and seven of these have been purchased by promoted clubs. Last season’s top eight have bought eight English players. Only James Milner, Joe Cole and Jermaine Beckford have started Premier League games. Where are the changes?