A new commission headed by FA Chairman Greg Dyke has made several headlines lately as it intends to improve the fortunes of the English national team.
Complaints about the lack of diversity within the panel surfaced last week as it appeared the commission was all-white and male only. The addition of Rio Ferdinand has been greeted as a measure to cull the increasing criticism of a new-born initiative, one that needs to be protected in its infancy. Whilst the timing of Ferdinand’s addition could support such a theory, it can’t be denied that a vastly experienced and decorated professional of his magnitude wouldn’t warrant a place on his own merits.
The doubts haven’t stopped there. The age of the commission, motives and personnel have all come into question since its recent inception. England’s continued ‘failings’ in major competitions since the sole glory of 1966 are well documented upon the approach of a major finals. It mainly serves to spawn the pessimism that we as a nation have become so accustom to in order to avoid the inevitable heartache. After managing two semi-finals in the 90’s (WC 90’, Euro 96’), the last 25 years have also contained two tournaments we failed to qualify for (WC 94’, Euro 08’) as well as a sea of quarter finals and failed penalty shoot-outs.
The idea in principle is to get a varied group of individuals within English football together to create and then implement a strategy to ensure the future success of England on the international stage. It’s a nice notion, sure. It certainly appears more convoluted than the likes of the FA chairman really comprehend. I suppose if it was that easy every nation would do it right? The premise supersedes many just like it with our grass-root campaigns, domestic squad requirements (home-grown rule, 8 of the 25 squad members had to be English) and so on.
So, what can this commission do to help further the English game?
Only 34.1% of the English Premier Division’s players on the opening day of this season were actually English. That is the lowest percentage since the League’s first game back in 1992. At a glance it would appear that would be a fundamental flaw which should be addressed immediately.
Furthermore, just 7.8% of players fielded in Serie A last year were classed as “club-trained” by a study (CIES Football Observatory), which is released biannually and collates a wealth of data across Europe’s top 31 UEFA member divisions. By comparison, the ever golden Spain’s La Liga leaned on 25.6% home-grown players—obviously best represented by Barcelona, who fielded an entire XI of players raised through their La Masia academy during a match in November 2012. French Ligue 1 was not far behind in 2012, with 21.1% of players the product of their clubs’ youth systems. Surprisingly, the Premier League in England weighed in at 17.5%, while just 14.7% of players in Germany’s Bundesliga were classed as home-grown.
Goalkeepers are most likely to be home-grown, with 25.9% of all keepers across Europe are developed in-house. Fullbacks (22.5% home-grown) are next, followed by attacking midfielders (22.2%) and defensive midfielders (21.6%). It’s in central defence (18.8%) and attack (17.4%) that clubs are most likely to look outside their own sphere for talent.
Generally speaking, the lower the standard of football, the higher the percentage of club-trained players. Clubs classed as “Tier 1” in the study (Champions League clubs) average 17.2% of home-grown players, while that number for those ranked “Tier 5” rises to 30.3%. That might seem like common sense for the most part given the opportunities available, but given England is firmly a ‘Tier 1’ division with the most lucrative broadcasting rights in the world, it’s no surprise that where ever the best may rise from in the continent and beyond, they will gravitate to the English Premier League.
So, Italy have the very lowest home-grown player production in Europe, and Germany have a lower production rate than the Premier League too, yet in the last decade both have appeared in World Cup finals and one has become world champions.
Bear with me, I have more stats for you. Would it appear then that maybe the lack of English quality throughout Europe is holding us back? Preventing us from having a big pool of players to choose from?
Brazil remains the No1 provider of expatriates within Europe, with 515 Brazilians spread across the 31 divisions, down from 524 a year ago. France (269 players in the 30 nations outside France), Serbia (205 outside Serbia), Argentina (188) and Portugal (171) remain in 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th places. Spain has risen to sixth place, with 148 Spaniards playing outside Spain, with Germany seventh highest exporter and Nigeria eighth.
Interestingly whilst England are nowhere to be seen on the exporter list, they top the arrivals chart for full internationals. England’s Premier League has the highest percentage of capped players (42.5%) followed by the Bundlesliga (35.6%), oil-rich Russia (30.1%), corrupt Italy (24.5%), France (22.3%) and footballer extraordinaires Spain (20.7%). Despite having more than 20% less internationals in La Liga, many would argue that is the most exciting league in the world, and would readily accept it has the two best players in the world, each of whom, are not Spanish.
According to Nick Harris’ Sports Intelligence report, the most common nationality of import to the EPL is French (39 players) then Spanish (26). Is the English Premier League supporting its rivals?
The last international break saw Europe’s elite meet up for their final round of group games as they sought qualification of Brazil 14’. All of England’s squad bar Fraser Forster, who plays in Scotland for Celtic, were from the Premier League. Italy only had five players from outside their home top division, Spain featured seven, Germany allotted three spaces and France boasted the most with 15. Are there any parallels to be drawn between England’s lack of presence throughout Europe? Many would argue that if the players were good enough, they would be given the opportunity.
Does this mean that it’s all about the breeding grounds of players throughout our country? Partly I would say. Much has been made up of Barcelona’s exceptional academy that created the best team of its generation and not to be forgotten, 7 of the 11 starting players from Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning final line-up. If that’s not justification I don’t know what is. It’s still fondly remembered that the 1966 World Cup triumph was richly thanks to West Ham’s input, with Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst raking in the goals, and Bobby Moore captaining the side. In that squad, they were in fact the only three Hammers selected, and there was just as many Manchester United players (Bobby Chalton & Nobby Stiles, who might argue they played a part) and three Liverpool players too. Of course back then, players generally played for where they came from. So do we have any hot beds in England of talent?
I took a look at the current crop of England stars from the last squad and looked to see if there was any trends:
Joe Hart - Shrewsbury, Shropshire
John Ruddy - St. Ives, Cambridgeshire
Fraser Forster - Hexham, Northumberland
Chris Smalling - Greenwich, London
Leighton Baines - Kirkby, Merseyside
Gary Cahill - Dronfield, Derbyshire
Phil Jagielka - Manchester, Greater Manchester
Phil Jones - Preston, Lancashire
Kieran Gibbs - Lambeth, London
Steven Gerrard (captain) - Whiston, Merseyside
Andros Townsend - Leytonstone, London
Michael Carrick - Wallsend, Tyne and Wear
Jack Wilshere -Stevenage, Hertfordshire
Frank Lampard- Romford, London
James Milner- Wortley, Leeds
Ross Barkley - Wavertree, Merseyside
Raheem Sterling - Kingston, Jamaica
Daniel Sturridge - Birmingham, West Midlands
Wayne Rooney- Croxteth, Merseyside
Danny Welbeck - Longsight, Manchester
Rickie Lambert - Kirkby, Merseyside
Jermain Defoe - Beckton, London
By my calculations, that’s five from London, five from Merseyside with a blend of the nation making up the rest. You could also argue Jack Wilshire being from Hertfordshire makes him a close affiliate of London. I also took the liberty of looking at players who would normally be in the squad if it weren’t for injuries or suspensions.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – Portsmouth, Hampshire
Tom Cleverly - Basingstoke, Hampshire (relocated to Bradford, Yorkshire at an early age)
Glen Johnson - Greenwich, London
Ashley Cole -Stepney, London
Kyle Walker – Sheffield, South Yorkshire
Andy Carroll – Gateshead, Tyne & Wear
Theo Walcott - Stanmore, London
This further supports London influence on the squad. With the addition of Carroll, it brings the Newcastle influence to three alongside Forster and Carrick. I was surprised to learn there was only two Manchester natives in Welbeck and Jagielka, with the rest of the pool being made up for the majority of middle England.
Should the FA consider these areas as places to heavily invest and support? Given there track record of influence on the national team, it would make sense. The FA did for 15 years operate its center of excellence out of Lilleshall, and only Joe Hart (a good find by all means) in the above squad hails from Shropshire, Lilleshall’s home county. It would make more sense to make use of the obvious pedigree that is regularly produced from these towns, and not just rely on the nearby clubs picking them up, in my opinion. Conversely, an argument could be made to invest further in rural England and around the midlands. Birmingham is the second most populated city in England after London, shouldn’t that part of the country have contributed more players?
It’s reported that the FA plans to invest £102 million in grass-roots football over the next three-years, whatever its interpretation of grass roots is. Much like America took care to produce better athletes and Germany did to produce better players (as well as pinching anything good from Poland or Turkey), England must do more at home. Better facilities, coaching and opportunities will allow us to develop beyond our current climate.
There is a reason there are Spanish and Brazilian players scattered all over the world – because they are the best. I love to see traditional English heart and grit as much as the next guy, but the philosophy of coaching and the general footballing mind-set will have to change if you want to get close to the technical levels those aforementioned countries are at. It’s crazy in a way an uncapped Spaniard like Mikel Arteta can play for a top four club in England. Brazil don’t even have the same opportunities as us facilities wise, but all their talented kids do have the chance to play for their local teams because of the lack of foreign intervention on their leagues.
Whatever the commission decides or concludes, it’s easy to blame the Premier League and its top sides. The production of players in England starts even before the academy’s, there’s youth football, school football and simply areas for kids to play which offer an alternative to sitting in and playing games. If my article has shown anything, it’s that the way our kids are taught the game is central to any possibilities moving forward. Spain have nearly 10 million less people in its population, so how is it they can have so many players scattered about the world and retain a strong contingent in their own league?
If we coach our future generations the right way, we can to have a mass appeal across Europe, and not just the rare exceptional individuals we produce and cherish. Which in part, goes some way to explaining why English players cost so much more than other countries. There’s other factors to that, but we’ll save that for another day.