Thursday, July 29, 2010

A long way to go for England's young players

The first half of 2010 has been up and down for the various levels of the England squad. This summer's latest venture to the World Cup produced another disappointing result as the senior team crashed out to a young rebuilding Germany squad. An up is the fact that the U-17 squad won the European Championship earlier this summer. However things were brought down a bit by England's U-19 team being handily beaten by Spain 3-1 in yesterday's U-19 European championships. Since the senior squad returned home from South Africa, many have begun to ask the question, why hasn't the relative success of the junior levels translated to the senior level?

Pundits and experts alike have pointed to the level of coaching, suggesting that the England youth set up is not developing the proper skills to compete on the senior level. Others have blamed the the lack of funds provided by the F.A to a national training center, like Clairefontaine in France or The national center in Germany. Only recently has the F.A been able to agree on building a proper one in England. There is no doubt that both these issues have a hand in the lack of senior success for England, but the key to this lies at the feet of the club teams, especially the Premier League clubs.

The last player census taken for the EPL indicated that just over 60% of the players in the league were foreign. This is in stark contrast to the EPL's continential rivals like Spain, Germany or Italy who were in the range of 25% and 40%. In the league of the newly crowned world champions the "unofficial" rule is that at least 60% of the squad composition must be of Spanish players. There is also a culture of promoting players from the youth academies to the first team on a consistent basis. These type of "unofficial" rules are not applied in the EPL, where the big four teams tend to field few English born players and treat their academies as player cash farms, where you grow players just to sell them for profit. Manchester United and Chelsea have long been accused of doing this and recently Liverpool has picked up the practice. At Arsenal Arsène Wenger consistently puts out starting 11's that contain not one single English player.

The arguments from some of the clubs is that young English talent does not measure up to foreign talent, and that they are in the business of winning and not necessarily improving the English national squad. The clubs say the F.A should be in charge of the development of youth players, but the F.A counters that the clubs should as they have more time with the players. This type of mentality from the club side has lead them to be dependant on buying foreign talent at the expense of young English academy players, and it is here where the disconnect between the junior and senior levels can be found.

At 18 youths can sign pro contracts but aside from the phenoms like Wayne Rooney, and Theo Walcott, most end up having to battle several mature foreign players just to see time with the first team. Danny Welbeck, Frank Nouble etc all could be good enough to see time with the first time had it not been for the purchase of foreign talent at their positions. This is not to say that all EPL clubs are practicing this, Everton, Tottenham and Aston Villa have been giving English talent a chance to develop with first team action, but at times this has been out of a cost cutting necessity more than anything.

If England wants to push quality talent on to the the senior level, they need to seriously look at how they can implement more English talent at the top flight. Germany has required that at least 12 players on a squad be "home grown" players and eligible to play for the German national team. The EPL is implementing a "home grown" player rule this year in which you must field 8 players that fit this label. However the rule has one massive loop hole, that home grown player does not have to be English. If the player has been trained in the club academy for over three years under the age of 21 they are considered home grown. For example Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas who is Spanish counts as a home grown player; He has been training at Arsenal since he was 17. In all the rule will help the other clubs outside the big four bring up English players, but this still does not stop the club from filling out the rest of the 23 man roster with matured foreign players.

What club teams must come to understand is that the success of a domestic league will always depend on the strength of the domestic players. The EPL has been riding its luck on being able to attract foreign stars with the vast amount of money available to most clubs, but to be able to sustain itself long term the league must produce more English talent for the national teams. Or face a potential Spanish and German domination of Europe for a while to come.

Dan Roan wrote an excellent blog post about this for BBC Sport, and must read of England supporters.


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