The most competitive league in the world, but at what cost?
When Chelsea faced Tottenham Hotspur last matchweek at White Hart Lane, Spurs fielded a side which contained five Englishmen in Stephen Caulker, Kyle Walker, Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon and Jermaine Defoe.
Chelsea’s side contained just two, one of whom, Ashley Cole, is well into his thirties, while Gary Cahill was the man who opened the scoring in the Blues’ 4-2 away from Stamford Bridge.
Kyle Naughton, Jake Livermore, Andros Townsend and Michael Dawson were on the bench for the home side, while Ryan Bertrand, Daniel Sturridge, Ross Turnbull and Frank Lampard took their places amongst the substitutes for the visitors.
That makes a total of seventeen Englishmen in a matchday squad numbering a total of thirty-four players, or exactly half. Of all these players, how many would you say are world-class? One, maybe two at the most?
And therein lies the problem at the core of English football.
Whenever England take to the field in an international tournament, they are met with modest expectations, and there are those patriotic Brits who say that England do have what it takes to go all the way. But a majority of fans know that England will return home empty-handed because of the lack of top quality players the Three Lions possess.
England’s squad that was named to face Poland in their recent World Cup qualifier in Warsaw was: Joe Hart, Glen Johnson, Phil Jagielka, Joleon Lescott, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Tom Cleverley, James Milner, Michael Carrick, Jermaine Defoe, Wayne Rooney, Paul Ruddy, Fraser Forster, Leighton Baines, Kyle Walker, Gary Cahill, Ryan Shawcross, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Jonjo Shelvey, Aaron Lennon, Adam Johnson, Andy Carroll and Danny Welbeck.
The English Premier League has often been called the most competitive league in the world, and that is with good reason: last season’s nail-biting title race and relegation battle only goes to underline that.
But at what cost has it come?
Robin van Persie was last season’s top scorer. Wayne Rooney came in second, but he was followed by Sergio Aguero, Clint Dempsey and Emmanuel Adebayor. David Silva, Juan Mata and Antonio Valencia were on top of the assist charts. Only two Englishmen (Rooney aside) featured in the two charts: Theo Walcott and Grant Holt.
Arsenal‘s midfield consists of Mikel Arteta, Santiago Cazorla and either Abou Diaby or Aaron Ramsey, while Lukas Podolski, Gervinho and Olivier Giroud play up front. No doubt, Jack Wilshere will resume his mantle as play maker once he is fully fit.
Chelsea have Oscar, Ramires and John Obi Mikel in midfield with Fernando Torres, Eden Hazard and Juan Mata attacking. Frank Lampard only features occasionally.
Manchester City’s lynchpin is Yaya Toure, and he is aided by Javi Garcia, and one of James Milner and Samir Nasri, who play in tandem with David Silva and two of City’s quartet of strikers which consists of one Bosnian, an Italian and two Argentines. Scott Sinclair features sporadically, the reason Adam Johnson left the Etihad Stadium.
Only at Manchester United can one say there is a truly British presence at the Club. Wayne Rooney, Daniel Welbeck, Ashley Young, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Tom Cleverley, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Nick Powell are all English. In addition, Darren Fletcher has represented Scotland, Ryan Giggs is a former Wales international and Johnny Evans plays for Northern Ireland.
But even there, there is a reliance on the old guard for results. Not for nothing is the adage ‘Keep Calm and Pass to Scholes’ the stuff of conversations among Red Devils fans.
Liverpool‘s English contingent includes a plethora of players who are either too young or on their last legs, Glen Johnson aside. But who would you rather pick in FIFA 13? Him, or Philip Lahm?
It is because of the lack of these world-class players that the well-publicised British media overhype the next generation of England players, desperate in the hope that they will lead England to glory, putting excessive amounts of pressure on them in the process.
At such a young age, players like Cleverley, Wilshere, Welbeck, Sturridge, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jay Spearing do not need this harsh spotlight cast on them all the time, as they can ultimately lose their way. Do you see this kind of pressure on Mario Gotze, Cesc Fabregas, Sebastian Giovinco or Mathieu Valbuena?
The success of the Barclays Premier League with its vast influx of foreign players and owners is ultimately detrimental to the success of the national team, and comparing club and country is like drawing parallels between a mercenary organisation and a national army.
For the good of England, there have to be measures to limit the number of foreign players so that the country can prosper. In Italy’s Serie A, for example, there is a limit on the number of non-EU players that can play for a club, and one non-EU player can only replace another.
In Germany, no single person can own more than fifty percent of any club, which means that it is the club that benefits, not the owner. That is not the case in England, where it is not uncommon to see one or two individuals in sole proprietorship of a football club, who then proceed to pay ridiculous sums of money to rope in talent, irrespective of nationality.
France’s World Cup winning side of 1998 contained one of the world’s deadliest strike combinations of their era. Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet were both groomed at the French Federation of Football’s famed Clairefontaine academy just outside Paris. No such facility existed in England until very recently.
The FA’s School of Excellence in Lilleshall, Shropshire was opened in 1986 and shut down in 1999. Only this month did the FA open St. George’s Park in Burton-on-Trent for the development of the game. Based on Clairefontaine, it has twelve world-class pitches, with both artificial and natural turf, an indoor pitch, hydrotherapy units, a gym, video analysis centres and a state-of-the-art medical centre complete with sports science facilities.
England’s next generation of footballers need time to develop, and they will, given the immense talent they have. What they need is the freedom and the opportunity to be allowed to develop.