Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Why England are going nowhere

Hopefully there won't be a media frenzy this time around. England are not going to win the World Cup in Brazil next summer. England are not even close to being able to compete for the World Cup and in all honesty, without the privilege of being top seeds, getting out of the group would be a respectable achievement for them.

England lost to Chile last Friday night and the result being described as an upset really emphasized the sheer arrogance of the British media. Chile are a better side than England, boasting players such as Alexis Sanchez, Sociedad keeper Claudio Bravo and Juventus pair Isla and Vidal who was missing on the night. Their biggest strength is that they manage to form a collective unit equal to more than the sum of its individual parts. They are a brilliant side. They still play the high-tempo pressing game, instilled by former coach Marcelo Bielsa and play some lovely quick passing when they do have the ball, something England looked unable to deal with at times.

Alexis Sanchez and Chile showed their superiority over England.

English football is in the doldrums. Qualification for the World Cup from a relatively simple group may have masked these issues but they are sure to be highlighted over the coming months and in Brazil next summer. So how has it gotten this bad? There are two fundamental things hindering the progress of the English national side.
  1. The quantity of foreign players in the Premier League, leaving the national side with a much smaller pool of English talent to choose from.
  2. The reluctance of English players to go abroad.

A shockingly high 70% of the players currently in the English Premier League are not English. This is a greater figure than any other league in Europe at any level of the game. Compared to the other 'big leagues' in Europe, Serie A has the next highest percentage of foreigners with 53% of the players being from abroad. Ligue 1 in France consists of 46% foreign players, the Bundesliga has 45% and La Liga has 40%.

Ironically, the growth of the Premier League has contributed in a big way to England's decline. Not only do Italy, France, Germany and Spain, the countries England should aim to be competing with, have a bigger pool of talent in their domestic leagues to choose from, they also have an abundance of foreign based players to choose from, a great deal of whom are based in England. Roy Hodgson does not enjoy this privilege. Every player he's ever picked for England has been playing in the country with the exception of recently capped Frazer Forster, the Celtic goalkeeper.

Forster: First non-English based player capped under Hodgson

Italy are the next worst major league to England in terms of number of home-grown players but they are streets ahead in the next two measures. The feeder league, Serie B consists of only 26% foreign players. The English Championship has 47% and rising. Further to that, the Italian national side does not rely solely on the domestic league for players. Granted Italy is not the best example of this, they still have Motta and Sirigu at PSG, Cristico at Zenit and even Giaccherini and Osvaldo at Sunderland and Southampton respectively, all named in their latest squad and all in contention for Brazil next summer.

Beyond Italy, England just looks abysmal by comparison. France, with a domestic league consisting of 54% French players, can look abroad and see the likes of Ballon d'Or candidate Franck Ribery, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, Nasri, Pogba, Mexes, Evra, Sagna, Lloris and many many more options for the national side. Similarly with Germany, England's opponents  at Wembley on Tuesday, 55% of what is currently a very strong Bundesliga is German. Add to this they have the trio at Arsenal of Ozil, Podolski and Mertesacker who between them have amassed over 250 caps, Schurrle at Chelsea, Khedira at Madrid and the incomparable Mario Gomez. Oh yes. Mario Gomez.

I'm fairly confident Spain could field a side based entirely outside the country and still reach the semi-finals of the World Cup next summer. In fact they could field an entirely Premier League based squad and still probably do quite well. La Liga is made up from 60% Spaniards, thanks in no small part to the restrictions in place limiting clubs to three non-EU players. Abroad they have Thiago and Martinez at European Champions Bayern. In England they have Mata, Torres, Negredo, Silva, Jesus Navas, Arteta, De Gea, Michu et al. Llorente, Pepe Reina and a rejuvenated Jose Callejon all currently play in Italy.

Guys like these would probably be England's best players

The cream of the crop by these measures is of course the world's capital of football and the country that will host the biggest tournament in the world next summer. An astonishing 94% of players in the Brazilian Serie A are home grown players. The sheer enormousness of their national pool is evident by the fact that only two members of the current Brazilian squad actually play in Brazil: Victor, the second choice keeper and Jo, formerly of Manchester City. It is unfair to compare England to Brazil however. A much bigger country with double the population which also happens to be totally football obsessed. 

So, what can be done to give England a chance of competing at the top level of international football again? 

A start would be to limit the number of foreigners playing in the Premier League. From 2010 clubs were required to submit a squad list of 25 players over 21, of which 8 must be 'home-grown'. There were so many flaws to this plan. Firstly the regulations stated, that it would limit clubs to 17 foreign imports rather than ensuring they name 8 home-grown players. This allowed clubs like Chelsea and Arsenal to fill their allocated foreign slots, name their 3 English players and leave 5 slots empty without breaching the rules.

'Home-grown' Cesc who has almost 100 Spain caps

A 'home-grown' player is a defined as anyone who has experienced three years training at any club in England prior to their 21st birthday. Clubs can pluck players from abroad before they turn 18 and train them up as home grown players. Then every international break, they go off and play for their home country. Serge Gnabry and Adnan Januzaj, two of the most promising youngsters in the Premier League will count as home-grown players in the eyes of the Premier League once they turn 21. Neither will play for England. The rule has so many loopholes in it, it might as well not be there. 

Possible alternatives include limiting the number of foreign purchases or transfers from abroad per season by a team to stop the ever-increasing flow of foreign players into the country. This would be a slow process and unlikely to accomplish much in the short term. La Liga clubs are permitted a maximum of three non-EU players in every squad. Such a stance in England would leave clubs looking to European talent instead and would probably not change a great deal either.

English players not going abroad is unlikely to ever change. With English being such a popular language across the world, English people tend to be rather reluctant to learn another one and embrace other cultures. The only time English players regularly went abroad was during the European ban for clubs in the 1980s and into the 1990s. Interestingly, England got to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 1990, losing to the eventual champions, West Germany, on penalties. This team consisted of Gary Lineker, Chris Waddle, Paul Gascoigne, Des Walker and David Platt. All of whom dared to venture abroad during the pomp of their playing days.

Chris Waddle and his mullet are two of many who prospered abroad in the late 80s
It just doesn't happen anymore. Frazer Forster playing for Celtic is the only English player to be called up in the past three years who plays outside of England. Currently, the most high profile English player playing abroad in continental Europe is none other than Michael Mancienne, formerly of Chelsea who's a reserve player at Hamburg in Germany. Compare that to the list of Spaniards, French and German's plying their trade outside their homeland and its very easy to see that England are going to continue to lack star quality in comparison to their rivals for the foreseeable future. 

In short, nothing is going to change in the Premier League without radical overhaul. Which the big clubs will never agree to as it will hurt their revenue massively. English players are never going to want to go abroad to play, that's just in their nature. So basically nothing is going to change.

Spain's Premier League based World Cup Squad: Probably on a par with England's current squad:

1. De Gea - Man United (GK)
2. Azpilicueta - Chelsea
3. Monreal - Arsenal
4. Javi Garcia - Man City
5. Angel Rangel - Swansea
6. Chico Flores - Swansea
7. Jesus Navas - Man City
8. Cazorla - Arsenal
9. Michu - Swansea
10. Mata - Chelsea
11. Negredo - Man City
12. Jose Enrique - Liverpool
13. Robles - Everton (GK)
14. Soldado - Spurs
15. Hernandez - Swansea
16. Iago Aspas - Liverpool
17. Garrido - Norwich
18. Luna - Aston Villa
19. Torres - Chelsea
20. Romeu - Chelsea
21. Canas - Swansea
22. Duelofeu - Everton
23. Luis Alberto - Liverpool

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