The new Chairman of the FA, Greg Dyke, has opened his account with a high profile critique of the current state of the game in England. His fundamental point is that the pool of English talent continues to diminish and something needs to be done about that.
Looking at the last World Cup and the recent Under 21 Euros, you could say he has a point. In both of those tournaments, England produced pretty lame and tame performances, and never looked to be in danger of troubling the silver polishers.
Personally, I think there are some very good young English players around right now, not least of all our own Theo, Jack, Gibbs, Corporal Jenks and the Ox. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Joe Hart, Kyle Walker, Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Ryan Bertrand, Jack Rodwell and Wilfried Zaha all look excellent. And amongst the youngsters behind them, there are players who look to have real quality: for example, Spurs’ Tom Carroll looks very good.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the English game is in fact the English and Welsh game, and right now there is something of a resurgence in the Welsh game, evidenced most obviously by Bale’s transformation into a Galactico, but also shown by the amazing success of Swansea and the return of Cardiff to the top division. And then there’s our own fantastic Welshman.
So, I’m not so sure the problem is as bad as it’s being made out to be. It’s also worth remembering that, in recent years, the senior England squad has become more reliable about qualifying for major tournaments. In the 1970s and 1980s, they made it a habit of missing out on qualification; that doesn’t much now.
Dyke’s focus seems to be on foreign players’ presence in the Premier League. He cites figures suggesting that, in the last 20 years, the number of English players in the starting line-ups of top-flight clubs had gone from 69% to 32%. He also said the proportion of new signings by PL clubs who are qualified to play for England had fallen from 37% to 25% in the past two years. “Last weekend only 65 English players started in the Premier League with another 14 coming on as substitutes,” he said. “Taking into account that some of these players are not international standard, I think it’s fair to say we already have a very small talent pool and it’s getting smaller.”
I won’t get into the basis of Dyke’s stats, save to make the general point that percentages can be calculated in many different ways, so I don’t necessarily take Dyke’s figures to be gospel. For example, it isn’t clear to me where Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and Irish players fit into the analysis – players from those five footballing nations constituted the pre-PL pool from which players were drawn, so narrowly looking only at English players now would stunt the figures. Also, when you think of dual qualification, people like Carl Jenkinson for example, the truth behind the figures can become less clear.
But let’s assume that Dyke is right, that there is a diminishing pool of English PL players for the England coaches to recruit from. Is that really a problem? And if it is, why has it happened, and what could be done to rectify it?
Whenever I hear people complaining about the number of foreigners playing in the PL, my first reaction is always to point to the stubborn reluctance of young English players to make the same moves as their counterparts from other countries. If they’re not getting enough pitch time in England, why not go to Holland, Sweden, France, Portugal, Belgium, or the US? My guess is those youngsters are too scared to take on the challenge of moving country and/or prefer to take the easy, better money of being in an English PL squad. Introducing quotas on foreign players (even if that were legally possible) wouldn’t answer those problems. It would be better to give those young players some life-coaching, so that they make better decisions and broaden their horizons and their ambitions.
So, any thoughts? Is Dyke right? Do changes need to be made to the way the game is organised? Does the strength of the national team even matter as compared with the ability of the clubs to recruit whatever players they want?
Written by 26may