Joe Mansour on why the Premier League needs a non-EU player quota and Jonathon Davidson on why it doesn’t
It is clear that the need for a non-EU player quota is long overdue: the 2010 home-grown squad quotas have done little to address the lack of quality English players in the game, and with less than half of players in the Premier League being English we are falling behind the like of Spain and Germany in the production of high-quality young stars.
This year, out of the twenty-three nominations for the Ballon d’Or, only one (Wayne Rooney) is English, and only Ashley Cole was flying the flag in the Champions League Team of the Year. It is obvious that there is a lack of genuinely world-class English talent at the moment, and a quota would give those with the potential to be international-quality a better chance to shine – just witness the likes of Scott Sinclair, Jack Rodwell, and Daniel Sturridge, who week-in week-out waste away on the bench while their foreign counterparts strut their stuff on the pitch.
However, it’s not just the lack of outstanding English talents which is a cause for concern: examples such as Raheem Sterling, although all too rare, show that quality English players are occasionally given the opportunity to shine. In a time when money and celebrity are making fans feels alienated from the players, the lack of English players in our top division increases that gap ever further. In the first game of the current season neither Fulham nor Wigan started with any English players, and in the recent “London” derby between Arsenal and Chelsea, only four players in the starting line-ups were English. How can the fans connect to their clubs if so few of the players even feel connected to the country? Of course, people will complain that imposing home-grown quotas would reduce the quality of the league; however, for all the claims of the Premier League being the ‘Best League in the World’TM, of the 44 players who started the Euro 2012 semi-finals only four plied their trade in the Premier League.
A quota system wouldn’t solve the problem immediately – it would have to act alongside other initiatives like those seen in Spain and Germany. But it would go a long way towards giving young English players the opportunity they deserve without being displaced by foreign players of no greater quality, and more importantly help to bridge the ever-increasing gap between fans and players.
The Premier League is undoubtedly the best league in the world. Like many of its European counterparts it provides football of the highest quality. Where it is distinguished from La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga, however, is its consistency in providing quality, largely thanks to the contributions of foreign players.
To take the example of La Liga – where 77.1% of footballers are Spanish – both Barcelona and Real Madrid deliver world-class football, but below this La Liga fails to replicate the quality of the Premier League. In England teams such as Arsenal, Everton, Newcastle and Spurs – none of whom are title contenders – can still compete with the biggest clubs and ensure quality further down the table. A quota would merely see the Manchester clubs and Chelsea monopolise the best home-grown talent in the same way as Barça and Real, starving lesser Premier League clubs of talent.
Besides, the introduction of a quota would be both ineffective and unsettling for English football. A greater premium on home-grown talent would simply distort the transfer market. Greater demand for British players has already seen Blackburn Rovers splash £8 million on the unproven Jordan Rhodes, whilst Andy Carroll’s valuation of £35 million remains farcical in the eyes of most. In contrast, imports such as Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cissé have added fresh quality to the league at bargain prices.
Those in favour of a quota seeking national glory turn to the example of Spain, where the ‘tiki-taka’ generation has in- deed paired the beautiful game with unmitigated national success. But no such success could be achieved through the simple enforcement of a quota for home-grown players. The Spanish national team has benefited from a number of sophisticated academies – such as Barcelona’s much-hailed ‘La Masia’ – that have nurtured the technical development of Spanish youngsters. All of the top English clubs now demand a fluent passing game – best demonstrated by Chelsea’s recent overhaul in players – which the English youth system fails to develop and a quota would fail to deliver.
National success, then, could be achieved through alternative routes that would also preserve the Premier League’s excitement and quality of football. Rather than opting for the short-termism of imposing a quota, the governing bodies of football need to focus upon grass roots initiatives. Strides have been made with Gareth Southgate’s plans to revolutionise youth football in England and the opening of St George’s Park – the new National Football Centre – that will allow coaches to share ideas and nurture future generations of footballers. But these are only the first steps in what must be a long-term plan.
PHOTO// Ilya Khokhlov