The current state of the English game was recently highlighted across social media platforms. In a table on which only goals from English players counted, Liverpool were sat at the top, ahead of second place Southampton, having not conceded a goal all season.
This highlights numerous points of discussion; the home-grown ruling from UEFA and the Football Association (both differ but encourage home-grown players) has not really had the desired effect, yet, very few teams are giving English players equal opportunities, and Liverpool have seized the opportunity through the growth of their academy and excellent coaching.
By Conor Carroll – @mrstability
First and foremost, the home-grown ruling. In a purely domestic sense, a minimum of eight players of the maximum squad size of 25 must be of English or Welsh birth, or have spent three years in the country learning their trade before their 21st birthday. Players, before they departed the league, such as Cesc Fabregas and Robbie Keane were included as home-grown because of their years spent in England during their youth. While this may seem like a good idea, promoting the use of academies instead of inflating prices of footballers, it still allows clubs to poach foreign academies and bring in players during their teens. In this sense, the home-grown ruling has not worked especially well. So whilst previous attempts to instigate tougher rules for teams have failed due to human-rights infringements, the “six and five” rule to be precise, UEFA and the FA need to be stern and attempt to stimulate growth if the game is to grow at a financially viable level.
English players are not really being given the opportunity to play for the top clubs in England as much as they used to. In the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s, when the rivalry between Blackburn and Burnley ignited, it was due to the large amount of Scottish players at the latter. Scotland is hardly “foreign”, but they weren’t English, and so arguments ensued.
Nowadays no-one cares that in Arsenal’s Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich only one English player, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, was involved on the night, compared to the six Germans in the opposing team. Comparatively, six Spaniards to Milan’s five Italians were used as Atletico Madrid ran up a comprehensive victory in their home game against AC Milan.
It’s not as simple as playing more home-grown players, but the figures from these two games show the reliance on a nation’s own players saw teams through to the next round. If we look at our hypothetical table once again, Arsenal are struggling in seventh, with United level on points with Southampton in third and the money-mad Manchester City battling it out in the relegation zone. A reliance on foreign players in what is supposed to be the strongest league in the world will have drastic effects on the state of the English game.
With all of this said, it’s no surprise to see that Liverpool had five players start for England recently for the first time since October 1977. At the top of the form table, with the highest scoring English player through Daniel Sturridge and highest assists with captain of both club and country Steven Gerrard, Liverpool are currently the dark horse of the title race. This is down to an academy revival started in the years of Rafa Benitez, with Rodgers putting faith in Neil Critchley and Alex Inglethorpe at Under 18 and Under 21 levels respectively. The result is an impressive Andre Wisdom performing well week in, week out for Derby County on loan, players such as Jordan Rossiter and Brad Smith joining the first team for training, and Jon Flanagan being a surprising star in recent weeks after returning from injury. Couple this with the additions of English players recently (Jordan Henderson and Sturridge) and Liverpool are playing a fast attacking game and building momentum towards the close of the season.
The state of the English game is in need of a serious revamp. Arsenal’s famed academy is producing more foreign players than English, whilst Manchester City haven’t had an academy player come through and hold down a spot in the first team since Joe Hart, with promising defender Micah Richards being kept out by Argentine full-back Pablo Zabaleta.
It seems that only Liverpool, Manchester United and Southampton are really pushing forward with an English team. We need more.