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Foreign imports, inexperienced youngsters and the malaise of English football

Foreign imports, inexperienced youngsters and the malaise of English football

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With just one solitary Englishman on the Goal 50 list of the world's best players, how and why has English football, and the Premier League, fallen so far and so quickly?

COMMENT
By Ewan Roberts

The sixth annual Goal 50 was notable for its conspicuous absence of English players, with the only exception being Chelsea's 35-year-old midfielder Frank Lampard who scraped onto the list at No.50 – the likes of UAE and Kenya were as well represented as the country that invented association football.

The so-called “best league in the world” has borne just one Englishman to make a global impact in the past season, and the Premier League itself was significantly less represented than its continental peers. While the Bundesliga led the way with 13 representatives, the Premier League managed just five – and the highest ranked player of that quintet, Gareth Bale, is expected to leave this summer.

Even Wayne Rooney, English football's most talented son, the bannerman for a nation's hopes and dreams as the 2014 World Cup in Brazil draws ever nearer, slid off the list for the first time since its conception.

English footballers are not just becoming increasingly hard to find on subjective lists of the world's best players, but even within the ranks of English teams.

HOME-GROWN TALENT
% OF TOP-FLIGHT PLAYERS ELIGIBLE FOR THE COUNTRY THEY PLAY IN
SPAIN
~
LA LIGA
61%
FRANCE
~
LIGUE 1
 60%
GERMANY
~
BUNDESLIGA
 47%
ITALY
~
SERIE A
 46%
ENGLAND
~
PREMIER LEAGUE
36%
According to Opta, players eligible to represent the Three Lions made up just 36 per cent of those playing in the top flight. That respective figure in La Liga stands at 61%, while 60% of Ligue 1 players are home-grown and 47% of Bundesliga players are eligible for the German national team.

Former England No.1 goalkeeper David James, now playing and coaching with IBV in Iceland, is disappointed with the situation, and feels that Premier League clubs have yet to successfully marry together the importation of the world's best foreigners with the development of young, English players.

"Because we've got the best domestic league in the world, arguably, the idea is we have the best football. But the national side of the game is suffering," James told Goal.

"We've got a domestic product which is fantastic, but that domestic product is getting even more diluted of English talent by the influx of foreign players. I haven't got a problem with that, I'm here in Iceland as an Englishman, but if you're not developing English talent underneath it, it will only get worse.

"So what we will have is a great spectacle, but we won't have the national teams to cheer about in the way we should do given that we've got the best football to watch on a weekly basis."

The dominance of nations such as Germany and Spain, both at club and international level, has been rooted in the development of young stars. La Roja's success is closely tied to the staggering work done by Barcelona's La Masia academy, while of the 22 players that started the all-German Champions League final, 54% were available to Bundestrainer Joachim Low.

GOAL 50
REPRESENTATIVES PER LEAGUE/NATION
SPAIN
~
LA LIGA
FOUR
~
SEVEN
FRANCE
~
LIGUE 1
 TWO
~
TWO
GERMANY
~
BUNDESLIGA
SEVEN
~
13
ITALY
~
SERIE A
 ONE
~
THREE
ENGLAND
~
PREMIER LEAGUE
ONE
~
FIVE
BRAZIL
~
BRASILEIRO
SEVEN
~
TWO
"There seems to be a problem with where English football is going at the moment. The rise of Spain and the rise of Germany is all based on the success of their younger groups," continued James.

"The Germans were Under-21 champions going into the World Cup in 2010 and that core of young players went through to represent the German national team. And with Spain as well there was this transition through the youth groups."

Both nations have developed systems for nurturing talent that is intrinsically linked to the country's footballing DNA. England, meanwhile, have been “ball-chasing”, lurching towards whichever model is in vogue, copying other approaches.

The latest set-up to be replicated is that of Clairefontaine, with St. George's Park mimicking the central base that links and heads a web of elite academies across the country. But the French technical centre's pool of talent has dried up recently, and even at the height of French football, the World Cup win in 1998, Clairefontaine's only representation was substitute Thierry Henry.

James, assistant manager to Hermann Hreidarsson with IBV and studying for his coaching qualifications, believes the forced nature of English football's pursuit of talent is stifling natural growth.

"The thing that worries me about the English set-up is the EPPP [Elite Player Performance Plan], there's so much requirement for so much information, that it's actually taking away from the proper development of players. It's like a check-list rather than an organic growth," said the 43-year-old.

"It goes back to how we prepare and work with our teams. The idea of excellence in English football, it bothers me. We've got a centre of excellence, we're going to bring in as many players as we can, we're going to pick the best and get rid of the worst.

"The enjoyment of the game has gone, it's all about this process of production rather than allowing things to develop [naturally]....identifying a prodigious talent is fine, but trying to create one who isn't actually there is more detrimental."

Both James and new Football Association chairman Greg Dyke see the problem as a direct result of the influx of inexpensive talent from abroad and the inexperience of English youngsters who are forced to play back-up to their cheaper counterparts.

"Why take the chance on a kid where you can bring someone else in from Croatia?" asked Dyke. For James, the solution is for English football's neglected talents to seek first-team football abroad – an approach that has largely been non-existent in the last 20 years, with fewer English players moving overseas and even fewer earning a call-up to the national team (England's Euro 2012 squad exclusively comprised of Premier League players).

"When it comes to English players they haven't got the experience a lot of the time," James added.

"For me, if I'm looking at developing English players, I'd be looking at putting them out abroad if they're not going to be playing first-team football. There's a fundamental difference between playing in the first team for anyone and playing in the reserves or for [the Under-21s]."

With no English teams featuring in the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in five years, with less and less home-grown talent making an impact on the top flight, and with the youth teams outclassed in international tournaments, English football is seen to be at a low ebb. If the problems are not remedied soon, there may be no representation on next year's Goal 50 list.

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