British sport is on a bit of a high at the moment: the Lions’ successful tour; England likely to win the Ashes; Andy Murray triumphant; a Brit about to win the Tour de France and golfers having varying degrees of success. All this on the back of an excellent Olympics in 2012. The only thing that’s letting the country down is football.
Let’s dispense with the major clubs, because they are hardly British, indeed English, anymore. The disappointing summer performances of the England Under-20, Under 21 and Ladies’ team all suggests there’s something rotten in the state of FA. Cry god for Harry [Redknapp], England and St.George’s Park!? More like, “What the hell is going on?”.
With all the money in English football, it is little short of criminal that young players cannot find their way through the system. Dan Ashworth has been hired by the FA to “rescue English football”, and has already admitted that the game is at the crossroads. The Elite Player Performance Plan, costing a cool £320m, is designed to bring the best on, but let’s hope this also means encouraging and nurturing talent at a young age.
At club level, the short-termism and inflationary spending at the top of the tree is killing off the supply of talent. When youth teams are full of foreign players, there’s clearly something wrong – especially in this age of mass youth unemployment. “Their just good enough in England,” is the often heard claim, but the issue is surely in the hands of the club, is it not? They have to stop flooding their squads with imports.
The statistics make alarming reading and all point to a meltdown for the England team that may happen in two, three or four years, if not earlier. Some might say it has already happened, but that won’t become clear until 2014 when Roy Hodgson’s team fly out of Rio.
The Premier clubs are actually destroying the game in England, if only they knew it. Only 189 English players appeared in the Premier last season with only 88 appearing in more than 19 games and 40-odd appearing in less than five.
That compares very poorly with the other top leagues: La Liga had 332 Spanish players, Serie A 269 Italians and 224 Germans in the Bundesliga.
The top four of each of those countries are among the worst culprits. In England, the upper quartile – United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal – fielded just five homegrown players between them. Manchester United had 10 English players last season, of which three were homegrown. So much for “Fergie’s babes”!
So the problem is staring English football in the face. What to do? The answers won’t please the liberal contingent, but if the FA do not act, England’s standing in the international game will deteriorate until we start to compare unfavourably with the other UK nations. Limit the number of foreign players, dramatically, now!
If they don’t act, the Home International Championships may well return – the only way England might actually win a tournament!