IF THE FAIRY-TALE wasn’t enough, Leicester City’s board and management should be given credit for building a squad that has more Englishmen in it than any other champion side since 2013.
Claudio Ranieri’s regular squad has half a dozen English players, more than the last two Premier League champions (Manchester City and Chelsea) combined, who had five between them. Today’s Premier League giants assemble teams that might – at a push – resemble a “Rest of the World XI” such as the one that appeared at Wembley in 1963!
Here’s the last 10 Premier champions:
2007: Manchester United – 6 (G.Neville, Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Scholes, Brown)
2008: Manchester United – 6 (Hargreaves, Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Scholes, Brown)
2009: Manchester United – 4 (Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Scholes)
2010: Chelsea – 5 (A.Cole, Terry, J.Cole, Sturridge, Lampard)
2011: Manchester United – 5 (Ferdinand, Carrick, Rooney, Scholes, Smalling)
2012: Manchester City – 5 (Milner, Richards, Lescott, Hart, Johnson)
2013: Manchester United – 10 (Jones, Ferdinand, Evans, Rooney, Smalling, Carrick, Young, Welbeck, Scholes, Cleverley)
2014: Manchester City – 3 (Hart, Milner, Lescott)
2015: Chelsea – 2 (Cahill, Terry)
2016: Leicester – 6 (Drinkwater, Vardy, Albrighton, Simpson, Gray, Dyer)
Should Tottenham have won the title, they could have claimed their side would have included at least five – Walker, Rose, Kane, Dier and Alli – English regulars.
Two of the six Leicester Englishmen, Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater, have been named in Roy Hodgson’s preliminary squad for Euro 2016.
Hodgson has called on players from no less than 11 clubs for his 26-man pool, including one from Tom Burnley (Heaton) and one from relegated Newcastle United (Andros Townsend). The usual competition squads seem to come from nine, although there is every possibility that when Hodgson pares it down to 23 that this will be the magic number.
The squad is built around five from both Liverpool and Tottenham, with three apiece from Manchesters United and City. A total of 11 of the 26 come from the top four in the Premier. The average league position of the squad is 6.5 per player.
Tournament squads emphasise the lack of English-born players among the top clubs and the fairly limited talent pool. It also underlines the changing demographics at some clubs. Chelsea, for example, provide just one player – Gary Cahill. Arsenal contribute the fragile Jack Wilshere to the squad, again showing the lack of top quality English resources at some clubs. Arguably the squad would have included Danny Welbeck if he was fit. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were both omitted, which could signal the end of their England careers.
With the squad highly dependent on Tottenham and Liverpool, there has to be some question marks about the impact of a season that petered out in the last fortnight at Spurs and a stop-start campaign at Anfield. Hodgson does have time, however, to lift the players .
But Leicester and Tottenham’s high percentage of English players could tell us something. Is there, for example, a correlation between how much money the respective clubs have to spend on high-priced foreigners and a reasonable level of dependence on English players?
You would assume so. Some commentators have suggested that there is a sea change going on in the Premier, that things may be leveling out as a result of Financial Fair Play and the vast sums being paid out to clubs by broadcasting deals.
It’s clear that both clubs have been quite astute compared to some of their rivals, which should ring alarm bells in the boardrooms of Arsenal , Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool.
Tottenham spent just under £50m in 2015-16, with the highest fees going on Son Heung-Min (£22m) and Toby Alderwiereld (£11m). At the same time, transfers out, including the offloading of some of the ill-advised signings of the past, brought in over £60m. But, most importantly, the English contingent – Kane, Dier, Alli, Rose and Walker – cost an overall amount of around £19m. Somebody has done some very good business – especially when you work out what Spurs were spending following the departure of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid. You can easily see the club providing the backbone of the England team over the next couple of years.
Leicester, meanwhile, spent even less – outgoings of £27m and £7m being offset by sales. When you consider that the six English players cost £7m in transfer fees – Albrighton was a free, Vardy and Drinkwater £1m apiece, Simpson £2m, Gray £3m – it is easy to see that Leicester have extracted phenomenal value for money. Vardy and Drinkwater have been elevated to the England squad, and domestic performance does warrant their inclusion, but Leicester could well be a classic case of “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. That works nicely in team sport, but when you extract some of the parts and place it in a new “whole”, it is rarely as effective.
Some international teams have benefitted from the transfer of the “whole” from club to country. The Soviet Union tried it with Dynamo Kiev, the Netherlands relied on Ajax and Feyenoord in the 1960s and 1970s. It is not possible today and it is difficult to see Vardy – despite his work ethic and awkward-to-handle aggression – and Drinkwater being very successful for England. It won’t be for lack of trying.
That’s not to devalue the contribution of Vardy, Drinkwater or any of the Leicester team – they have been truly astonishing in 2015-16. But the success of Leicester City, and the clear message that the unexpected can still happen and you don’t have to spend a king’s ransom to win the Premier, is one of the great tales of our football times, and one that we should all want to be repeated. It may not set a trend, it may not ultimately benefit the England team, but it has certainly sent English football into Euro 2016 with something of a smile on its face, and shown, against the odds, there is another way.