English football defies the xenophobes

Antonio Conte, Manager of Chelsea speaks with Hazard of Chelsea following victory after the UEFA Champions League group C match between Atletico Madrid and Chelsea FC at Estadio Wanda Metropolitano on September 27, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Ahmad Mora/NurPhoto/Sipa USA)

AS BRITAIN becomes increasingly intolerant of foreigners, football fans might like to be reminded that the nation’s teams are heavily reliant on talent from abroad.

In fact, in the Premier League, 61.2% of all appearances this season have been made by expatriate players. Among the “Big five” leagues across Europe, England have the highest percentage of overseas players. Italy has 55.1%, Germany 50.5%, Spain 39.4% and France 36.3%.

Research from CIES shows that England is not the place to be if you are an aspiring young player at a top level club.

It’s a bizarre situation given the size of the country and the history of the game. That said, England is a long way behind Cyprus, whose expat percentage is 80.2%, but this probably reflects the size of Cyprus and a shortage of talent.

But the worst “offenders” in England, if that’s the right word, are Chelsea and Arsenal, whose figures of 90.4% and 84.1% respectively are even higher than Cyprus’ overall percentage.

Chelsea have long focused their attention on overseas talent, even before the arrival of Roman Abramovich. One startling statistic is that John Terry was the last home-grown player to claim a regular first team spot at the club. Now with Terry gone, the only English players likely to have a say in team matters at Chelsea are Gary Cahill and new signing Danny Drinkwater, and neither of them are products of the club’s much-heralded youth scheme.

The highest six users of expat talent in the Premier are, naturally, among the most wealthy clubs – Chelsea (90.4), Arsenal (84.1), Manchester City (78.4), Manchester United (77.6). Then comes, surprisingly, Huddersfield Town on 77.1% and Liverpool on 73.5%.  The lowest in the Premier is Bournemouth on 31.5%.

It does make you wonder why clubs have youth systems given their reluctance to actually use the assets they have at their disposal. Youth academies appear to have a different purpose to their original intention. Are they now breeding grounds for clubs to develop players purely for sale in the market? Chelsea seem to have become good at farming out their youngsters – such as the talented but under-used Nathan Ake, who was sold for £ 20 million, despite making only a handful of appearances for the club.

Chelsea’s youth scheme is among the best in Europe in terms of results – the club has won the FA Youth Cup for the past four years and six times in eight seasons. But there’s little sign of any of their players making a breakthrough.

There’s another, more worrying aspect to CIES’ findings. England’s high score, 61.2%, shows an over-reliance of overseas players that reflects a lack of quality at home. Consider that hardly any clubs across Europe have English players in their squads – not a single member of the current England squad plays outside of the UK. Admittedly, the financial rewards of the Premier contribute to that, but it is not a new phenomenum. Players in England are not portable.

France, by comparison, has become very adept a developing players that are coveted all over Europe. In this age of globalisation, this goes some way to explaining why England, on the international stage, is now an also-ran. Likewise, Italy, which has a percentage of 55.1%, the second highest among the “Big five”, and their own international fortunes look to be in decline. Is it that English clubs, in order to be competitive, have to look beyond their own shores out of necessity? There’s another side to this – Britain has become very good at outsourcing employment to low-cost economies in recent years, is there also an element of this in football. Surely clubs in lower leagues do not need to hire from abroad when there are so many youngsters being nurtured at academies with nowhere to go?

Europe’s top clubs and where their players come from

  % of expat appearances in 2017-18 % of Domestic players in squad % of players from other European countries % of non-European players in squad
Manchester United 77.6 33% 52% 15%
Barcelona 52.1 37.5% 50% 12.5%
Real Madrid 51.2 46% 42% 12%
Bayern Munich 54.0 50% 38% 12%
Paris St. Germain 65.4 37.5% 25% 37.5%
Chelsea 90.4 14% 61% 25%
Juventus 73.3 35% 35% 30%

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