By Tony Attwood
Once upon a time having foreign players in the Arsenal team meant having a couple of full backs whose name began “Mc”. Then came the EU, then Bosman, and suddenly clubs woke up to the fact that one could sign players without thinking so much about where they came from.
Which then led to calls for a return to the days of “Mc”. “We’ll have no more of these foreign players” was the cry, although we’ll have the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh.
Steve McClaren, when he was manager of England, joined in the campaign which argued that because all these foreign players kept coming into England and taking our boys’ jobs, we needed more legislation to stop them. Then English players could get jobs playing in the Premier League.
That would, he argued, make England more likely to win the world cup.
What struck me about that argument was that it would also diminish the value of the Premier League, the quality of play would get lower and lower, and so English players playing in the Premier League would be used to a lower standard, and England would get knocked out the world cup even earlier than usually happens.
So because of this dichotomy it has been interesting to see McClaren (who is an English Mc, not a which makes the whole thing more confusing) sign not Bob Brown from Bolton, or Charlie Cartwright from Cornwall, but Georgino Wijnaldum from the Netherlands, Aleksandar Mitrovic from Serbia and Chancel Mbemba from the Congo. Now why did he do that?
Could it be that he learned something when he was at FC Twente and brought in Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica) and Miroslav Stoch (Slovakia)? No, surely if he believed that countries should have their nationals playing in their own league he would have been buying Dutch players!
Or maybe having done this he realised what a dreadful mistake he had made using non-Dutch players, and then changed his tune. But no, Twente won the league for the first time in their entire history. He had got it right.
So what made McClaren be happy to sign foreigners, and then say it was harming English football, and then sign foreigners again?
I ask this, because I think the tale is one that shows the extremely dubious nature of what is going on in English football at the moment.
In April this year the Football Association chairman, Greg Dyke, put forward a set of plans which he persuaded five ex-England managers who had failed to make a serious impact over time with England, to back. The plan was to increase the minimum number of homegrown players in club squads from eight to 12 and to change the homegrown rule so that to be homegrown the player would have to have trained in England for three years before the age of 18 instead of three years before the age of 21.
Graham Taylor, Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren all signed the letter warning that the English game will suffer even further humiliation than the norm if it does not do exactly as required by Dyke.
“We urge everyone in the English game to get behind them as quickly as possible,” the letter apparently said. “Failure to do so risks England falling further behind the leading football nations and will only make it harder to end the long wait to win the World Cup.” It went on…
“There are many reasons why England has failed to win any major honours since 1966 and each of us bears a portion of that responsibility.
“However, as the England Commission’s evidence has demonstrated, the pool of English talent playing at the very top level is shrinking and it’s an undeniable fact that this is a clear disadvantage for any England manager.”
Now this is a typical bit of football speak. Make a statement, and then without enquiring seriously into whether it is true or not, assume it is and then base a whole load of comments and ideas on the notion it is true. Then call it an “undeniable fact”.
It might be that the number of players who qualify to play for England and who play in the Premier League is getting lower, but as I mentioned before, that doesn’t mean that by making it harder for non-UK nationals to play in the Premier League will improve the quality of such players.
It could also be true that because so few of these players play overseas, they don’t get used to how football works in other parts of the world as for example the Dutch players do.
Since 1974 this tiny nation has come second three times, third once, and fourth once in the world cup. Since 1974 England has come fourth once.
Now by any logic England should be looking at what the Netherlands does and follow it as a method. And what the Netherlands does is have its top players play in other countries. Just look at the list of recent Dutch internationals who have played more than 10 times for their country, and see where they play:
- Strootman – Italy
- Pieters – England
- Lens – England
- Elia – now back in the Netherlands, but played in Germany, Italy and England
- van der Wiel – France
- Braafheid – Italy
- Engelaar – now back in the Netherlands having played in Belgium Germany France
I could keep going back in time, but the result is always the same – the Dutch players play in various European countries, and the Netherlands constantly out classes England despite the fact that England has over four million players compared with 1.7 million in the Netherlands according to Fifa’s statistics.
So why is the FA always coming back to this issue of letting in too many foreigners and how this is the cause of our demise?
The answer is simple. The cause of our demise is the FA itself and the number of coaches that it provides in England. In the last figures available from Uefa England has 1190 registered A coaches, while the Netherlands has 901.
When it comes to Pro coaches England has 205 and the Netherlands 218.
So the Netherlands has more Pro coaches than England despite having a tiny population compared to England, and under half the number of players.
And the reason for the low number of coaches is that the FA is bankrupt because of the building of Wembley stadium. So it charges an arm and a leg to train up coaches – far more than in other countries. It has also, as Untold reported recently, just made about a quarter of its staff redundant in order to try and survive. It endlessly gets its minions to put out publicity about how the Premier League should pay more to support the FA and England. And it uses a compliant media to put this message across.
It really is a disgraceful situation when one of the few places that remorselessly points out the ineptness of the FA is a blog like this, run by a handful of fans in their spare time.