If you care about the Premier League, it’s time to be very afraid

By Tony Attwood

What matters to you?  A strong, exciting Premier League in which Arsenal play, or a strong England team that challenges for the World Cup?

I’ve always been in the former camp, and let the FA that runs the England team just get on with their pathetically muddled way, mostly commenting only when the FA and England interfere with the Premier League.

But now that interference is about to get a lot worse.  So much worse that the Premier League could be severely hampered.

OK, that might seem quite a claim – after all the Premier League is strong and vibrant.  Best league in the world, and all that.

But consider this.

Do you remember the Italian League?   There was a time when lots of us with no connection with Italy, watched it.  The passion, the glamour, the excitement.  It had its own TV shows in the UK and Ireland, and was regularly mentioned on the sports pages of the English national press.

And now?

Now, although I used to watch Italian football, as I contemplated this article I must admit I had to go and look at the league table to see what’s what.  No one talks much about Italian football any more.

So why has Italian football declined – and what does its decline tell us about the future of the Premier League?

Actually the answers to that question are dead simple.   Italy should be there as a huge warning to everyone involved in the Premier League and the FA.  A warning that says,

a) just because you are big today, doesn’t mean you are going to be big tomorrow.

b) you tinker with what made the league big at your peril

I’ve got into this article because everyone and his dog in the upper echelons of football in England, aided and abetted by the usual array of media suspects down the pub, are calling for change because “without change England won’t win the World Cup.”  (Not an exact quote, but that’s pretty much what people are saying).

And to understand why that is so very wrong, we have to start with Italy.

It Italy these days Juventus wins the league (usually by between 10 and 20 points) and then does very badly in Europe – as opposed to in the old days when  Inter won the league and did well in Europe – while facing vibrant competition from AC Milan, Roma and  of course Juventus.

So what went wrong – and why is it a warning to the Premier League?

The fact is that Italy stopped being the place that brilliant young players from across the world wanted to go.  Instead the process works the other way, so the Italian league has more Italians in.

And this is what the FA and its buddies want – more and more English players in the Premier League – no matter whether they are good enough to force out the sort of top talent that we are attracting at the moment.

Of course the reason for this change is different in each country – in Italy corruption of referees killed the golden goose, and whether that will happen in the Premier League is still to be seen.  But now there is pressure from the FA, ex-England managers and the media (that ceaselessly supports international football and sees it as a “good thing”) for the Premier League to be artificially manipulated so that instead of being the league that attracts top talent it is a league that is fixed with quotas.

Indeed it is hard to remember just how great Italian League football was at one time.  But just consider the names: Zidane Roberto Baggio, Gullit, Maldini, Maradona, Totti, George Weah, Didier Deschamps, Bierhoff, Ronaldo… they were all there.

Now the Premier League has not made the mistakes that the Italian League made – most particularly by letting the grounds decay.  Led by Arsenal, there is a drive to rebuild and renew the old grounds, so such a degree that eventually Old Trafford will be left as the old converted dinosaur.  Man City and WHU have got grounds paid for by the state (naughty, but a benefit to the clubs) Tottenham and Liverpool are in the process of renewal, Chelsea desperately want to move but can’t find a place, Southampton have a newish smaller arena, and Everton are hopeful.  All so different from Italy where the old grounds were left to decay until it was all too late.

Of course the death knell was Calciopoli – match fixing Italian style.  That threat hangs over the Premier League too, and will do until such time as PGMO is overthrown and a new organisation dedicated to openness comes in.

But the other key factor in Italy was the exodus of players – as shown by the list above and it is possible that it will happen in England because of the constant attempt by the FA and its supporters in the media to bring in more and more artificial quotas.

The problem is that quota-lovers are rather like junkies.  Quotas look like they might work for a moment, because nobody ever does any proper analysis of the situation (unless reprinting the now five year old Untold review which predicted the rise of Spain as an international power and explained how the tiny Netherlands could produce so many top players).   It’s like taking a narcotic – it can make you feel good for a while, but then you just need to take more and more.

So we have had the home grown rule.  Now this is not always as easy to understand as it might be.  For example, go to the Premier League’s official site and have a look at the page titled “Home Grown Player Rule” and you’ll see what I mean.

But in essence the current rule says Premier League clubs can have a squad of 25 Senior Players of whom eight must,  irrespective of nationality or age, have been registered with a club affiliated to the Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period of three entire seasons or 36 months prior to his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).

Now that is fairly artificial – but the league is getting away with that because it turns out it is not that onerous a deal – especially since under 21s are not counted.

But now the talk is of extending this – and the risk is a loss of star players to other leagues – exactly as happened in Italy.  And if that decline happens just as the new stadia are being built, some clubs are going to fail, and then we really are looking at Italy mark II.

So that’s two threats:

1.  If  the PGMO fiasco is not sorted out it could destroy the credibility of the League

2.  If ever more quotas are introduced that could start an exodus of players to another league.  (And remember, 20 years ago the English leagues were just a back water – the real action took place elsewhere.  Change can happen fairly quickly – as Italy’s decline shows).

And other leagues are challenging all the time.  Spain has tried to up its prestige with all the talk of Barcelona and Real Mad, but has suddenly fallen on its face with the Barcelona child exploitation scandal and its ban from transfers, the collapse of the wholly artificial tax system that meant foreign footballers didn’t get to pay much tax, associated on going tax scandals that endlessly swirl around the two big clubs, the allegations of match fixing that have just begun to be taken seriously, and the on-going investigation into the club’s affairs over illegal state aid.

So leagues come and leagues fall.  None is impervious to change.

And in the midst of this we have the nonsense of five former England managers warning that England’s chances of winning the World Cup are dependent on Greg Dyke’s proposed new reforms.  Reforms from the FA – an organisation so inept that it actually lost its funding from Sport England because it couldn’t sort itself out (or spent it on servicing its debt rather than building pitches for children – no one is telling).

An FA that was caught out breaking the notoriously lax rules about receiving gifts from Fifa!

But Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Sven‑Goran Eriksson, Graham Taylor and Steve McClaren are here advocating the notion that the minimum number of home-grown players in a club’s first-team squad should increase from eight to 12 phased one a year over four seasons starting 2016-17.

And the definition of a home-grown player is to change so that they must have been registered for three years before the age of 18, not 21.  This would cut out players coming in from abroad unless they are brought into England at 15, which of course can be done from the EU.   If clubs do that it could be much more harmful for the young players who change countries in that way, but who then don’t make the top grade.

Dyke also suggested that at least two players must be “club-trained” for three years from the age of 15.  Oh yes and work permit rules for players, which have been under the control of the FA for years, will be changed.

But hey, this is ENGLAND we are talking about.  Caring for youngsters and their well-being?  Following the news and the endless scandals ‘m not sure we are very good at that.

And this is the FA we are talking about – an organisation that has spent all its money on Wembley, and is struggling to finance the debt that has created.  A body that cannot recognise that it is its inability to train coaches that is at the heart of the matter.  A body that cannot set up the desperately needed modern all-weather pitches for children to play on.

In a country where one of the biggest threats to young people playing football comes from the abuse hurled at referees and young players by parents standing on the touch line.

With the media behind them, and the constant ignoring of the history of the FA, these changes could be pushed through.  And the result could be appalling.

This is a good time to be frightened, and to start trying to get the message out.   The FA is not a solution, it is one almighty big problem.

Anniversary of the day:

2 April 1915: Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-0 in the greatest match fixing controversy in English football thus far.  Both clubs were found guilty but with the connivance of the League and FA neither received any punishment – which had a major impact on the first post-war season

31 Replies to “If you care about the Premier League, it’s time to be very afraid”

  1. Great article. Personally I don’t give a damn about England but we have to accept that some do. I read about all this promoting Ebglish players with interest, let’s face it, in the 1970s and 1980s out league was awash with home grown talent, but England were still shite. Ok maybe a blip in the 1990s onwards. And as for Sven, he should stay out of it. He had some very talented players, but his deference to a few of them and his innate caution meant he never came close to winning anything.
    Unfortunately, looks like the pgmol and those who make it what it is will not act until it it too late. A calciopoli in this country , and this league will plummet to depths far more extreme than the Italian league. That is the risk they run with Riley in charge.
    Think with England, the biggest problem is the way we coach, encourage and play youngsters. That and complete short termism of course.Not going to change while you get the likes of Chelsea attaining success either.

  2. The above is just the latest in a long list of brilliantly revealing articles highlighting the ineptitude of the FA.

    Given the likes of Hoddle, Keegan, Eriksson, Taylor and McLaren must all know the same facts that Tony does you surely have to question the motives behind them supporting such flawed thinking ?

  3. Is it my faulty memory or did not the vast expansion of TV coverage of games in Italy also significantly undermine attendance at games? That and ‘ultra’ related violence?

  4. “In a country where one of the biggest threats to young people playing football comes from the abuse hurled at referees and young players by parents standing on the touch line.”

    When will any of these 24/7 football hacks who rip most of their work from twitter or other peoples blogs these days muster up the footballs required to follow up Martin Keown’s work on grassroots football? Work that was published in a funny paper, the Daily Heil I believe, and then ignored by the media completely – this

    Funnily enough Keown published a series of articles just as Dyke started his Big Conversation of Gibberish which was composed to write the observations and data and research done by those who know out of the equation in order to push forward this bungling programme inspired by UKIP and worse for their own purposes who has we know from the long long record have sweet FA to do with the Fooball.

    Dyke is media lord. Many here on untold have come to conclusion that it is the media tht sets the agenda in Fooball and that the media has helped to retard English football. Dyke’s very presence or involvement in the game is reasonable support for this understanding. After gutting the beeb is dykes next commission the end of the FA?

  5. The first casualty of any battle is the plan. If the FA bullies the top clubs into its plan, and threatens to expel foreign talent that sells football, how long before the top clubs break away to form a separate, wealthy super league across Europe? And given that they will piss off FIFA etc in so doing, they won’t be eligible for having their season disrupted by international matches (or international tournaments such as Quatar). Bring it on. Emirates is possibly the only stadium in London that is satisfactory for a London FC (by any other name). I would rather watch Arsenal, with all its talent retained, playing against top European sides, than a team of home-grown mediocre players, playing against other English mediocre teams because they’re too unworldly to compete on a bigger stage.

  6. In the 1970’s and 80’s we had foreign players playing in England. They were called Scots, Irish and Welsh. They did nothing to help England’s national team obviously. In fact, Liverpool, notoriously for the time, won the FA Cup without one Englishman in their team. A few journos commented on this “disgraceful” situation; then retired back to the bar.
    If the FA are going to bring in quotas to “help” the England team, will these foreigners be discounted too?
    Greg “something must be done” Dyke. Typical Englishman trying to disguise incompetence.
    Great and relevant article: needs a bigger audience.

  7. Horsham Gooner

    “In fact, Liverpool, notoriously for the time, won the FA Cup without one Englishman in their team. A few journos commented on this “disgraceful” situation; then retired back to the bar.”

    Great point. I vaguely remember the short lived hullabaloo but it soon passed (back to the bar, as you say).

    Which leads to your other point:

    “Greg “something must be done” Dyke. Typical Englishman trying to disguise incompetence.
    Great and relevant article: needs a bigger audience.”

    The thing is Horsham, that ‘bigger audience’ depends on the media and for some reason, which I cant fathom, they are not interested.

    SKY for example just seem to let Dyke, walk on, spout his shite, and walk off, never thinking to ever question a word he says.

  8. “How long before top clubs break away”
    Probably about 300 hundred years. Yes a super league of top Euro sides would be terrific, but admission can only be by a proper promotion/relegation system.
    Something like that could be in place within five years and would be an ideal replacement for the overweight Champions League.

    To answer the opening question “what matter to you?” I would say both, but Greg Dyke’s plans to further restrict world players in the Premier League will not make one bit of difference to the national side because as is often pointed out here and on other Arsenal blogs that the solution is at the coaching of young talent levels.

  9. Sad that they will implement these stupid changes only to find out in 1 or 2 seasons that they don’t work.

  10. TailGunner

    The “big clubs” will never break away. They know their market and too many games that have no local relevance would soon take their toll I’d suggest.
    But who are the “big clubs” anyway? As a previous article on Untold pointed out, half the clubs that were in the Premiership a few years ago are no longer there.
    When the concept of the Champions League was set up in 1992 it was thought to be the beginning of a European League. Liverpool, Everton were big clubs then; City and Chelsea made up the numbers.
    Therefore, I’d contend, no clubs from any League in Europe will break away from their domestic league. So the answer is for all professional clubs to stand up to Dyke, PGMO, and other time-serving ne’er-do-wells and save football for future generations.
    I won’t hold my breath though!!

  11. the reason the italian league attracted the best talent in the sixties,seventies, and eighties is same as the premier league does today,they where the richest league and paid the highest wages.i remember Jimmy greaves, Hitchens,law,Charles,and few others lured by the money and lifestyle something at the time unavailable in the old division1.

  12. The proposed change from 16 to 15 seems pretty revealing. With the emergence of Gnabry, Bellerin and, albeit in irregular fashion, Coquelin, we have, once Szczesny is added, done some pretty fantastic work with players joining us at 16 from Europe. So then you ask, how many other players throughout the English game fit the same description, or, phrased differently, how many English players are being squeezed out of first team football by players like this? And the answer is…hmmm, there’s Janujaz, and there’s…Bentaleb…and there’s…Weimman…and…no, that seems about it…oh, Fabregas.

    Joining a year or so later, and therefore still eligible (I think) to be classed as homegrown would be Krul, Schneiderlin, Clichy.

    Anyway, the answer is that despite the efforts of many clubs to follow our lead, not many have done the deed. Partly because the two who have arguably been most active in bringing over these youngsters- Chelsea and City- have a wretched record of bringing any youngsters through.

    So, not many English youngsters can be proven-as far as anything can be proven in these matters- to have been stopped by the current definition of homegrown. And only one club could find themselves struggling to meet the quota despite having an exceptional record of getting players with the club since 16 into the first team. Aye, it feels to me like we were probably very much on the minds of whoever dreamed up the proposed change.

    Add those who joined us for significant fees at 17 or younger, and our record becomes even more impressive. If it was an easy thing to do, and not worthy of credit- pay a big fee for players that age and then actually play them- why aren’t others doing it again?

    16,17,18- there is still much development work to do and it takes stones to put these players in the team; the changes would not reflect nor reward that properly.

  13. Tony

    There is no obligation on any club to have 8 homegrown players . Indeed as the rules are you aren’t obliged to have even 1

  14. Mike T,
    But that would mean that you only have 17 players at your disposal doesn’t it?

  15. Wenger being pestered (oops, I mean interviewed):


    Abou Diaby has been given a proposal. He may stay and play at Arsenal, but he needs to be in games in order to be paid.

    And then, the press keeps jabbering about transfers, and Wenger tells them to go away (my words, not his).

    At the end, he is asked to comment about Gerrard. To me, Gerrard doesn’t have everything. He cheats.

  16. I admire Wenger for not gettting drawn into speculation, mathematical or otherwise.

    Don’t talk to me about transfers, when the transfer window is not open. Especially if a purpose of the speculation is to influence players prior to a big game.

    Don’t ask me about it being mathematically being possible to finish 1st, or if a 9 point lead on Liverpool mean anything after this weekend. If at some point we have a 9 point lead with 2 games left to play, sure ask me about 9 point leads.

  17. Considering how they stitch him up time after time I’m always amazed at how nice Wenger is to the media.

    Personally, to there very first question I would say:

    F*** Off you Kn*b

    And walk out.

    But that’s just me I suppose.

  18. Rich

    I would add something. Hodgson and Southgate want young players involved in U21. What is the value that Wenger often provides, of these young players getting time in Champion’s League? Does the player learn more playing against his U21 peers, or playing against established older players in Champion’s League?

    What of the U21 Champion’s League?

    This, is again part of the trophy for finishing in the top-4. The ability to provide top-level European football to all players, youth and adult.

  19. Happy World Autism Awareness Day!

    Give feedback and/or a chance to someone on the spectrum today!

    Arsenal supports at least one community project involving autism. Doing a search in the general news for football connections, I find this: Paul Lake (ex of ManCity) has a son with autism.

  20. Good luck Gord. Try to give footballing and chess opportunities to kids on the spectrum. More challenging but fantastic for their self esteem.

  21. It is possible that the England football team might do better if the clubs attracted more young players from middle-class backgrounds – or, and this might seem a contradiction, from almost poverty-stricken backgrounds. But I wonder if the grass roots game is set up in such a way as to preclude kids from either of those socio-economic backgrounds.

  22. Pete, thanks!

    There was a news story out of Ontario, Canada a couple of weeks ago. A young boy (13 I believe) with autism was hoping that some people would come out to the bowling alley on his birthday. And he was getting no replies. His Mom put something up on Facebook, and lots of people showed up. He got a limo ride to the bowling alley. Two (3?) Toronto sports teams sent good wishes in. Something like 5000 people responded in some way.

    Arsenal.com has a preview of the Ladies game (away) against Notts County, but didn’t say the game was today. 7:30pm at Meadow Lane. It is possible that Andrew may be at the game, he seems to catch the odd youth and ladies games. I will try to find news articles.

    The first team has had 3 Saturday games rescheduled.


    Hull moved to the following Monday, Swansea moved to the following Monday, and ManU to the following Sunday (May 17). The Sunderland game had been moved to May 20 (Wednesday) quite a while ago, so we get 1 less day of rest before that game due to having to satisfy the TV scheduling people (who never admit it is their desires that moved these games).

  23. Certainly we now live in an expensive pay to play era .It costs £ 82.00 to hire a grass pitch on Hackney Marshes , then you have ref’s fees and other overheads. For a junior match the cost is nearing £150 – £200.Gone are the days when subs were 5 shillings a game.

  24. @ Walter

    It would if you ignored those that are under 21.

    I am not sure of the numbers but as I have stated on here before, and to Arsnals great credit, they usually have a couple of players that are fairly regulars and because of the age don’t occupy one of the 25 man squad.

    I believe that last season for instance Wilshire and Oxl disn’t take one of the homegrown places in the PL .

    I actually think that the quota system is the right way to go the hard bit is to somehow get the numbers right. Indeed I would go even further and require there should be a minimum of say three HG on the pitch at all times and I think the redefine of what is called HG is long overdue

  25. An excellent article Tony. The weakness of the Dyke proposals is that there is no provision to increase the supply and quality of young English players by the age of 15. Without that provision the inward looking proposal will indeed be self destructive.

    The famous five – former failed England managers look as if they have been “recruited” to support the dork’s proposal, some of the five are less than bright, but one or two should have known better.

    It is interesting that the disingenuous Chelski supporter seems to be in favor, no doubt there is an expensive self interest plan in there somewhere.

  26. Porter

    That rental price seems absurd. It reeks of attempts at commercialization. There are things government are good at: holding assets that are paid for and just charging for maintenance is one. To have a commercial organization own assets, they need to amortize everything.

    The last I remember of referees fees in Canada, is that the referee got something like $20 for a game. But that was more than 10 years ago. And the fields were free (but needed to be booked). Some fields were owned by the government (most), and some by the football association (few). Government could be school boards.

  27. Abou Diaby is a problem. Actually, I don’t think he is a problem, but there are entirely too many parties who want to make him a problem.

    There are cowards writing about Abou Diaby which describe him as injury prone. Lots of cowards writing. There are some neutrals who describe him being someone who has suffered a lot of injuries. Some neutrals writing. The courageous will say that Abou Diaby has been repeatedly injured by players on other teams. And they may go on to say something about whether some fraction were fair tackles or not. There are people at places like Untold who are courageous, but you don’t see this in the medja.

    There was a blurb today about Hodgson saying the Wilshere is now healed. Thank you Hodgson, please don’t say anything in the future; it is Wenger’s job to say if Wilshere is healed, not yours. But, the blurb went on to say that Wilshere was injured in a specific tackle, but lacked the courage to say that a foul was not called and the force was excessive.

    It will be interesting to see what Wenger and Diaby come up with.

  28. With it now being middle of the night (and April 3) in the UK, maybe I can put some more autism stuff up, with an athletics/football slant.

    There is a female in the UK who is on the spectrum, and is a kickboxing champion. Jo Redman. She has Asperger’s Syndrome (same as me).

    I gather DSM V has moved Asperger’s Syndrome away from Autism, which I disagree with. Autism is a way of thinking. If as a child/youth, you have a language deficit, it is autism. If you don’t have the language deficit, it is Asperger’s Syndrome. And obviously there can be a spectrum between no language deficit and significant language deficit. In going through school, I could have skipped grade 4 and grade 10, except that my English language skills were lacking. I have a slight language deficit.

    For the beancounters and statisticians out there, the USA is now estimating 1 in 68 people has autism. And all of us autisitics are significantly different from most of society (aka neurotypicals); as well as tending to be different from each other. Numbers from the USA are the easiest to come by, but this fraction is likely not the same all over the world. It would be nice to know what it is everywhere (on a map). Which ni of itself, may help to untangle genetic and environmental factors.

    We have some coaches in Untold. CNN had a page about autism today (they seem to take World Autism Day seriously each year). Apparently they did a program about “Active for Autism”, which among other things talks about how coaches in sports can work with athletes who have autism. Sorry, no URL, but CNN is quite searchable.

    This Anna Kennedy seems to be quite the person. At some point, she was given an OBE. She has 2 sons that are autistic, and they look to be young men from the pictures I seen. I had mentioned that she was involved with West Ham (anti-bullying). She also does community autism work involving West Ham. She re-mortgaged her house to help her sons. And it wasn’t enough to work with one professional football team (West Ham), she also works with Sunderland.

    Maybe the bullying/autism connection isn’t clear. With the exception of 4 months, I spent all of my elementary (grades 1-6, age 6-12) at one school. It was one of 2 “open access” schools in my city. Inevitably, by the time recess came along (morning and afternoon), I had something stupid and consequently recess was usually spent running away from a gang of boys who wanted to beat me up. And the teachers did nothing. This happened every school day. For self preservation, if they caught me I “turtled” and started crying quite quickly after they started punching and kicking me. But, with all the running I did also become quite good at running. In grade 6, one time in PhysEd we went to the skating rink across the street. And the teacher decided we would play tag. At some point, the person who was tagging others, was the head of the gang that usually chased me. I was the last one to be tagged, and he had me pinned up against the boards of the hockey rink. I “deked” him out and “escaped”. And that was the last day he lead that gang.

    Chase a person for 6 years, they can become quite athletic.

    Most of you are English, and may not know Curt Harnett. Canadian sprint cyclist. He had 34 inch thighs at one point, and could squat 800 pounds. I read a piece about a Canadian hockey player a few days ago. He somehow got into jumping over a chair as part of training. Jumping the chair became too easy, they moved to hurdles. This is a standing jump, no run up. He is about 6 foot tall, so taller than me, but not as tall as Szczesny or Per Mertesacker. Apparently there is a video of him jumping over a hurdle (standing jump) of 60 inches (5 feet) on Youtube somewhere. You could get Santi Cazorla and Messi standing next to each other, and without a run up, he could jump over top of their shoulders.

  29. An excellent article Tony, one that expands and re-enforces all the previous articles close to this topic and the inaptitude of the FA, Dyke, and the of course the tainted media!!

    Why is it that we – here – can bang on about the problem being everywhere else (especially at coaching and development of youth) rather than quotas…makes absolute sense when Arsene Wenger comes out and says:

    “I believe we are in a top-level competition and you earn your right through the quality of your performance rather than your place of birth,” he said.

    “I think between 16 and 21 the English youth teams, until now, have not performed. So that’s the heart of the problem. Let’s get better at that level, then if there is a problem integrating these players in the top teams, we have to do something about it.”

    Spot on I say!!

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