Why we must stand up and fight the FA’s attempts to restrict the number of foreign players in the Premier League

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.

Untold Arsenal




25 Replies to “Why we must stand up and fight the FA’s attempts to restrict the number of foreign players in the Premier League”

  1. Brussels’ fascination in introducing new restrictive legislation has spread at long last to the FA. It was inevitable.
    With the UK presently being part of the EU, with its free movement of labour, the football club lawyers are already poised for action.
    Will we ever learn? 😉

  2. Imagine if they do something crazy like each team allowing 3 non European players in a team and 1 non English European player in the team.

  3. I remember Blatter saying a few years ago that he will put a limit on foreign players being imported. He seemed to think that he was bigger and more important than any EU directive. If a worker is an EU resident then he can work in any EU country. Law is law. We don’t have to fight it.

  4. I read untold’s report on the poor condition and lack of resource for communities/schools to improve football games. I have no experience in this sort of activities but it makes sense. It certainly make more sense when we read reports on how the Germans “redeveloped” their national football program and their preparation for World Cup!

    Another thing, I like to point out again, which I keep talking about is the so called “Englishness” of football.

    Compare the most advanced countries at the moment… Spain & Germany how do they play? Look at the Brazilians in this World Cup. Many of them can easily be said to play the “Englishness”.

    Think about it. Not that many years ago, EPL got the most number of teams advancing in CL. Now, how many got through? Some argue that its due to the competitiveness in EPL. Yet not that long ago, EPL teams sort of dominated CL.

    The first step… stop the ref. adding “Englishness” into EPL games by allowing above European level of physical play.

    FA complains about the lack of talent avaiable yet look at what their ref allow to happen to Wilshere and others?

  5. Too much common sense here, the FA will never go for it, plus the money used to run all of these programmes needed will come out of their coffers and we all know they needs their moneys…

  6. So England has just 205 pro licence coaches to support over 100 full-time professional clubs (and many more semi-pro). Probably over 1000 clubs are semi-pro to at least some extent – which hoovers up all the A licence coaches too. And then the larger clubs will employ many top level coaches…

    Really jaw-dropping.

    I am involved in youth football – and we could really do with more, better-qualified coaches.

    NW – agree with you also.

    As for McLaren it seems that he didn’t buy (m)any English players when managing in Netherlands and Germany. Which clearly demonstrates that they are over-rated/over-priced! But fair play to him for at least giving it a go coaching overseas – very few English coaches do so at a pro level. And why so many of the Prem coaches are foreign.

    Looking at that annoyingly positioned League table above, I can see that 5 managers are English, 2 Welsh, 1 Scottish and 1 Northern Irish.

  7. Just a few points to make concerning your usual insightful article. My teenage years were in the 50s and I grew up with a highly “foreign” Arsenal team. Half the team seemed to be Welsh with Kelsey, Barnes, Tapscott, Bowen sticking in the memory. Add to them the various Scottish and Irish players and we never seemed to field more than 3 English players. I think we went about 5 years without an England International before Danny Clapton gained his one cap.

    In 1968, I started my first job in a small comprehensive school in Birmingham. I was amazed to see before school and during breaks about 50 boys playing “street football” in a small playground. There was a high level of skill and 7 boys started to train with Villa. They also competed for the school team and we quickly started to gather a band of regular spectators for our games. There was skill and enthusiasm and it was a matter for pride within the whole school. However, when they reached the age of 15 they were all rejected. One, who had already played in Villa reserves, was offered amateur terms because they had reached their quota of apprentices from more distant parts of the country and because he was “too much like Brian Little”. The most skillful was rejected because he was “black” and would not “survive in the muddy winters”. I started to manage a non-league youth team and recruited some, plus others that had had similar experiences. We managed to reach the 3rd round of the FA Youth Cup beating Chesterfield and Oxford United along the way before losing 2-0 to Bristol City at Ashton Gate. Bristol City eventually reached the final where they lost to Ipswich. They also signed Clive Whitehead from us and he went on to have a long career with Bristol City and West Brom after having been discarded by Wolves.

    My point is that, at that time, there was a huge pool of English footballers that went largely untapped by the clubs or the FA. The enthusiasm for football at that time could be seen any Sunday when any area of grass would have a football match being played on it. Indeed, one of my golfing partners, Keith Leonard, was picked up by Villa in his early 20s and his goals were mainly responsible for getting them to the top flight. He later became number 2 to Ron Saunders. Was the England team better then than now? Definitely not!

    During the next few decades, I have coached several footballers that have played in the top flight (Dean Sturridge is probably the most notable) but the attitude and atmosphere has gradually changed. Many schools ban football in playgrounds and those with talent that are picked up by clubs are not encouraged to play outside those clubs. This does mean that those left do not have the role models to copy or compete against, so they stagnate. In my last year of teaching (2005) there was a boy that has gone on to get England U21 caps, but I never saw him kick a ball.

    Of course, change is inevitable and we will never be able to counter the numerous attractions that take potential footballers onto other paths but I do believe that more could be done, particularly in schools, to make football more enjoyable and relevant to our current teenagers.

  8. BrummieGooner
    Very intersecting read.
    Ray Daniel was another of the Welsh Arsenal brigade from the fifties. I’dnever considered it, but it probably explains why Wales had such a good international side back then.

  9. Great article Tony! The proposed FA plans will increase the amount of English players in the PL, but the PL will not be the same and the talent level tremendously decreased. It is essentially expecting the English players to become better since they are playing more even though they are competing with lower quality players.

    It just makes too much sense to invest in grassroots football, youth programs, and increasing the number of qualified coaches like Germany, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, etc… that the FA would never consider it.

    OT: Alexis Sánchez has apparently sent humanitarian aid (lorries of bottled water, first aid supplies, and clothing) to his hometown of Tocopilla since the area has been devastated due to flooding.

  10. The TV companies who pay so much money are not going to allow this to happen. They want the standards of the PL to keep rising, this ensures maximum viewers for them.

  11. This is the first time I am commenting on this site and I have to say the article is spot on. A colleague of mine at work who trains and manages young players has said exactly the same thing. Little funding is provided at grassroots level. The likes of Dyke are more interested in commercial activities than truly making the national team better. Always makes me laugh when he talks about investing at the grassroots level when the reality is different. The cost of training up coaches is also very expensive compared to the likes of Germany. I think many more people need to be aware that it is the FA itself that is holding back progress rather than this long held belief that foreign players are the cause.

  12. Scudamore has already told the FA to eff off, stay out of the PL’s business, and mind its own business.

  13. Tony,
    I wholeheartedly agree with the FA. These damn foreigners come over here taking the jobs of our young footballers. If this continues how will we ever recapture the highs of the 74, 78 and 94 World Cup campaigns? In these seasons we had few if any foreigners in our league and the resulting superb performance of our national side speaks for itself.

  14. Interestingly, Platini, wearing his French hat, recommends a 6+5 formula on the field. In France, there is a myth that allowing Albanian or Bosnian players in the Ligue 1 will weaken the exporting country’s talent pool as well as the importing country’s top league. Again, with no evidence-based statistical analysis whatsoever.
    Interestingly, Arsenal would be easily able to field 5 internationals, with Chambo, Ox, Jack, Danny, and Theo. You may also add Jenks, and even Rambo since the Prem is now the BPL of England and Wales rather than the EPL of England only.

  15. I know Talksport where having some talking head from the FA on today to talk about how she’s in charge of spending £250 Million of FA money.

    Apparently they are going to ask her about this very subject.

    How much money is going to ‘Grass roots’ coaching?

    I couldn’t listen, so wondered if anyone else did?

    Excuse my ignorance but I wouldn’t even know if, relatively speaking, I know it is a lot of money, but relatively I mean, if £250 Million is actually a lot of money.

    or, was only a fraction of it going to grass roots anyway.

    One thing I’ll take a punt on is that Talksport don’t ask any of the awkward questions that have been raised by Tony and Co.

    I predict a love-in, with a lot of back slapping and swallowing of everything they are fed without question.

    But you never know, someone may tell me how wrong I am and how she put her hands up to all the FA’s previous failings and tells us how massive the Grass roots investment is going to be from now on.

    My hat awaits it’s fate if this is the case.

  16. Graham, is the last name POLL? Just kidding. Great article as usual . Until the abysmal level of grassroot development and officiating improves, it is more likely an African country wins the WC before England. Revive Street football just as AW opined.

  17. Jambug, it’s 260m – over 4 years. Only 15m a year is new money. No wonder they hyped it up the way they did. “We’re going to spend an extra 15m a year – by sacking 225 people,” doesn’t quite have the same PR oomph.

    From the Guardian: “So this is another £15m a year found for the whole of amateur, men’s, women’s and disability football, including improving dire facilities, coaching and refereeing initiatives, administration and development programmes at England’s 52 county football associations.”

    The source article is worth reading in full: http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2015/aug/12/fa-grassroots-funding-short-change

  18. Robert

    Thanks for that.

    Somehow I didn’t think it was going to be the “QUARTER OF A BILLION” they where endlessly bigging up before the lady arrived.

    It was definitely being touted as a massive NEW injection of £250 thousand.

    I wonder if she was presented with the Guardians version of events?

    My hat still awaits it’s fate !

  19. The loss of foreign players will not help English football. To be successful England requires to get the basics right. The game needs to ensure football is played with integrity. That means good quality officiating within the Laws of the game. This aspect is critical for young players to thrive with skills & not get hacked by brute force.

    The brute force is part of coaching in England & is what destroys all young coaches. If you teach incorrect play, it follows that incorrect play will be part of the dna of youth football. Coaching in England requires a fresh approach with overseas training on at least 2 other continents being mandatory. English Coaches need to learn the way football is played in Asia & Africa. It will give them a balanced grounding & drive some genetic wrongs out of their methods. An example is the two footed tackle as promoted by Phil Neville while at the BBC. Too many so called pundits abuse their position & promote nasty tactics as being robust rather than honestly call them cowardly & poor unsporting physical abuse. If football was only meant for brute force players like Iniesta & Messi would not have emerged. They probably would not have emerged if they were coached in England.

    The English Premier League demands players to be stronger & fitter than other leagues because of the poor officiating standards. Skill is subdued by permitted brute force & unlawful grappling (against the Laws of the Game). The permission is due to a limited number of officials in a secret society. The PGMO is not racially diverse nor representative of the age groups & geography as is the Premier League. There is no transparency in the appointment nor selection process of officials leading to many assuming correctly that ‘dark forces’ are involved.

    Funding of an incorrect process will not help to achieve success.

  20. Rumors. Lots of medja are reporting that Wellington Silva has signed a long term contract and then been loaned to Bolton. Likewise, many medja are reporting that Zelalem has been loaned to Glasgow Rangers.

    I can see no announcement at Arsenal, Bolton or Rangers web sites.

  21. Great article Tony, as always. I cannot but agree with @ Menace. I’m certainly not English (and probably one of the only few non- English readers to comment; I have no way of knowing though), but I believe that Englishmen are their worst enemies as far as this subject is concerned.

    Am more concerned about the effect of the officiating of the game as highlighted by @Menace. That, and the way Arsenal as a club is being treated by the press and the refs. I have always believed that there is a connection between how we are being treated as a club and the fate of English teams at major international football competitions.

    The cynicism with which Arsenal is being treated by both the press and the game officials in England will continue to be the undoing of the Three Lions. I will not be surprised if a change of fortunes coincide with an improvement of the quality of officiating and the toning down of the unnecessarily excessive physical approach to the game espoused in EPL as “the English way”.

    @Menace got it spot on. Well done man.

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